By Mikell S. Parsons, D.C.
We live in a world of microscopic organisms. There are literally BUGS (bacteria, yeast, parasites and viruses) everywhere, inside and outside of our bodies. We are crawling with critters. Sounds like a horror film, right? Yet, they are supposed to be there, and they do very specific things (like make vitamin B12).
It may sound kind of gross, but our bodies really weren't designed to live in a sterile environment. The only problem is, many of these critters are opportunistic—meaning, if an opportunity presents itself, they will start to dominate their environment. If this happens to us, then we experience unpleasant symptoms or even illness. Sometimes it is clear when we have gotten "a bug." We eat bad food and we experience vomiting or diarrhea. We catch a cold, or we get the flu, and our nose runs, we cough, our throat hurts or we feel chilled. Unfortunately, some organisms are trickier to put your finger on. The symptoms are not as clear to us. One such critter is Candida albicans, a.k.a. "Yeasty Beastie." Beast, because Candida albicans can ravage your body and often manipulates you into feeding it, while in the meantime you suffer from a long list of symptoms. You might be aware of the normal symptoms and places to get a yeast infection (the gastrointestinal and vaginal areas being by far the most common), but a chronic yeast infection, thanks to this Yeastie Beastie, can cause symptoms in almost every area of the body.
Where it Lives
Candida (for short) is a part of our body environment. It thrives in moisture and is commonly found in small quantities in the mouth, digestive tract, and vagina. When the body gets out of balance, it can also be found in skin folds (under the breast, or under skin folds due to obesity), nail beds and in severe cases, the blood stream. Typically, when an infection sets in, this prolific yeast will produce a white substance that can easily be scraped off. Underneath, the skin will be red and grumpy looking. If the infection is severe, the tissue will actually bleed. That is fine and well if it's tissue that you can see, but what about the inside of your stomach or intestines? That tissue is a bit harder to take a look at, and you will have to rely on symptoms, laboratory testing, and/or your practitioner's clinical experience to make a diagnosis and start treatment.
How it Grows
If yeast is a part of our body ecosystem, how do these infections occur? There are many reasons why a yeast infection starts. One of the most common causes is antibiotic use. Antibiotics are designed to kill bad bacteria and to reduce an infection. Unfortunately, good and beneficial bacteria also get killed in the crossfire. Ta-Da! Here is an opportunity for Candida to thrive and multiply. Does this sound familiar? "Mrs. Jones, we have successfully killed off the evil bacteria, however you now have a yeast infection and need more medication…" If you have a life-threatening bacterial infection, you should take the antibiotic. However, prolonged or multiple antibiotic use increases the likelihood of your personal bacteria becoming resistant to that medication. In our modern world, this is becoming more and more of a problem. Once again, those Yeasty Beasties love your antibiotics because by killing off the good bacteria that keeps your body in balance, Candida has an opportunity to thrive. (F.Y.I. there are other bugs waiting in the wings for a similar opportunity, but for the sake of time and your sanity, this article will just stick to yeast.)
If you are not making enough hydrochloric acid (stomach acid), the yeast that you eat and drink, which occur naturally in our food, will not be killed in the stomach. Instead, the yeast will land in your intestines and find a lovely, warm incubator in which to multiply. As a bonus to this warm, moist new home, the yeast will also receive a nonstop supply of food as well. For those of you who are using over-the-counter or prescription antacids, you are especially at risk for this overgrowth by intentionally suppressing your body's natural defense system. By trying to control the symptoms of reflux or ulcers, you are potentially creating a different set of problems. As a normal part of the aging process, our stomach acid production should naturally decline as we slow down and require less food. However, this should not happen in your 30's, 40's, 50's, or even in your 60's if you lead a healthy lifestyle. Pancreatic enzymes and bile from the gallbladder are also needed to prevent Candida from attaching to the wall of the small intestine. Rather than manipulating your stomach acid with the use of medication, one suggestion might be to find the cause of the first problem (acid reflux or heartburn) before creating another (yeast infection!). Another thing people seldom realize is that whether you make too much or too little stomach acid, the symptoms are usually the exact same. You may feel like you have heartburn or acid reflux and so begin taking antacids, only to find your symptoms unchanged or even grow worse.
For women, our hormone balance is not only important to become pregnant and maintain a healthy pregnancy, but it also keeps our bodies' pH in balance. When estrogen levels are too high or progesterone levels are too low, the bodies' pH will change. This typically will mean that we become acidic, which is the preferred pH for yeast. The use of birth control pills will also interfere with pH. Whenever our body pH is not optimal, an opportunity is provided for various critters to grow. Yeast is one of those critters. (For more information on factors that affect pH, see Treatment.)
Is food a friend or foe in this yeasty battle? Well it depends upon what you are or aren't eating. Diets rich in processed carbohydrates (which convert quickly to sugar during digestion) provide a strong foundation for this critter to grow. Although whole grain bread is preferable for many other nutritional reasons, it is the same as a donut (in terms of Candida) to your stomach. Both get digested down to sugar. ALL grains fall into this category. The lactose content that is in milk is also a yummy food for yeast. Milk can also contain trace levels of antibiotics, which as discussed previously, can further disrupt "bug balance"in the intestine. Foods with a high mold content often contain yeast, too. This includes alcoholic beverages (like beer and wine), cheeses, peanuts and dried fruits. Fruit in general contains natural sugars, which we humans love to eat. Guess what? So does The Beast!
Stress, Medication, & Other Factors
Other things that can promote yeast overgrowth are corticosteroid use (prednisone) and/or stress. Studies have shown that stress provides a rich environment for Candida to attach to mucus membranes. It has also been observed that during times of stress we tend to eat unhealthy foods and sleep less. This provides direct, easy to digest, nutritionally poor food for your bugs to grow, and a weakened immune system to boot. Just the golden ticket ALL bacteria are waiting for.
How to Kill Candida Naturally
Despite what many books may say, you have to get mean and tough with your battle plan if you want to eliminate the Yeasty Beasties once and for all. That means you need to get real with what they enjoy and thrive on. You do not want to feed the enemy, right? So what exactly does that mean? Well, here is what your diet needs to consist of for a minimum of 1 month. Chronic infections may take longer to eliminate.
• Non-starchy veggies
• Nuts and seeds
This means NO grains (oatmeal, bread, pasta, rice, tortillas, etc.), NO dairy (yogurt has things in it to keep acidophilus alive, Candida eats the same food too!), NO fermented foods (balsamic vinegar, tofu, etc.), NO fruit, and NO starchy veggies (all potatoes, acorn squash, butternut squash, beans, etc.). Even a little compromise and allowing some of the "no" foods back in before the infection is cleared may lead to the yeast returning within a few months. And what is the point of that? Doing all that nutritional work, only to have it fail? It will be tough to stick to, so make the long-term commitment to only do it once. Instead of feeling deprived, get a warrior's mind-set. YOU ARE AT WAR. This critter has been around a long time. Through cell signaling, it tries to control what you eat.
Have you ever wondered why you crave ice cream, chocolate or pasta? For many people, it is the Yeasty Beastie and her babies that want to be fed. Don't cave in! The cravings will go away; the only time they don't is if you try to negotiate with the enemy. And they always win. Be brave. If you follow this short-term diet plan, you will not only starve your beasts, but you will lose weight as well. Win-win, right? (Note: the key to feeling satisfied on this diet is the non-starchy veggies. You will feel starved otherwise. Dig in!)
Along with the dietary changes, you should also consider taking a natural "yeast killer" such as garlic, caprylic acid, or berberine. Consult with your local health food store or Holistic practitioner to make the best choice for your specific condition. Be aware that as you starve the beast and take something to kill it, those darn beasts often release toxins. It is the toxins from their death that causes symptoms. This reaction is called the Herxheimer reaction, or "die-off" effect. Fatigue, headache, diarrhea, or muscle spasms are the most common complaints. Many feel this is a badge of honor and confirmation that the program is working. But at this point, you probably deserve small a break. If you experience severe "die-off," reduce your dose of bug killer of choice. It does not make sense to stress your body further.
It is also important to remember that the road to wellbeing is not a race. Take your time and feel good (and proud!) about all you are doing for your body. Many people indeed "race" through the process because the short-term diet and "die-off"effect can be challenging. The truth is, however, they are only prolonging the condition and terms of warfare. Stick with your diet. Once you have killed the enemy off, it is time to re-inoculate your body with good bacteria, such as a live strain of acidophilus. You should only do this after your infection is cleared. If you try to do it any earlier, you will only be supplying the bad guys with the same food that is in the acidophilus products. Again, don't rush. Kill first, then re-inoculate.
The Victory Dance
So, how do you know when you can break out your dancing shoes and claim victory? First look at your symptom list. If all of your symptoms have been eliminated, then it may be safe to say, mission accomplished. When some things have resolved and others have shown some improvement, it's important not to get ahead of yourself. The finish line is in sight, but you haven't crossed it yet. Keep your chin up, stay on task and keep killing the critters! With a long-term infection, you may need to stick to the plan for many months. (This will be frustrating, but the Beasties are trained and skilled warriors!)
For those who want to know "for sure" that they have conquered The Beast, testing can be done. Depending upon the location of the trouble-making beasts, a practitioner who is "battle ready" for such creatures can order testing to first, confirm that you are dealing with yeast and second, that it is truly gone. This is done with urine, stool or blood samples. If stool testing is done using DNA markers, it will often include sensitivity testing for prescription medications and natural agents that may be increasing your risk for Candida. This will enable you to 100%, for sure, kill the pests!
How To Prevent A Reinvasion
Now that victory is yours, how do you prevent the rotten scoundrels from coming back? First, eat a balanced diet. This means a combination of protein, veggies, up to 2 fruits per day, a small portion of complex carbohydrates and maybe a splash of dairy. If you go back to your fast food, sugar-driven, bread-loving, soda and fruit juice diet…you will only be extending an open invitation for the bad guys to come back. This will cause your pH to become acidic once again. All of your hard work will have been in vain. Make sure that you are making enough hydrochloric acid, enzymes, and the proper balance of female hormones. Antibiotics have saved many lives, but if you don't get sick, you don't need to take them, right? Right. And, we've all heard the saying "stress kills." While this is true for the human body, it is the exact opposite for Candida. "Us" humans were not meant to handle chronic, daily stress, and it has a profound effect upon the body. No one ever said the beasties were stupid. They know very well that stress weakens your body's defense system and gives them another opportunity to thrive.
There will be a few of you who do everything absolutely perfect, and the beasties may come back. When that happens, don't throw in the towel. Make an appointment with your health care provider. In addition to the other risk factors previously discussed, you may need to be screened for a possible heavy metal issue. The Yeastie Beasties really like mercury. Think of them as best friends. Sometimes heavy metal chelation (introducing compounds that bind to the metals in the body rendering them inactive) is necessary to end the Candida cycle once and for all.
About The Author: Mikell S. Parsons, D.C. is a chiropractor who specializes in clinical nutrition and functional medicine. She has been in practice for over 15 years and currently sees patients in Fresno.
Remember, our bodies are not a bank account. If only it was as simple as "one dollar in, one dollar out." If it did work that way, there would not be problems with obesity! Instead, we are walking chemistry labs. It is more like one donut in, and a KAJILLION chemical reactions out. Remember, you are bigger and smarter than these critters are. And most importantly, you have choices to make. Be wise and protect your health.