In my practice, a topic that arises often is candida and yeast allergies. In this article, I intend to clear up some common misconceptions about candida that get in the way of helping this condition.First, let us look at a definition of candida.
When people say candida, they are usually referring to a condition of yeast overgrowth in the digestive tract and/or the vagina. Symptoms usually include low energy, feeling sluggish, headaches, skin problems, vaginal itching and discharge, along with a host of digestive system symptoms like pain, bowel movement problems, bloating and sugar cravings. With this working definition of candida, we can now look more closely at some of the common misconceptions.
The first misconception is that candida is an invasion of foreign yeast into our body. Yeast is a normal component of the digestive tract and vagina (as are all of those good bacteria we hear about like acidophilus). This native flora and fauna provide us with many benefits. In our digestive system, they help process food and even produce some important B vitamins and vitamin K. Equally significant, they provide protection against the invasion of nasty disease-producing pathogens. In fact, these symbiotic relationships we have with the yeast and bacteria in our bodies make it possible for us to live; without them, we could not survive.
The real problem with candida is not that the yeast is there, but that there is too much of it. The yeast and bacteria live in a specific balance and ratio inside us. When something happens to change this ratio, the balance is upset and the yeast overgrows. A good example of this is when a woman takes an antibiotic, she often gets a yeast infection. This occurs because the antibiotic not only kills the harmful bacteria that are causing the initial problem, they kill the good ones, too. Now that the helpful bacteria are not there to keep the yeast in check, the yeast population explodes and voila, a yeast infection occurs. A good cure for this type of yeast infection is to use a tampon dipped in a plain non-sweetened live-culture yogurt. Often the problem clears up with only one application.
The second misconception is that candida is an allergy to yeast (e.g., the yeast in bread, mushrooms or beer). As mentioned earlier, candida is not an invasion of some foreign yeast that we are allergic to. The problem is an overgrowth of the good yeast that is naturally present in our bodies. The common mushrooms we eat are not the same type of fungus as candida and have no negative effect on a candida problem. In fact, mushrooms help to tonify yin; regularly including them in our diet helps to counter the harmful effects of our hectic lifestyles.
As for the bread and beer, it is not the yeast that is the problem, but the sugar. Yeast loves sugar; it is their favorite food. The bacteria in our body do not like sugar as much as the yeast does. The bacteria tend to like the fiber in vegetables, whole grains and beans. The more refined and simple the starch, the more the yeast love it, the more the yeast grows, and the worse the candida problem is.
These two main misconceptions about candida, that it is foreign yeast and that eating yeast makes the condition worse, get in the way of doing the things that will improve the condition. The first step is find out why the candida problem is there initially. For example, is it the result of antibiotic overuse, or a diet high in sugar and processed food?
As for nutrition, there are two simple ways to fix a candida problem, both of which are necessary for long-term cure and prevention. The first is to eat more food that encourages the friendly bac-teria to grow Ð more fiber-rich food likes veggies, whole grains and legumes. The second is to eat less food that encourages the yeast to overgrow. Yeast loves sugar in all forms, so that means avoiding sugar (including alcohol and fruit juice) and refined, processed starchy products. If the problem is severe, then even the sugar in fruit can aggravate it, and therefore should be avoided until the problem is under control again.
Overall, it is the food we eat every day that has the greatest effect on our health, not the birthday cake we eat once in a while. Saying that, however, the bottom line is to observe what you eat and then watch how it affects your body. If eating that birthday cake once a year sets off your candida problem again, then do not eat the cake (or do not complain when the candida problem comes back). If you have tried the nutrition change and the candida problem persists, there is likely more at work than just too much sugar intake. In the next article, we will look at the mind/body side of a candida problem and explore other steps we can take to become happier and healthier.
Click here for previous articles by Kaleb Montgomery, DTCM.