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Overcome Candida Overgrowth With This Functional Medicine Expert’s Guide

Overcome Candida Overgrowth With This Functional Medicine Expert's Guide Dr. Will Cole

If you pay attention to health trends, you’ve probably been hearing the word “candida” for years, not to mention the many “candida diets” and “candida cleanses” available out here. Sometimes, though, it may seem like “candida” is almost a catchall diagnosis for a wide variety of health problems. Feeling bad? Must be candida! Too bad, because this tends to dilute the perception of what this problem really is and what it can do to your health. Many are now skeptical that candida can actually cause any health problems at all. So, let’s cut through the candida confusion and get the facts.

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What Is Candida?

When you hear the word “candida” that is referring to the Candida albicans fungus, which is the most common yeast in the human gastrointestinal system. Ideally it occurs in small amounts and is one part of a healthy microbiome.

However, sometimes conditions are ripe for Candida albicans to grow out of control – often when there is a decrease in beneficial bacteria, such as with a course of antibiotics or due to a poor diet. This allows overgrowths of opportunistic bacteria, parasites, and yeasts like candida, causing dysbiosis, or an unhealthy microbiome. In addition to diet and antibiotics, this can be caused by stress, chronic illness, other medications, or a combination of any of these. Note that candida overgrowth can be just one part of a larger gut problem.

Who Is Susceptible To Candida Overgrowth?

Research has found that people with the following problems are more likely to get candida infections and/or be exacerbated by intestinal candidiasis or yeast overgrowth:

Symptoms Of Candida Overgrowth

How do you know you have candida overgrowth specifically, or dysbiosis in general? Acute infestations of candida, such as recurring yeast infections, are well documented, but chronic, low-grade candida overgrowths are not as easily detected. However, they do exist and have been shown to be related to an increased permeability of the gut lining or leaky gut syndrome.

Because the microbiome plays a role in virtually every aspect of your health, there are many far-reaching, seemingly unrelated symptoms that could be due at least in part to a chronic overgrowth of candida. These can include:

  • Acne
  • Acid reflux
  • Anxiety
  • Autoimmune conditions
  • Bloating
  • Brain fog
  • Constipation
  • Depression
  • Diarrhea
  • Eczema
  • Fungal Infections of skin or nails
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Low immune system
  • Panic attacks
  • Thyroid symptoms
  • Weight loss resistance

How Do You Test For Candida Overgrowths?

Low-grade overgrowths can be quite subtle, but can be detected with the proper diagnostic testing. I run either a two- or three-day stool collection that analyzes the DNA of the specific pathogens that are in your microbiome and often go undetected on standard labs. Interestingly, instead of finding Candida albicans, I often find abnormal amounts of other types of candida or different fungus species on lab results.

What To Do If You Think You Have Candida Overgrowth

1. Ask your doctor about a comprehensive stool test.

A multiple-day collection provides a more complete look at the microbiome and can uncover fungal, bacterial, or parasitic overgrowth, as well as beneficial bacteria levels. Retesting a few months into care allows for any modification that may be needed.

2. Ask about a test for leaky gut syndrome.

A blood test to assess if anything from the gut is passing into the blood stream can be done to find out if you have leaky gut syndrome.

3. Rule out SIBO

Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, or SIBO, is common with candida overgrowth, further complicating treatment. It can be helpful to look for SIBO.

4. Avoid sugar.

Candida eats what you eat, and it especially loves sugar! Avoiding junk foods and excess amounts of fruit, juice, and starchy foods like potatoes is essential to get Candida under control.

5. Hold off on fermented foods.

Fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi are wonderful sources of probiotics, but can also feed candida. Certain probiotic supplements that contain prebiotics can also feed overgrowths. These are all healthful foods, but I generally suggest waiting until after the die-off phase of Candida removal before adding these back in to recolonize the microbiome. This can take anywhere from weeks to months, depending on the severity of the case.

6. Take targeted natural medicines.

Caprylic acid, (6) oregano oil, (7) garlic, (8) and black tea (9) were all shown in the literature to be effective treatments for candida overgrowths. The beneficial yeast S. boulardii was also shown (10) to be effective against candida overgrowth, decreasing both the inflammation from the overgrowth and the spreading of candida in the gut.

7. Try personalized functional medicine care.

Even with natural options, what works for one person may not work for you! Today, lab testing can better inform us which natural medicines would be better for your individual overgrowth or gut infection. This ensures targeted and more effective care. Take advantage of our free evaluation via webcam or phone to get your questions answered and to see if functional medicine is right for you.

16 Foods To Eat + Avoid To Overcome Candida Overgrowth

8 Foods To Eat On The Candida Diet

1. Non-starchy vegetables

Fungus eats what you eat, but make the right choices and your fungal populations won’t overgrow. Choice #1 is plant foods like kale, spinach, Swiss chard, and bok choy, which offer a lot of nutrients without overfeeding the overgrowth.

Green leafy vegetables are also rich in folate, which I mentioned in a previous article, is needed for people with MTHFR gene mutations who are extra-sensitive to candida overgrowth.

Some people do better with steaming or sautéing non-starchy vegetables, which is more gentle on the gut than eating them raw.

2. Clean meats

Grass-fed beef, wild-caught fish, and organic organ meat (like liver) are rich in bioavailable fat-soluble nutrients such as vitamins A, D, and K2, all of which are needed (11) for immune and microbiome health, without the toxins that can come from industrially farmed versions.

3. Healthy fats

Coconut, olive, and avocado oil are all healing to the gut. A variety of saturated and monounsaturated fats have an anti-inflammatory effect on the gut lining, which provides a less hospitable environment for fungus. Coconut oil in particular is rich in caprylic acid, which has been shown (12) to inhibit candida overgrowth.

4. Cultured foods

Fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, and coconut or grass-fed kefir will help reinoculate a stressed-out microbiome with beneficial bacteria, which can work to keep Candida at bay. I recommend eating these in moderation at the beginning of your healing so your digestion can adjust, and slowly increasing intake, as too much cultured food can cause a flare-up of symptoms from a too-quick die-off of the yeast overgrowth.

5. Healing herbs and spices

Herbs like oregano, (13) ginger, (14) and pau d’arco have all been shown to have antimicrobial effects. You can choose to use them in recipes, tea, or in supplement form.

6. Healthy sweeteners

Candida thrives on sugar – its very favorite food – so choose non-sugary sweeteners like raw green stevia and xylitol if you need to sweeten your food. But even these should be used sparingly.

7. Tea

Tannins found in black tea have been shown (15) to help kill off candida. Calming teas, like ginger, can help soothe the delicate gut lining.

8. Bone broth

This ancient healing food is making a modern comeback, and for good reason – it just may be the strongest easily available gut medicine. The collagen in the broth helps to rebuild a healthy gut lining and because it contains no sugar, it can also help starve down fungal overgrowths and turn down inflammation.

8 Foods To Avoid On The Candida Diet

1. Sugar

Sugar – in all its forms – feeds candida, no question about it. If you want to get control of a fungal overgrowth, cut sugar out 100%, and be sure to read labels carefully since sugar has many different pseudonyms. Know that while some sweeteners may have more nutrients than others, they all feed candida to some degree. And just in case you think artificial sweeteners are the answer, think again. Research shows that they can catastrophically alter the balance of the gut flora.

2. Fruit

It’s called “nature’s candy” for a reason – it’s made by nature, but it’s not unlike candy. I would suggest severely limiting or avoiding fruit while healing your gut. At the very least, stick to lower-fructose fruits like berries and citrus fruits like lemon, lime, and grapefruit. Besides being lower in sugar, these citrus fruits also have antimicrobial (16) properties.

3. Grains

Grains are really just another form of sugar, and should also be avoided when healing a fungal overgrowth. That’s especially so for those containing gluten, which can be very damaging to the gut, giving fungus the upper hand. Grain-free flours like almond, hazelnut, and coconut can be used in moderation as a replacement. Later on, as you heal, you can slowly reintroduce gluten-free grains (like rice and organic, non-GMO corn) sparingly to see if they agree with you.

4. Alcohol

Alcohol is tough (17) on your intestinal lining, and is even linked to leaky gut syndrome. Alcohol can also impair detoxification pathways, which need to be optimized when healing the microbiome.

5. Dairy

I consider most dairy in the U.S. to be junk food. That’s because the cows are given hormones and antibiotics, fed GMO corn instead of grass, and live in unhealthy conditions. The milk is then pasteurized and homogenized, and the fat, with all its vitamins, is removed. Synthetic vitamins are then added back because the milk is devoid of nutrition. In other words, dairy isn’t doing you any favors.

Moreover, many people with candida overgrowth have leaky gut syndrome, which can make them more sensitive to casein, a protein in milk, and the milk sugar (lactose) is, again, just sugar. The one exception I would make is grass-fed, full-fat, cultured dairy foods like kefir and yogurt.

6. Starchy plant foods

Starchy vegetables like potatoes, yams, and beets can feed the yeast  overgrowth because of their high carb content, even though they do contain fiber and vitamins. While you’re healing your gut, I would also avoid legumes like black beans, pinto beans, lentils, peanuts, cashews, and chickpeas, which can be inflammatory for some people. As you heal, you can test these to see how your body handles them.

7. FODMAPS

One specific food category that often goes unmentioned when it comes to gut problems are FODMAPS. FODMAP stands for Fermentable Oligo-, Di-, Monosaccharides, and Polyols and refers to carbs – often from otherwise healthy vegetables – that aren’t easily digested by the gut. When eating in excess, they can also feed microbiome overgrowths such as candida and small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, so avoiding them may be a temporary but critical strategy.

Some foods that are high in FODMAPS: onions, garlic, cabbage, and apples. Legumes are also high in FODMAPS. I suggest avoiding or limiting them while you heal, and then slowly increasing your intake to find your individual tolerance.

8. Conventional coffee

Coffee, in excess, is a well-known irritant to the gut lining. (18) Coffee can also be high in molds, (19) which can stress a compromised immune system and encourage Candida overgrowth. And decaf might actually be worse when it comes to both mold content (20) and acidity. (21) Make sure to search for high-quality organic coffee beans, and drink coffee in moderation.

Putting It All Together

Food is undoubtedly the most important factor you can modify on your own as you begin your gut-healing, Candida-busting journey. For more help, work with a qualified clinician on customized natural protocols. Consider taking advantage of a free webcam or phone evaluation to talk about your individual case. Always talk to a trusted health care provider before making changes to your diet.

If you want to learn more about your own health case please check out our consultation process. We offer webcam as well as in-person consultations for people across the country and around the world.

Photo: Stocksy

References:

  1. Zielinski, C., Mele, F., Aschenbrenner, D. et al. Pathogen-induced human TH17 cells produce IFN-γ or IL-10 and are regulated by IL-1β. Nature 484, 514–518 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature10957
  2. Woods JW, Manning IH, Patterson CN. Monilial Infections Complicating The Therapeutic Use of Antibiotics. JAMA. 1951;145(4):207–211. doi:10.1001/jama.1951.02920220015003
  3. Margaret K Hostetter Handicaps to Host Defense: Effects of Hyperglycemia on C3 and Candida albicans Diabetes Mar 1990, 39 (3) 271-275; DOI: 10.2337/diab.39.3.271
  4. Giri S, Kindo AJ. A review of Candida species causing blood stream infection. Indian J Med Microbiol. 2012;30(3):270‐278. doi:10.4103/0255-0857.99484
  5. Spinillo A, Capuzzo E, Nicola S, Baltaro F, Ferrari A, Monaco A. The impact of oral contraception on vulvovaginal candidiasis. Contraception. 1995;51(5):293‐297. doi:10.1016/0010-7824(95)00079-p
  6. Murzyn A, Krasowska A, Stefanowicz P, Dziadkowiec D, Łukaszewicz M. Capric acid secreted by S. boulardii inhibits C. albicans filamentous growth, adhesion and biofilm formation. PLoS One. 2010;5(8):e12050. Published 2010 Aug 10. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0012050
  7. Akgül A, Kivanç M. Inhibitory effects of selected Turkish spices and oregano components on some foodborne fungi. Int J Food Microbiol. 1988;6(3):263‐268. doi:10.1016/0168-1605(88)90019-0
  8. Jennifer A. Shuford, James M. Steckelberg, Robin Patel Effects of Fresh Garlic Extract on Candida albicans Biofilms Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy Dec 2004, 49 (1) 473; DOI: 10.1128/AAC.49.1.473.2005
  9. Sitheeque MA, Panagoda GJ, Yau J, Amarakoon AM, Udagama UR, Samaranayake LP. Antifungal activity of black tea polyphenols (catechins and theaflavins) against Candida species. Chemotherapy. 2009;55(3):189‐196. doi:10.1159/000216836
  10. Jawhara S, Poulain D. Saccharomyces boulardii decreases inflammation and intestinal colonization by Candida albicans in a mouse model of chemically-induced colitis. Med Mycol. 2007;45(8):691‐700. doi:10.1080/13693780701523013
  11. National Research Council (US) Subcommittee on the Tenth Edition of the Recommended Dietary Allowances. Recommended Dietary Allowances: 10th Edition. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 1989. 7, Fat-Soluble Vitamins. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK234920/
  12. National Research Council (US) Subcommittee on the Tenth Edition of the Recommended Dietary Allowances. Recommended Dietary Allowances: 10th Edition. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 1989. 7, Fat-Soluble Vitamins. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK234920/
  13. Akgül A, Kivanç M. Inhibitory effects of selected Turkish spices and oregano components on some foodborne fungi. Int J Food Microbiol. 1988;6(3):263‐268. doi:10.1016/0168-1605(88)90019-0
  14. Giriraju A, Yunus GY. Assessment of antimicrobial potential of 10% ginger extract against Streptococcus mutans, Candida albicans, and Enterococcus faecalis: an in vitro study. Indian J Dent Res. 2013;24(4):397‐400. doi:10.4103/0970-9290.118356
  15. Sitheeque MA, Panagoda GJ, Yau J, Amarakoon AM, Udagama UR, Samaranayake LP. Antifungal activity of black tea polyphenols (catechins and theaflavins) against Candida species. Chemotherapy. 2009;55(3):189‐196. doi:10.1159/000216836
  16. Sony Kumari, Neelanjana Sarmah, A. K Handique, Antioxidant and Antimicrobial Potential of Ripen and Unripe Juice of Citrus limon International Journal of Pharmaceutical Science Invention Volume 3 Issue 6 June 2014 PP.18-20
  17. Bode C, Bode JC. Effect of alcohol consumption on the gut. Best Pract Res Clin Gastroenterol. 2003;17(4):575‐592. doi:10.1016/s1521-6918(03)00034-9
  18. Bill Hendrick, Brewing a Gentler Java WebMD March 22, 2010 https://www.webmd.com/digestive-disorders/news/20100322/brewing-gentler-java#1
  19. Studer-Rohr I, Dietrich DR, Schlatter J, Schlatter C. The occurrence of ochratoxin A in coffee. Food Chem Toxicol. 1995;33(5):341‐355. doi:10.1016/0278-6915(94)00150-m
  20. Soliman KM. Incidence, level, and behavior of aflatoxins during coffee bean roasting and decaffeination. J Agric Food Chem. 2002;50(25):7477‐7481. doi:10.1021/jf011338v
  21. Feldman EJ, Isenberg JI, Grossman MI. Gastric Acid and Gastrin Response to Decaffeinated Coffee and a Peptone Meal. JAMA. 1981;246(3):248–250. doi:10.1001/jama.1981.03320030040027

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BY DR. WILL COLE

Evidence-based reviewed article

Dr. Will Cole, IFMCP, DNM, DC, leading functional medicine expert, consults people around the world via webcam and locally in Pittsburgh. He received his doctorate from Southern California University of Health Sciences and post doctorate education and training in functional medicine and clinical nutrition. He specializes in clinically researching underlying factors of chronic disease and customizing a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. Dr. Cole was named one of the top 50 functional medicine and integrative doctors in the nation and is the best selling author of Ketotarian and The Inflammation Spectrum.

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