Candida Overgrowth: The Signs & How To Get Rid Of It
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First things first – what exactly is candida?
A type of yeast that lives in your mouth, intestines and vagina, candida is healthy in normal amounts, but when bad bacteria proliferate in a body, candida can run rampant and create all sorts of issues – from joint problems to brain disorders and digestive symptoms. “Many types of fungi live in and on the human body, including the yeast known as candida,” explains traditional Chinese medicine practitioner Maeve O’Sullivan. “Candida typically lives on the skin and in places such as the mouth, throat, gut and vagina, without causing any problems. However, under certain circumstances, it can grow uncontrollably. Your body’s healthy bacteria keep candida levels under control, but if healthy bacteria levels are disrupted, candida can go into overdrive, overpowering the good bacteria.”
Why exactly does that happen?
Maeve explains that individuals who suffer with diabetes or who have a low immune system are more at risk of developing candida overgrowth, but there are also several lifestyle factors that put you at risk. “Taking antibiotics is a significant risk factor, with just one dose enough to alter your bacteria microbiome,” Maeve says. “A diet high in sugar and refined carbs is also a risk factor, as is a high alcohol intake, high stress levels and taking oral contraceptives, as yeast thrives on a high oestrogen environment.”
Does that mean women are more prone to it?
Yes, says Dr Sarah Brewer, medical director at Healthspan. “Women are more susceptible than men, as changing hormone levels throughout the month affect vaginal acidity levels and the balance of probiotic bacteria that usually keep yeast cells in check, both within the gut and vagina. Pregnant women are particularly susceptible due to immune suppression and hormonal changes that promote candida overgrowth.” Sarah agrees that a high-stress lifestyle could also take a toll. “When you are under physical or mental stress, or have a viral cold, your immune system becomes temporarily less efficient at fighting a fungal infection.”
What are the symptoms?
One of the trickiest things about candida is that symptoms can vary widely and mimic lots of other health conditions, explaining why many medical experts are sceptical about its role in some issues. Symptoms will also vary depending on the part of the body affected and how mild or severe the infection is. “Mood swings, anxiety and depression could be a sign of candida overgrowth, as 95% of your serotonin is made in the gut. With a yeast overgrowth, the yeast effectively forms a layer over your gut, suppressing your body’s ability to make the happy hormone,” says Maeve. “Other common signs include fatigue; digestive issues such as gas, bloating and constipation; skin issues including eczema, hives, rosacea and rashes; seasonal allergies and chronic sinus infections; dandruff (which is effectively yeast); skin and nail fungal infections like athlete’s foot; vaginal infections and UTIs; and sugar cravings.” If any of these issues sound familiar, and have been a problem for a while, candida could be to blame.
How common is it?
Probably a lot more common than we realise. The problem is there are very few statistics available as it’s not something your GP will test for. However, it is possible to get tested with the help of a nutritionist or nutritional therapist. “Candida overgrowth can be tested through stool, blood, saliva and urine analysis,” says Claire Barnes, nutritional therapist at Bio-Kult. “To find a registered practitioner in your local area, head to Bant.org.uk.”
How should you tackle it?
Testing is key to work out where your body is at before you start treating candida, but diet is a good place to start once you know this, says Maeve…
CUT OUT SUGAR “The most obvious place to start is to eliminate yeast-based foods and drinks, which means cutting out vinegar, wine, beer, mushrooms (as part of the fungi family, they can cross-react with candida), sugar, refined carbs and processed foods. Other foods that contain yeast include cheese, smoked foods, soy sauce, tofu, grapes, dried fruits and unpeeled fruits. It may seem strange to cut out good carbs like fruit, legumes and starchy veggies, but these feed yeast. In a normal body, this is fine, but when you’re trying to reduce candida overgrowth it’s counterproductive.”
DITCH FERMENTED FOODS “The likes of kimchi and sauerkraut get a lot of airtime for being great for the gut, but if you have candida overgrowth they can be troublesome. Fermented foods are fantastic for stimulating the good bacteria in your gut microbiome, but they can also feed the yeast.”
LOOK TO HERBS & SPICES “Try to eat more herbs and spices that have a natural antibacterial and antifungal effect on the body, such as basil, allspice, cinnamon, garlic, ginger, oregano, rosemary and turmeric.”
THINK ABOUT TEMPERATURE “The digestive system favours warmth. In practice, this means avoiding excessive consumption of cold foods and chilled drinks, instead giving preference to warm, cooked foods. Avoid overeating raw foods, especially if you know your digestive system is weak. Soups and stews are both nutritious and easy to digest.”
CHEW PROPERLY “Remember the stomach has no teeth and digestion starts in the mouth. Make sure you chew your food well and eat slowly so your system has time to digest. Otherwise, in the short term, food will stagnate, leading to indigestion and in the long term, this can weaken the digestive system.”
Are there any supplements that can help?
To bolster the body’s resources, consider taking ashwagandha, an adaptogen which can help boost immunity. “Research shows ashwagandha can stimulate certain cells which fight infections and abnormal cells,” says Sarah. “Echinacea has also been shown to increase the activity of white cells against candida, while a probiotic supplement can replenish intestinal levels of friendly digestive bacteria.” When looking for a probiotic, keep an eye out for the lactobacilli strain, says Claire. “This has been shown to secrete anti-microbial molecules, which could help get candida under control. Bio-Kult’s Candea is also worth trying – it contains seven strains of live bacteria as well as anti-fungal garlic and grapefruit extract, which is rich in antioxidants.”
Are there any other lifestyle habits that can help?
The role of stress shouldn’t be ignored and learning how to actively relax can help, says Maeve. “Stress management is a huge consideration when there is an imbalance in the body. The body is an incredible self-healing machine, but you need to give it the right environment to heal,” she explains. “Unfortunately, these days we are living in constant, chronic stress. We may not necessarily feel stressed, but our bodies recognise it as a state of stress as there’s no downtime and we forget to breathe. If you are living in a prolonged state of stress, this can lead to the breakdown of bones, skin, muscle and brain tissue, and can impair the body’s ability to self-heal, therefore making it tricky to bring the system, in the case of candida, back into balance.” To get on top of stress, Maeve recommends breathwork and meditation as well as rituals such as dry body brushing and gua sha, which can help detoxification as well as stress reduction.
When trying to eliminate candida, know that things could get worse before they get better. “You may experience what is known as ‘die off’ when trying to deal with candida,” says Claire. “This happens when viruses and fungi – in this case candida – are destroyed and begin to breakdown in the body and release toxins into the bloodstream. This can cause existing symptoms to worsen in the short term or you experience nausea, jittery nerves or headaches. These can last a few days or a few months, depending on the level of your overgrowth and liver function.” While this doesn’t happen for everyone, Claire says it reiterates the importance of dealing with candida with the support of an expert, or at least following the guidance gradually so as not to overwhelm the body and make your symptoms worse.
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For more information head to EscapadaHealth.com, Healthspan.co.uk and Bio-Kult.co.uk.
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