Learn how to know if you have Candida overgrowth, and get the latest recommendations about diet and natural treatment!
Note from Dena: I’m excited to share this guest post on such an important topic. It was written by Marla Ramos, Dietetic Intern, as part of a research partnership between Back To The Book Nutrition and post-graduate nutrition students from the University of Houston.
Our gut health is crucial to our overall health.
A healthy gut is teeming with a variety of bacteria, yeasts, and other organisms living in harmony with one another. But, when Candida or other normal gut “residents” are allowed to overgrow, it can lead to nagging symptoms and chronic health conditions.
WHAT IS CANDIDA OVERGROWTH?
Candida overgrowth, also known as Candidiasis or Candida Overgrowth Syndrome, is as the name states, an overgrowth of yeast, typically Candida albicans (aka Candida). (1) Candida albicans is the most common disease-causing species of Candida, although there are others
WHAT CAUSES CANDIDA OVERGROWTH?
Candida albicans is a normally harmless yeast found in mucus membranes, including those in the mouth, ears, nose, skin, vagina, and gut. Overgrowth can occur in any of these areas, often in combination with one another, so identification of any one area of overgrowth may indicate the presence of overgrowth in the gut as well.
MEDICATION AND LIFESTYLE FACTORS THAT CONTRIBUTE TO A CANDIDA OVERGROWTH
No one factor on this list causes Candida overgrowth on its own. But, in combination, these factors can create the perfect storm for an overgrowth.
- Diet high in refined carbohydrates (white flour/white rice), and sugar
- Diet high in certain fermented foods like Kombucha, sauerkraut, and pickles
- High alcohol intake
- High or chronic stress environment (prolonged stress can impair our digestive system)
- Overuse of antibiotics (number 1 reason, particularly broad-spectrum antibiotics like tetracycline, cephalexin, cefoperazone
- Oral contraceptives
- Oral corticosteroid use (Prednisone, etc.)
- Inhaled steroids (steroid asthma inhaler, steroid nasal sprays)
- Suppressed immune system
- Inflammatory conditions (obesity, autoimmune disease, etc.)
- Diabetes (1, 2, 17, 18)
CONDITIONS ASSOCIATED WITH CANDIDA
- Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Ulcerative Colitis (70-86%)
- Crohn’s Disease (44%)
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
- Leaky Gut Syndrome
- Chronic Inflammation
- Diabetes (2, 4, 7)
HOW DO I KNOW IF I HAVE CANDIDA?
Candida overgrowth can manifest in a variety of symptoms, some of which can be non-specific and similar to other conditions – making it difficult to diagnose based on symptoms alone.
COMMON SYMPTOMS OF CANDIDA
- Recurrent athlete’s foot
- Recurrent toenail fungus
- Recurrent yeast infections (Vaginal Candidiasis)
- White coating on tongue (Oral Thrush)
- Feeling tired and worn down
- Brain fog
- Recurrent skin issues (16)
- Irritability/Mood swings
- Diagnosed autoimmune diseases
- Recurring UTIs
- Rectal itching
- Vaginal itching
- Severe seasonal allergies
- Itchy ears
- Strong sugar/refined carbohydrate cravings
- New sensitivities to commonly eaten foods (16)
- Inability to concentrate
- Muscle and joint aches
- Chronic sinusitis
- Recurrent colds
- Decreased libido
- Prostate and bladder infections
HOW TO TEST FOR CANDIDA
It’s important to confirm a Candida infection, and not just treat based on symptoms, the latter of which can lead to costly and unnecessary medication use and unwarranted diet restrictions.
It is best to use a combination of these tests, along with your symptoms, to confirm a diagnosis of Candida or other yeast overgrowth. A holistic dietitian or other qualified healthcare provider can help determine whether Candida is causing symptoms, and can order any or all of the following tests.
- Blood Test – Checks for high levels of IgG, IgA, and IgM (Candida antibodies).
- Stool Test – Checks for actual yeast in the stool. Positive test is indicative of Candida in your colon, or large intestine. Be sure a comprehensive stool test is ordered.
- Urine Test – Checks for D-arabinitol (a yeast waste product). A positive test is indicative of Candida in the small intestine.
Note from Dena:
If you don’t already have a practitioner who can order these tests and discuss the results with you, I’d be happy to help! Contact me here for details and pricing.
There is also a fourth test, a spit test (2), which can be performed at home and the best part is, it’s free. This test could be a good starting point if you suspect you might have a Candida overgrowth, but the spit test shouldn’t be used to diagnose Candida.
To perform the spit test – First thing in the morning (before eating, drinking, or brushing your teeth), spit into a clear glass of water. If after 15-30 minutes your spit looks cloudy, has grown legs, or sinks to the bottom, then you might have Candida. Doing this over the course of a few days might paint a better picture. This video shows how to perform the spit test. Again, it’s important to confirm with one of the more established and scientific tests mentioned above before treating.
Note: This post contains affiliate links. By making purchases through these links, you pay the same amount for products, but a small portion of the sale will be sent my way to help support the mission of Back To The Book Nutrition. Thank you!
HOW DO I TREAT CANDIDA?
Holistic practitioners generally agree that the best way to treat Candida is with a 2-step process. (2,5)
Step 1: Stop the overgrowth of Candida albicans
Step 2: Rebuild your normal gut flora
Skipping Step 1 and going straight to Step 2 can make matters worse, so be sure to follow both steps. You can expect to see some improvement in symptoms initially, but complete healing may take several months.
Step 1: Stop the Overgrowth of Candida Albicans
It’s important to reiterate that the goal of this step is not to eliminate Candida entirely, but to eliminate overgrowth.
There are several approaches to stopping the yeast overgrowth that include diet, natural antimicrobials, and prescription antifungals. A combination of these seems to be most effective.
Diet to Help Stop Candida Overgrowth
Below are some of the most well supported recommendations for diet changes during Step 1 of Candida treatment.
- Cut down on sugar – Yeast thrives on sugar! Eliminate candy, sweets, alcohol, refined flours, and sweetened beverages, and consider temporarily removing fruits, honey, and other natural sugars as well.
- Cut back on complex carbs – Complex carbohydrates like whole grains, beans, lentils, and potatoes are healthy, but they may also be contributing to yeast overgrowth and should be limited during Step 1.
- Limit fermented foods – There is limited data in this area and experts differ in their opinions about whether fermented foods should be consumed during Step 1.
- Consider avoiding certain nuts/nut butters – peanuts, cashews, pecans, walnuts, and pistachios tend to be highest in mold and some practitioners advocate for omitting them.
- Consider avoiding certain forms of dairy – Some practitioners advocate for avoidance of dairy due to its natural sugar content, but scientific data to support this claim is limited. (2)
As always, discuss personal recommendations with a holistic dietitian or other licensed provider.
Medical Treatment to Help Stop Candida Overgrowth
Both prescription medications and natural antimicrobials and antifungals can be used to treat Candida.
- Prescription Medications
There are several antifungal medications available. While successful in treating Candida overgrowth infections, one study has shown resistance of Candida albicans to antifungal medication. (9)
- Natural Antimicrobials and Antifungals
- Caprylic acid (found in coconut oil and in the probiotic S. boulardii) (11, 12, 16)
- Undecylenic acid (10)
- Lavendar oil (13)
- Garlic oil (19)
- Oregano oil (20)
- Grapefruit seed extract (GSE) (21)
These are just a few of the most well supported botanicals and essential oils that can be used in the fight against Candida.(2,5) It’s important to remember that some of these may have side effects or interactions with other medications or conditions. Always consult with your licensed practitioner for personal recommendations.
Die-off and other Cautions About Medical Treatment for Candida Overgrowth
Die-off reactions can occur as a result of medical treatment for Candida and other yeasts. As yeasts die off and toxic byproducts are released, you may experience temporary symptoms that include nausea, fatigue, or flu-like symptoms. This is normal and should pass as yeasts and their byproducts are removed from your system. (1, 27) Be sure to drink plenty of water to help your body rid itself of the dead yeast and toxins, and consult your provider if symptoms linger.
Prescription medications and some natural therapies can have too strong an effect and lead to future complications like small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), or a dysbiosis (imbalance of good and bad bacteria) in our colon. (5) Candida treatment can also burden the liver with an excess of toxic byproducts. Working with a holistic dietitian or other licensed practitioner is of utmost importance to help minimize risk of these complications.
Step 2: REBUILD NORMAL GUT FLORA
Rebuilding your gut flora is critical for keeping Candida albicans and other yeasts in check over the long run.
HOW TO REBUILD NORMAL GUT FLORA
- Take high quality probiotic supplements, including beneficial yeast saccharomyces boulardii. Learn more about all three types of probiotics and which brands to buy here.
- Eat fermented vegetables and cultured dairy (kefir or yogurt with active live strains) – Some of the most beneficial strains to combat yeast include L. acidophilus, L. rhamnosus, L. casei (15), and S. boulardii (14).
- Eat prebiotic-rich foods (22, 23) – Prebiotics are certain types of nondigestable fiber in fruits, vegetables, legumes, and other plant foods that “feed” beneficial gut microbes in the colon. Prebiotic foods may cause gastrointestinal issues for some, especially those with SIBO. Start slowly and discuss any symptoms with a licensed practitioner. (2, 5)
HOW CAN I PREVENT CANDIDA RECURRENCE?
Once Candida overgrowth is effectively treated, it’s important to make adjustments to prevent yeast overgrowth from recurring.
- Avoid unnecessary antibiotics (antibiotics only treat bacterial infections, not the common cold or the flu, which are caused by viruses)
- If you must take antibiotics, take a probiotic supplement 2-3 hours after each dose, and for 2-3 weeks after you finish your antibiotics.
- Limit oral contraceptive use
- Limit nasal steroid use, and rinse your mouth after each use of your steroid inhaler
- Manage blood sugar and consider getting checked for diabetes
- Manage stress
- Exercise regularly to strengthen your immune system
- Eat a nutrient-dense, whole food diet
- Increase your dietary fiber (stimulates regular bowel movements to help your body eliminate the yeast and its toxins)
- Consume probiotic-rich foods, including plain yogurt or kefir with live active cultures, and lacto-fermented vegetables
- Consider taking a high quality probiotic supplement (1)
Check out these other great posts on gut health!
About the author: Marla Ramos is a Dietetic Intern, with a B.S. in Human Nutrition and Foods from the University of Houston. She has a particular interest in gut health due to her own personal experience with Crohn’s Disease.
Disclaimer: Information on this site is intended only for informational purposes and is not a substitute for medical advice. Always consult with a trusted healthcare provider before implementing significant dietary change. Read additional disclaimer info here.
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