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The diet-candida connection: nutrition and yeast problems

Yeast Problems and Diet - Candida Conditions Related to Nutrition

            Yeast is a microorganism that grows in warm, moist areas that have sugar as a food source. Everyone has yeast somewhere in their body---it’s a natural situation. It is present in the large intestine, and often as a thin white layer at the back of the tongue. A strong immune system and “friendly” bacteria inside our gut act to keep yeast levels in check. However, if a person’s immune system is not functioning correctly, or if they don’t have the right amount of friendly bacteria, yeast overgrowth (candidiasis) can occur. Candida albicans is a single-celled fungus, and it is this species which appears to cause the most yeast-related problems for people. It can penetrate the lining of the gut, which can worsen food allergies and food sensitivities. Candida overgrowth in the vagina can cause a painful infection. In fact, yeast overgrowth is much more common in women than men. Candida overgrowth can spread to the ears, fingernails and/or toenails, ears, and nose. If candidiasis becomes severe and uncontrolled, the yeast can actually invade multiple organs and cause life-threatening health problems. Certain diseases can also contribute to Candida overgrowth, including: HIV infection, diabetes, and cancer.

            Causes of candidiasis can include: steroid medication, alcohol use, a high-sugar diet, chronic antibiotic use, oral contraceptive use, and parasites. There are many different symptoms of candidiasis. Neurological symptoms can include: chronic fatigue, memory loss, alcohol intolerance, and depression. Gastrointestinal symptoms can include: food allergies and sensitivities, heartburn, cramps, gas and bloating, and diarrhea or constipation. Genitourinary symptoms can include: impotence and/or prostatitis for males, and vaginal and/or urinary tract infections for females. Other symptoms can include: jock itch, athlete’s foot, rectal itching, and severe premenstrual syndrome. There is often a craving for alcohol, sweets, or breads.

            Like most fungus, Candida grows in moist, warm areas. This can include areas on and inside the body such as the mouth, throat, lower intestine (which is alkaline pH), and vagina. Alkaline pH can support infection, including yeast infection. This is why areas like the vagina are normally acidic, to help inhibit infections. Candida infection of the mouth is called thrush. The tongue and other areas inside the mouth end up covered with a fluffy white layer of fungus. Many people mistakenly believe that organisms like fungi and yeast are harmless organisms. However, yeast toxin damage in the body is widespread and can include: hormonal problems to the thyroid, testes, adrenals, and/or ovaries, staph infections, impaired immune response, fatty acid imbalances, decreased absorption and/or metabolism of nutrients, impaired circulation, impaired neurotransmission, and decreased protein metabolism.

            There are a variety of over-the-counter drugs to help fight Candida infection of the skin, and these are generally safe if used properly. There are also some anti-yeast prescription drugs to fight Candida internally. Monistat is a popular antifungal cream for vaginal yeast infections. Nystatin is an older drug that is relatively safe, although as mentioned elsewhere in this article, some holistic practitioners believe that, even if it does kill Candida, in the long term it is ineffective at controlling general fungal infections. They speculate that the drug simply forces the yeast strain into a different form. It may be that Nystatin does in fact kill specific strains of yeast such as Candida albicans, but it may leave other species of fungus relatively unharmed, and these species then fill the void that albicans left. Diflucan is a newer antifungal drug that unfortunately can have liver toxicity and multiple drug interactions as side effects.

            Holistic treatment of candidiasis can be complicated, since there are so many variables in the causes and symptoms for this illness. Below are a few helpful tips in combating yeast overgrowth. Citrus fruits such as lemons, limes, oranges, pineapple, and grapefruit may worsen Candida infection in some people. Try eliminating these fruits for a few weeks and then reintroduce them one at a time, to see if you are sensitive to their yeast-promoting character. People with significant intestinal candidiasis may have low levels of stomach acid; they should check this with a physician. Finally, when a person uses various therapies described below for controlling yeast infections, they may actually feel worse for a couple of weeks. This may often be due to the yeast being killed off, and their toxins being released into the bloodstream. People who feel worse while starting a yeast-controlling program should continue unless the dead yeast toxin symptoms are intolerable.

            To help the immune system and friendly bacteria defeat Candida, sugar intake must be eliminated. This includes fructose (fruit sugar), which some people think is a healthy form of sugar, but it is not. Fructose goes into the same biochemical pathway as sucrose (table sugar). People with candidiasis should also avoid food molds: fermented foods, cheese, mushrooms, and grapes. Even sweetened yogurt should be avoided, since the added sugar in the yogurt outweighs the benefits of the friendly acidophilus bacteria in the yogurt. Unsweetened yogurt is the best form. Unsweetened yogurt may inhibit yeast infections. It’s not recommended to apply yogurt in the vagina or other areas where yeast infections are on the skin. A good anti-yeast diet can include: eggs, fish, nuts/seeds, poultry, vegetables, meat, and small amounts of whole grains.

            There are several different supplements that can help the body keep yeast under control. Iron supplements may help oral candidiasis (mouth and throat infection). Experiments on mice showed that zinc supplementation increased resistance to Candida infection. Supplemental digestive enzymes such as chymotrypsin, lactase, pancrelipase, papain, pepsin, and trypsin may be helpful for keeping intestinal Candida in check by the improved digestion of foods.

            There are also additional methods to help keep yeast in check. Women with vaginitis who ate eight ounces of yogurt containing the friendly probiotic Acidophilus significantly reduced Candida infection. Tea tree oil can be used to treat external Candida infections. Tea tree oil should never be used internally, either by ingestion or as a vaginal douche. Oregano oil also has antifungal activity against Candida. The combination of dietary changes and supplements listed above can greatly help control yeast overgrowth in and/or on the body. Remember that yeast thrive on sugar---cutting out simple sugars is by far the most important thing to do when controlling yeast overgrowth.

Dr. Jensen provides science-based holistic health care and guidance. He can advise you on specific problems you are experiencing, or help you create a comprehensive health care plan for optimum health.

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