If you’ve poked around online for answers to issues like digestive discomfort, headaches, weight gain, exhaustion, low sex drive, joint pain and the list goes on, you’ve probably read about Candida. You may be overwhelmed and confused by all the conflicting info out there—some people are on the fence about whether it’s a real health condition or just another health fad. That’s why my team and I (including our Crazy Sexy R.D., Jen Reilly) have reviewed the research. We’ve created a well-balanced take on this hot topic that’ll leave you feeling clear on Candida, plus what to do next if you think it’s an issue for you.
What is Candida?
Candida (technically known as Candida albicans) is a fungus that lives on your skin, and in your mouth, intestines and nether regions. When your immune system is in tip-top shape, Candida isn’t an issue. In fact, when you’ve got a balanced amount of this friendly fungus, it can be a healthy part of the microbiome that helps your body digest nutrients.
Problems creep in, however, when your immune system is down as a result of stress or other factors, or when your good gut bacteria has been wiped out by antibiotics. In these situations, Candida overgrowth can reach to a point where it causes Candidiasis (a yeast infection) on your skin (fingernail or toenail fungus), down yonder or in your intestinal tract.
Overgrowth can lead to a variety of issues, including digestive problems like bloating and irritable bowel. Candidiasis can even permeate your gut lining and cause allergic-type inflammatory skin diseases and asthma in sensitive folks (study and study). In very, very rare situations, Candida can enter your bloodstream from your intestinal tract and affect your vital organs (study).
If you suffer from any of the following, Candida could be at the root of your issues:
- Fingernail or toenail fungus
- Eczema (study) or psoriasis (study)
- Asthma (study)
- Yeast infection or itching in your genital area
- Bloating or digestive disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome
- Fatigue, and even chronic fatigue syndrome (study)
- Headaches, low energy and brain fog
How can you test to be sure?
Skin reactions and yeast infections due to Candida overgrowth are easy to diagnose at a check-up with your doctor. If there’s no obvious infection, but you still suspect Candida is an issue, your doc can order a Comprehensive Stool Test to check for intestinal Candida overgrowth. In addition, you can have your blood levels tested for immunoglobulin (IgG) response to a panel of Candida antigens. Although, please note that this may result in a false negative, especially among individuals with compromised immune systems or with very early stages of the infection.
Three Ways to Prevent, Treat & Reduce Candida Overgrowth
- 1. Eliminate or greatly reduce sugar, simple carbs and alcohol. Sugar is Candida’s primary fuel source, so starving it from its main nourishment is crucial in preventing overgrowth and even diminishing its conversion from a benign yeast into a troublemaking fungus (study). This means ditching sugary foods, switching from simple white carbs to whole grains with fiber and eliminating (or at least seriously limiting) alcohol intake. You could take this even further by reducing your intake of whole grains and choosing gluten-free alternatives like oat bran, quinoa, millet and buckwheat. You could also eliminate starchy veggies like potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn and carrots, as well as fruit—especially the high Glycemic Index fruits like bananas, mango, watermelon, pineapple, cherries and dried fruit (these are more sugary and less fibrous). And if you have full blown Candida with clear signs, it’s probably best to avoid all sugary and carby foods for a period of time. Work with a holistic practitioner to determine how long and whether you’ve cleared it up, at which point you can re-introduce whole grains and low-sugar fruits slowly.
2. Get cozy with daily probiotics. Daily probiotics have proven to be an effective treatment in people with fungal colonizations in their intestinal tracts, which result in gas, bloating and other symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (study). Probiotics may also prevent Candida overgrowth during antibiotic use (study). Choose one that’s labeled as having “enteric coating”—this means that it’s got special coating to help protect the healthy bugs from stomach acid, which can kill them before they reach your gut. I like Renew Life Ultimate Flora, Jarro-Dophilus EPS (Jarro-Dophilus is good for travel because it doesn’t have to be kept in a refrigerator) and Dr. Ohhira’s. Make them part of your daily routine and you may have an easier time keeping your Candida in check.
3. Keep your immune system in tip-top shape. The best dietary approach to keeping Candida under control includes drinking plenty of water and eating a diet that’s low in sugary high Glycemic Index foods—this would mean avoiding foods that quickly turn into sugar in your bloodstream. For example, the fruits mentioned above (number one), as well as added sugars and simple carbs. And as always, it helps to load up on leafy greens, colorful plant foods and nourishing green juices and smoothies. Stress reduction is a biggie too. You can start minimizing stress right away with daily meditation, 5-minute stress breaks from work throughout the day and 1-minute breathing breaks every 90 minutes.