Conquering Candida Naturally
Stephen C Byrnes, ND, RNCP
THE NIGHTMARE OF CANDIDA OVERGROWTH
Candida albicans and candida tropicalis are the names given to common yeasts that live within our intestines and certain mucous membranes, the throat, for example. Everyone has candida within them: we are born with it.
Candida usually lives at peace with our other intestinal fauna, the acidophilus and bifido bacteria, and it is these bacterial residents that keep candida under control, preventing a "population burst." Candida's function in the body is mainly to gobble up any putrefied food matter in our digestive system (mostly caused by improper digestion due to low stomach acid) before any potentially harmful bacteria can have a feast, multiply, and become threatening to our health. After we die, candida acts to decompose the body, feeding off our corpse, much like a fungal mold on a dead tree.
Candida is usually kept in check by the gastrointestinal "good" bacteria and the immune system, but trouble can arise when certain conditions are present. It is in the presence of these conditions that candida can begin growing out of control in the intestines, branching out and colonizing the gut. In this process, candida can eat away at the intestinal walls, spread into the bloodstream, and infiltrate other tissues. The normally benign yeast has literally transformed itself into an aggressive, destructive, fungal pathogen that can cause a variety of seemingly unrelated health problems. This condition/disease is known as systemic candidiasis.
SYMPTOMS & CAUSES
Systemic candidiasis, as a separate disease, was not recognized or defined until the 1980's, mostly because its symptoms were so varied and duplicated those of other illnesses, leading doctors to conclude that the patient was suffering from, for example, sinusitis instead of yeast infiltration of the nasal passages. Additionally, since one of the main causes of systemic candidiasis are doctor prescribed antibiotics, which kill the intestinal bacteria that control candida, the medical profession was probably not too eager to admit the existence of this disease. Diagnoses of candidiasis were limited to its visible manifestations, e.g., a vaginal or oral yeast infection. Treatment was directed towards eradicating these conditions alone without addressing the reality of a more serious, but hidden, infection.
The symptoms of candidiasis, and their severity, vary from person to person but the main ones are: chronic fatigue, especially after eating, depression, craving for breads and sugars (yeast eats sugar), extreme mood swings, feelings of rage, especially after eating sugary foods, feeling "drunk" after eating a meal high in carbohydrates (candida's waste is alcohol), hypoglycemia, excessive mucous of the throat, nose, and lungs, chronic fungal infections of the skin (jock itch, athlete's foot) or vaginal/oral thrush, diarrhea, anal itching, short-term memory loss, feeling "spacy," and bloating or gassiness after eating.
In addition to these, lymphatic swelling, difficult PMS, night sweats, chest and joint pain, memory loss, incoordination, blurred vision, intense, random headaches, intermittent vertigo, insomnia, sneezing fits, and increased food allergies are also fairly common. A person tends to get extremely sensitive to damp, mildewy environments and, sometimes, to extreme humidity as well as perfumes, colognes, and smoke. Since candida can infiltrate the urinary tract, acute kidney infections, cystitis, and prostatitis are possible.
While these symptoms can indicate other illnesses, if certain factors are present in one's personal history the symptoms are likely to indicate candida overgrowth. These factors are:
- Prolonged, or repeated, use of antibiotics, corticosteroid drugs, and/or birth control pills, at any time in the past,
- a diet high in processed sugars which encourages candida growth, and
- preexisting immunosuppression caused by drug or alcohol abuse, multiple blood transfusions, debilitating illness, organ transplants, or chemotherapy. All three are NOT required to bring on a case of candidiasis: excessive "sugar binging" can cause it just as surely as antibiotics can. Pregnancy also predisposes women to the condition since pregnancy alters the body's delicate hormonal and pH balance: candida thrives in an alkaline environment.
Contributing factors are:
- low stomach acidity leading to poorly digested food and
- improper bowel movements leading to prolonged retention of fecal matter in the colon: these conditions promote yeast overgrowth.
A 20TH CENTURY DISEASE
Candidiasis is truly a modern disease, brought on by medical "innovations" like antibiotics and the Pill and a more "civilized" diet of refined, sugary foods and candy. In some naturopathic circles, the illness is derisively known as "Candy Disease."
In all seriousness, however, candidiasis is a serious condition for two main reasons:
- It often goes undiagnosed, allowing the yeast to spread unhampered, and
- the numerous symptoms it produces severely tax the immune system, forcing it to deal with, not only the yeast infection, but the other conditions the yeast causes. A truly vicious cycle can ensue: a person is weakened by a candida caused problem, say cystitis, and goes to a doctor who then prescribes antibiotics for it. The drugs kill off more of the intestinal bacteria which control candida, making the candida overgrowth worse, leading to more infections and more antibiotics, etc. At its most destructive, candida can exhaust the adrenal glands, leading to Addison's disease, can interfere with digestion so much that virtually no nutrients are absorbed from food, and can cause life threatening infestations of the vital organs and the brain.
TREATMENTS & RECOVERY
The standard allopathic treatment for candidiasis is the drug Nystatin, a mold which inhibits the growth of other molds like candida. Two other popular drugs are Nizoral and Fluconazole. While these drugs certainly kill candida, they do not work forever due to candida's ability to mutate into drug resistant strains, nor do they prevent candida from coming back.
Natural therapies are the most potent and effective weapons against this disease and recovery time lasts about 6 to 12 months (or longer depending on the length of time one has had the condition and the severity of symptoms). This might seem long, but once candida has colonized the body, it takes quite an effort to drive it out. Let's now take a look at the natural therapies most effective against this adaptable and extremely tenacious invader.
The key to conquering candida is in cleaning up the digestive system, the ultimate source of the problem. In general, one must avoid constipation at all costs so high water (4-5 glasses a day) and adequate fiber intake is recommended. Drinking lots of water will also help flush the dead yeast cells out of your system as you progress with your treatment. If diarrhea is a problem, psyllium or yellow dock herb, both available in capsule form, will tighten the colon. These two herbs are also effective for constipation — they are bowel regulators. Yellow dock is also known as a blood builder, effective for anemia and low white blood cell counts. If you decide to take yellow dock, be sure to take it separately from any herb containing tannic acid to avoid stomach upset.
Supplementation with acidophilus and bifido bacteria is essential to recolonize the intestines. While these bacteria will not kill candida, they inhibit candida's growth and, generally, clean up the bowels, making it more difficult for candida to thrive. Look for a high potency supplement, either freeze dried or refrigerated, made without cow's milk. You will need to supplement heavily with these "probiotics" throughout your recovery and well after all your symptoms have gone. Chlorophyll-rich foods, like leafy green vegetables and alfalfa, also promote acidophilus growth and discourage yeast reproduction.
Proper food digestion is an absolute MUST as nothing makes candida happier than putrefied, poorly digested food. Unless you have an ulcer, consider taking a digestive enzyme supplement with hydrochloric acid (HCL) immediately before or after each meal. If you have an ulcer, look for digestive enzyme supplements without HCL. Plant enzyme supplements are excellent. Both pancreatin and plant enzymes can be taken between meals to hinder yeast growth. Using digestive enzymes will help your condition dramatically and also take some stress off your pancreas which might be weary from dealing with possible candida-caused hypoglycemia. (If you notice any stomach irritation when using HCL supplements, cut back on the dose at once to prevent possible ulcer formation.)
If enzyme supplements are not available, a cup of German chamomile tea just before or after eating will stimulate HCL production by the stomach. Chamomile will also ease any gassiness and/or bloating and contains potent anti-candida compounds. If you have a history of ragweed allergy do not use chamomile; fennel or cardamon are fine substitutes. Another herb to consider for digestion is wormwood. Wormwood, while extremely bitter, is probably the best digestive herb around, stimulating HCL and bile production. SIde benefits of wormwood are ridding you of any parasites, gas, nervousness, and weak stomach. Wormwood extract or tincture can be found at any health food store; take the recommended dose just before eating in a little water. CAUTION: Wormwood should not be used by pregnant women.
Since the liver can get overburdened with candida's toxins because it filters the blood, cleansing this organ is essential for your recovery. Daily supplementation with hepatic herbs like, dandelion root, golden seal, wormwood, barberry, Oregon grape root, or bayberry, is highly recommended. Again, the need for increased water intake is emphasized here to facilitate internal cleansing. CAUTION: Avoid goldenseal and barberry if you are pregnant.
DIETARY DO'S AND DON'TS
Since candida loves sugar, it must be avoided in all its forms (dextrose, sucrose, glucose, maltose, lactose, fructose). Say goodbye to all fruits, except the low sugar ones like strawberries, cherries, and papayas which can be eaten in strict moderation. Read the label of every food product you buy to be sure there is no added sugar (a near impossible task these days!).
Diet is your main weapon against candida, but also the most frustrating as you will have to give up a number of foods. Bid farewell to: wheat, rye, milk, cheese, alcoholic or caffeinated beverages, potatoes, honey, mushrooms, and vinegar: all these foods promote yeast growth or can aggravate already present yeast colonies. Keep your food well covered in the refrigerator to prevent mold formation. When eating out, be sure to ask how a dish is prepared and tell the server to hold any undesirable ingredients like soy sauce or mayonnaise.
In general, a low carbohydrate diet is preferred. Carbohydrates, even complex ones, eventually break down to glucose (sugar) in the digestive tract, and sugar feeds candida. Its also adviseable to avoid the starchier vegetables like sweet potatoes, parsnips, and winter squashes. Different people, however, have different sensitivities. I've worked with patients who can handle wheat, despite a candida problem. You and your body are your best guide as to which foods to avoid. At rock bottom, however, all sugars MUST be avoided.
Due to the restrictions, you may be wondering at times, "What the hell am I supposed to eat?!" Books will be listed at the end of the article to help with food selections and recipes.
On the positive side, assuming you have no allergic reactions, you can enjoy all of the following: fish, poultry, meat, all vegetables, brown rice*, eggs, seeds, all nuts except cashews and peanuts, herb teas, beans* and lentils*, goat milk*, corn*, amaranth*, kamut*, quinoa*, buckwheat*, oats*, and spelt*. Check with a local health food store for sugar free breads made of kamut, millet, or spelt and consider eating corn tortillas to replace wheat bread. (*: moderate amounts only.) To ease their digestion, all nuts, seeds, and whole grains should be soaked for at least seven hours before cooking or drying. Soaking initiates the sprouting process and breaks up the enzyme inhibitors and phytates found in these foods.
Contrary to popular belief, foods containing yeast may be eaten if no allergic reactions are present. Brewer's yeast, for example, is a very nutritious and immune enhancing food and can be eaten for nutritional support during one's recovery.
As your symptoms disappear, you can cautiously add back the forbidden foods, one at a time and slowly. Do not eat any refined sugars for at least 6 months after your recovery. Having candidiasis once predisposes one to getting it again so be very careful after you are well. Indulging in too many foods too quickly can, as I can painfully attest to, cause a relapse.
HERBS & SUPPLEMENTS
The following herbs should assist in recovery: Garlic- a powerful antifungal and immune stimulant. Garlic will also help with constipation, gas, excess mucous, and blood cleansing; it is antiparasitic and hypotensive also. Some people are sensitive to garlic so increase your dosage slowly to discern any unpleasant side effects. If there are none, include it liberally in your diet, everyday. If you prefer to take garlic tablets, look for ones that are enteric coated to insure that the garlic is released deep inside the intestines where candida thrives.
Golden Seal, Barberry, Oregon Grape Root- the berberine in these herbs is lethal to candida. Berberine is also a powerful immune stimulant. Don't overuse golden seal as too much will irritate the liver: take for 2 weeks on, one week off. All of these herbs can also be used to assist digestion. Golden seal can be topically applied to ringworm, and made into a tea for athlete's foot. These three herbs are excellent for urinary tract problems, being diuretic, antibacterial, and antifungal. Like wormwood, golden seal and barberry should not be used by pregnant women.
Licorice root- Though not antifungal, licorice will soothe the inflamed intestines so common with candida, thus helping to prevent malabsorption of nutrients and food allergies. Licorice also tones the adrenal glands and helps regulate blood glucose, controlling sugar cravings. This herb is also excellent for excessive mucous, cough, and constipation.
Astragalus- This popular Chinese herb is excellent for stimulating the immune system, essential for recovering from candida or any other infective condition. Aloe Vera- a must if sufferring from fungal skin infections. The fresh gel is effective against ringworm, jock itch, and athlete's foot and will also help heal cracked, damaged skin. Use bottled gel if the fresh herb is not available.
Other useful herbs are clove, ginseng (all varieties), ginger, pau d'arco, and cinnamon. For proper doses, check the labels, but higher doses may be taken without fear of toxicity except as noted above.
Tea tree oil, from Australia and New Zealand, is very deadly to candida and may be used topically for athlete's foot, jock itch, and ringworm. It can also be used as a gargle or douche when mixed with water and can be safely taken internally (3-4 drops, 3 times a day, do not exceed this dose). Be absolutely certain the brand you buy does NOT say "For external use only" on its label.
Caprylic acid, a short chain fatty acid, is extremely effective against candida and is, fortunately, available over the counter at health food stores. Look for a slow release formula of about 300-500 mg. and arrange for a dose of 500 to 1000 mg. with each meal.
Colloidal silver, and the newer olive leaf extract, are excellent antifungal agents and lethal to candida. Though expensive, my clients have had excellent results with these products. Look for a silver supplement of at least 40 ppm with a micron size of no more than .001. Follow the instructions on the labels for the correct doasages.
Oxygen is an antifungal compound. Taking stabilized oxygen products, like flavored peroxide combinations found in health food stores, can also be employed in one's recovery.
The latest in candida treatment are enteric coated essential oils. Oregano, peppermint, and rosemary oils are all extremely powerful against candida and some supplement companies already have formulas using these oils on the market. Oregano oil is estimated at being 100 times more powerful than caprylic acid. Be prepared for some explosive diarrhea when using this product. As the yeast cells die, the body makes every effort to expel them.
Vitamin/mineral supplementation is a good idea to not only insure that adequate nutrients are ingested, but also to help the immune system fight the infection. The following are suggested daily guidelines. For individual needs, its best to see a health practitioner who is familiar with approaching candidiasis: Vitamin A (as retinol and beta carotene)- 75,000 iu; vitamin C- 3 to 5 gms.; selenium- 200 mcg.; zinc- 50 mg.; vitamin E- 400 iu; iron- 10 mg.; essential fatty acids- 4 gms; high potency multi vitamin/mineral- 1 a day.
One particularly useful nutrient is the free-form amino acid glutamine. Glutamine is very pivotal in maintaining proper muscle mass, brain function, intestinal integrity, and stable blood sugar levels. It is often prescribed to recovering alcoholics by natural therapists to control alcohol cravings. 1-3 grams before each meal is suggested. Glutamine is excellent for helping to heal leaky gut syndrome, a very common symptom of intestinal candidiasis. Also, since weight loss is usual with severe candida infestations, this amino acid helps protect against muscle loss. Glutamine is also very stimulating to the immune system. Do everything you can, then, to acquire it and be diligent about taking it.
There are homeopathic preparations of Candida albicans on the market. From personal and professional experience, you have to be very careful with these products as they can cause a severe Herxheimer Reaction, or temporary worsening of your symptoms due to the rapid die off of yeast cells in the body. The best way to use homeopathics is to start with a weaker preparation of about 12X potency, and gradually work your way up to more powerful doses — 30C and above. A slow build up avoids the unpleasant hassle of aggravated die off.
You will sometimes feel like a walking medicine chest from all of the supplements, herbs, probiotics, and antifungal products you'll be taking. Inconvenience aside, it is necessary as candida is a very tenacious organism. You must be persistent and unwavering in your efforts to recover or you will get nowhere; the total approach is necessary.
When you take away candida's food, sugar, and attack the yeast with herbs and supplements, it will die, causing a condition known as die off. Die off will last from a few days to a few weeks and the severity of symptoms will vary from person to person. Usually present are nausea, headaches, gas, irritability, diarrhea, severe energy loss, sugar cravings, and blurred vision.
Exercise and water will reduce your symptoms by flushing the dead yeast cells more quickly from your system. Use your herbs smartly as many of those listed before can help, e.g., cinnamon or clove tea will help allay nausea and gas, as well as help disinfect your digestive tract.
YOUR GREATEST WEAPON
As a former candida sufferer, and a naturopath who has dealt with affected individuals, I can confidently tell you that your greatest weapons against it are your diet and your patience. Frustration is likely to run high during your recovery as candida is an incredibly tenacious organism. Stick it out, however, and know that you will eventually recover for the rewards are great.
SOURCES & RECOMMENDED READING
The Candida Directory and Cookbook by Helen Gustafson and Helen O'Shea. 1992; Celestial Arts Publishing.
The Yeast Connection by William Crook, M.D.. 1986; Vintage Books. Candida Albicans: Could Yeast Be Your Problem? by Leon Chaitow, N.D. 1985; Thorsons, U.K. About the Author
Stephen C. Byrnes, deceased, was a Naturopathic Doctor and Clinical Nutritionist from Honolulu, HI.