Conquer CandidaAnna Maria Greene September 1, 2006
Best Tools of the Trade for Restoring Intestinal Balance
It was the incessant itching that really got to Jessie* and had her running regularly for the Monistat or, alternately, a home-made yogurt remedy, to relieve the maddening symptoms.
“Maddening doesn’t even begin to describe it, actually,” says the 27-year-old restaurant manager/owner. At the time her symptoms began appearing, she was only 13 years old. Later, she was told by her doctor that her condition was a fairly common vaginal yeast infection (also known as Vulvovaginal Candidiasis), and an over-the-counter medication was prescribed. This treatment would work for a while but the symptoms would always return with a vengeance.
Fourteen years later and Jessie’s itch is still showing no mercy. “It’s not every single day. It starts up a couple of times a month and lasts for a few days or so each time. You learn to deal with it,” she says, stoically. However, she really didn’t want to have to “deal” with a recurring infection for the rest of her life, so she decided to seek the advice of a naturopathic doctor.
Expecting to receive a solution for ridding herself of the yucky yeast nightmare, she was stunned when the naturopath said that her condition was significantly more serious than she had thought it to be. The infection had apparently spread throughout her body, even into her bloodstream. The diagnosis – leaky gut syndrome (LGS). “I was in shock,” she says. “I could not believe it.”
LEAKY GUT SYNDROME
Imagine a fine thread with tiny needles meandering through your intestines, poking holes in it along the way. The “thread and needle” effect is what occurs when there is an overgrowth of fungi, called Candida albicans, in the body of the host – when the single-celled Candida micro-organisms begin to mutate until they form a sort of chain, called mycelium, that sucks the nutrients out of the host while simultaneously puncturing its intestines, causing toxins (which are constantly being produced) to seep out and wind up in the bloodstream.
That, in a nutshell, is how LGS works and dealing with the problem isn’t going to be easy for Jessie. Jessie already knows what part of the remedy entails – taking on better lifestyle habits, including giving up sugars and other things that have been a part of her daily life since she was a young girl. The fact that she works all day long in a restaurant, six days a week, handling, serving, and sometimes baking many of the foods that are now off limits doesn’t make it any easier: and not just the obvious foods, such as cookies, cakes, muffins, sugary breads, fried foods and pops. She would also have to give up things that many people consider healthy such as fruit juice (because of high sugar content), commercial nuts (they have mould), whole-grain breads (they have yeast and gluten can be hard to digest), so-called low-fat cereals that say: no added sugar (read the labels; they have sugar, sometimes as high as 17 grams a serving) – the list goes on.
“It’s a drastic lifestyle change and I know I’ve got to do it, whether I want to or not,” she says, “but right now I’m just feeling a bit overwhelmed. I really don’t want to think about it at the moment!”
Unfortunately, Jessie’s symptoms are not uncommon and neither is her understandable ostrich-like response to the treatment. It is believed that as many as 75% of women (US statistics) experience vaginal yeast infection at some point in their lives, and oftentimes it’s recurring – and that statistic doesn’t take into consideration how many of these women go on to experience more complicated symptoms and debilitating illnesses that can develop when such infections spiral out of control.
Indeed, as Jeanne Marie Martin and Dr. Zoltan Rona note in their best-seller The Complete Candida Yeast Guidebook, “This hidden epidemic [the overgrowth of Candida albicans] affects as many as 90% of men, women, and children alike.” Moreover, individuals such as Jessie are often oblivious to the havoc being wreaked on their bodies; consequently, their symptoms go undiagnosed for years until the infection is systemic (that is, it has spread throughout their entire system) and, in some situations, becomes life-threatening.
COMMON TYPES OF YEAST / FUNGAL INFECTION
Yeast infections tend to grow in moist environments, which is why the genital area is a favoured spot for fungi to flourish. Other outer areas of the body that fungi are more likely to be found are finger- and toenails, the areas between fingers and toes and in skin-folds. For a list of some of the main types of yeast infections see the sidebar below.
The great balancing act: how fungi, bacteria and you must all get along to survive.
The first step in overcoming the problem of fungal-related illnesses is to take an interest in what is actually going on in our bodies and learn to understand how things can get so out of control. A good place to start is with the little beasts that live within and about us.
Generally speaking, there are four major types of germs: bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoa. For our purposes, we’ll focus on bacteria and fungi. “We all have various bacteria and fungi like Candida [yeast], living in our bowels as part of what is called ‘normal flora,” Rona explains in the introduction to The Complete Candida Yeast Guidebook. Besides helping fight infection, they aid in the synthesis of nutrients and help us make waste from the foods we eat. However, a balance needs to exist between fungi and healthy flora, and when the balance goes out of whack, that’s when the trouble begins.
CAUSES OF FUNGAL-RELATED ILLNESSES
A common misconception is that Candida albicans is the enemy, a foreigner that invades our bodies. That is not in fact true. It is as natural to have yeast and fungi in our bodies as it is to have bacteria. We can’t live without them and they can’t live without us. Not exactly love but it’s definitely part of life, and much like life, the trick is in the balancing act.
Too much yeast is what causes such problems, and there are a number of reasons why this would occur. Two major culprits of yeast infections are refined carbs (sugars) and antibiotics. Sugar is something the yeast thrives on (sugar feeds yeast), and antibiotics kill off all bacteria in the intestines, including the good bacteria which keeps fungi in check and acidity levels normal. When antibiotics kill off most of the friendly bacteria in the intestines, the perfect environment is created for Candida and other fungi to overgrow. No longer microscopic and benevolent, yeast grows into a visible monster, destructive and out of control.
Other triggers that will throw off the balance of our intestinal flora include stress, birth control pills, consuming nuts, grains, fruits and veggies that have moulds on them, hormone- and toxic-laden foods; as well as existing diseases, such as diabetes, which put a profound strain on the immune system.
Another misconception is that Candida is the only enemy, but as noted in The Complete Candida Yeast Guidebook: “In the past decade, a great deal of attention has been placed on a single fungus called Candida albicans, but we should expand our awareness … beyond just Candida.”
One Toronto naturopathic doctor, EeVon Ling of the Pacific Wellness Institute, agrees that the term Candida is overused. “People don’t realize that there are many more fungi that take up space in our bodies,” says Ling. She prefers the terms “dysbiosis,” which refers to a condition where your body is in a state of imbalance – when the normal balance of organisms in the body is disturbed, allowing potentially pathogenic germs to thrive.
Thousands of fungi species may be taking up space in our bodies as we speak, but our immune systems and other microorganisms (“friendly bacteria”) protect us against infections from overgrowth of these germs. When any of these protectors are compromised – if our immune system becomes weakened, our friendly bacteria gets killed off, our acidity levels drop – dysbiosis will occur. What we want to do, says Ling, is to bring our bodies back into a state of symbiosis (living in balance).
HOW TO BATTLE THE BEAST AND BRING BACK BALANCE
STEP 1: Recognize the symptoms
Once you get informed about the role germs play in your body, you need to recognize your symptoms and get help identifying the conditions or illnesses behind those symptoms. Most naturopathic doctors conduct a rigorous history of the patient, including a history of previous illnesses and medical treatments for them (such as antibiotics, steroids, etc.), reviewing a long list of symptoms and determining the degree to which patients experience those symptoms. Says Ling, “I would say about 50% or more [of the individuals who come to see me] have dysbiosis, and in terms of Candida, between 10 and 20% show up [with Candida-specific symptoms].”
Patients diagnosed with Candida-related illnesses (or as Martin and Rona suggest it be called, fungal-related illnesses) will present with a wide range of symptoms, each patient being different depending on their history. A typical list of the symptoms can be found at www.stopcandida.ca. Among the most common symptoms of fungal-related conditions are: chronic fatigue, irritable bowel syndrome, abdominal pain, bloating, indigestion, joint pain, weight loss or gain, itchy, red eyes, skin rashes, chronic sinus drainage, hair loss, PMS, “brain fog” as well as numerous other ailments.
STEP 2: Make a plan for treatment
As Jessie will attest, this is the hardest part. It’s easy enough to map out a plan on paper, but when it comes to putting that plan in motion and actually stopping poor eating habits and other behaviour you’ve been accustomed to for years, you have your work cut out for you – and that’s especially so if your family, friends and/or partner continue to eat these foods right under your nose. Still, with discipline and support, you can turn the tables on your condition.
Treatment will vary depending on the individual but generally will consist of three major components: diet change; prescribed supplements; and exercise and other lifestyle changes to help support the daily regimen.
• Foods to avoid:
Since yeast eats sugar, the main foods to avoid include refined carbohydrates, which convert into sugars; sugars and sugared drinks (including juices, most fruits); foods that tend to contain or produce moulds (e.g. commercial nuts); dairy foods; plants from the “nightshade” group (such as tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, tobacco); alcohol drinks and fermented foods (tempeh, vinegar, miso, etc); grains, including whole grains (which convert into sugar but only in extreme cases); and of course all junk foods.
Consult Jeanne Marie Martin’s Complete Candida Yeast Guidebook for a more thorough list, which explains in-depth the logic behind this elimination process (generally speaking, these are foods that encourage yeast growth and/or cause discomfort due to difficulty in digestion). The book also provides an entire section of recipes/menus that can be helpful in the healing process and elimination of symptoms. Diets will vary with each individual and doctor, depending on the severity and type of the patient’s symptoms as well as their medical history. Some doctors, for instance, will recommend avoiding grains for as long as nine months.
• Foods to include: Green leafy vegetables, cooked veggies such as broccoli, cauliflower; organic meats such as poultry, lamb, fish; all citruses (except oranges and tangerines), beans, except for white ones (too starchy); unsweetened yogurt with “probiotics” (live culture); certain organic seeds; and organic whole grains if you can handle it. Again, consult Martin’s guidebook.
• Supplements: The supplement program will typically include probiotics (as opposed to antibiotics, which kill off both good and bad bacteria). Probiotics is the term used to describe “friendly” bacteria that include the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species. It is found in supplements in high concentration – the most common being Acidophilus – to help restore balance to the microflora in the gut.
Another key in the regimen is caprylic acid, a saturated fatty acid with proven powerful anti-fungal properties. Caprylic acid is derived from coconut oil, and also naturally occurs in breast milk, goat’s milk and butterfat. Some people use coconut oil in their daily diet as part of a yeast-fighting program. Psyllium is also critical, as it works with caprylic acid as a kind of scrub-brush to cleanse away build-up along the wall of the colon. Some products combine psyllium and caprylic acid; the psyllium binds with caprol in a gel form, and stays longer, thus absorbing more toxins.
Also recommended is garlic, oregano oil, grapeseed oil, vitamin C (look out for yeast-based vitamins), enzyme supplementation (for pancreatic enzyme deficiency). Pay attention to the measured units per dosage. Some products do not contain the proper dosages or proportions.
Recommended supplements include Super Caprylic Acid Plus by New Roots Herbal which contains caprylic acid, garlic, and clove, available at the Big Carrot Dispensary. Or try the Caproil by Inno-Vite in combination with their complete Candida program.
• Exercise and other lifestyle changes: Any exercise that improves the circulation and breathing, and that will help release toxins, will be beneficial. Tai chi, yoga, and walking are good starters because they are gentle on the body.
Cleansing programs are an important part of the process to remove toxins from the body and restore balance. Definitely follow your doctor’s advice when taking on cleansing programs. Generally, there is a proper order, which will include bowel and parasite cleanse; a dental cleanup (removal of mercury fillings); and kidneys and liver. Also, infrared sauna sessions are an excellent way to release toxins.
As Martin and Rona note, evidence now exists that the major killer diseases (e.g. cancer, heart disease, arthritis, autoimmune diseases) are intimately connected to fungal mycotoxins. Guidance from a professional in the alternative medicine field, preferably one with considerable experience treating these kinds of conditions and illnesses, is therefore critical.
Many allopathic doctors will prescribe a slew of anti-fungal vaginal medication in the form of creams, suppositories and tablets, including the following: Butoconazole, Clotrimazole, Diflucan, Gyne-lotrimi, Miconazole, Monistat, Nizoral, Nystatin, Spronanox, Terazol, Tioconazole and Vagistat. Ironically, most of these prescriptions can cause side effects identical to the very symptoms the patient is trying to eradicate, such as vaginal itching, burning, discharge, stomach cramps, headaches and skin rashes, to name a few. So if you are looking for a quick fix, consider that quicker is not necessarily better, nor is it a final fix. Sometimes you have to take the high road (and the long path) to long-term health.
Like any other illness, combating fungal-related illnesses can be a long and trying journey – one that requires patience, determination and above all else, a solid support system – but it is well worth the effort. Support from family, friends or whoever is a major part of your life – it may be your co-workers – goes a long way. Don’t be afraid to share your problem and ask for consideration during the first couple of months especially. Telling your office pals you’re dealing with a condition that doesn’t allow for sugars and alcohol will help them understand why you are saying no to the treats you usually say yes to, and cause them to be more supportive by not tempting you with those weekly trays carrying donuts and other sweets that go hand-in-mouth with office socializing.
Ultimately, though, the ball is in your court to take charge of your body and your life. And with the proper guidance, tools and support, along with a good measure of self-caring, it is possible to say good-bye to the yeast beast forever, and hello to the friendly guys, the good bacteria that will stay with you and do the job they were meant to do – help keep you well and balanced and in good health.
(* The real name in this case study has been changed to a fictitious one, at the request of the contributor.)
For more information on Leaky Gut Syndrome see the references below. Also, check out Jeanne Marie Martin’s classes this fall on Candida and Parasites at the Big Carrot and Four Winds for expert guidance on getting control of your fungal-related illnesses.
STARTER TIPS TO TACKLE THE YEAST BEAST
1. Clear out fridge and cupboard. Before you begin on your journey to better health, empty your fridge and cupboards completely of anything that is not on your “good food” list. It’s best to start this on a Friday evening after work. Use the weekend to prepare and set a goal to start on Monday.
2. Create your own space. If you live with others, set aside a cupboard and a section of the fridge just for you.
3. Make a shopping list. Following the guidelines of your health practitioner, prepare a good food list and go shopping for the good stuff. See sources in this article for ideas. Think of it as your survival kit: things you can’t do without.
4. Prepare meal plans and meals in advance. Once you get organized and begin shopping, organize your schedule so that you can make a meal plan for the week and prepare some of the foods in advance. This helps immeasurably when you find yourself rushing to get to work or to some other commitment. It’s so easy to fall in the trap of saying “Oh, I don’t have time to make that lemon and olive oil dressing this morning! I’ll start tomorrow.” Tomorrow turns into never.
5. Bring allowable snacks with you when going out. Again, make sure you have weekly supplies of such snacks. Prepare them the night before, every night.
6. Decline dining out: For the first month, until you get your system down pat, decline offers to dinners and other occasions that aren’t essential to your family or career life, where the temptation will be overwhelming (lots of fancy sweets, breads, alcohol). Of course, if you have a wedding or other important event to attend, by all means go, but fill up on your own food before leaving and bring a few approved snacks in your purse. You can ask the bartender for bottled water (or bring your own) and get him to squeeze a lemon into it. It’s not fancy, but it’ll stay fresh and it will keep you on track.
7. Be disciplined. If you let a “harmless” little candy bar slip in there, the next thing you’ll be eating cakes, donuts, breads, soft drinks. You are like an alcoholic in this respect. “One drink is one too many. Ten is not enough,” as the saying goes. You’re addicted to sugar and refined carbs, and the addiction is making you ill. Remember that when you reach for that harmless little milk chocolate bar.
8. Keep a journal. Keep track of what you’re eating, when you’re eating, what your symptoms are after eating, and generally, how you are feeling (sleeping patterns, thinking patterns, behavioural changes, attitude changes, emotional states, and of course any physical responses your body has to the changes you are making). Many websites and books have special journals for such record keeping.
9. Find a stress reliever: The process will no doubt be frustrating and stressful, which is one of the many reasons why exercise is very important. Another physical stress reliever, which is excellent for circulation and an improved sense of well-being, is tai chi. Consider taking up other physical activities or hobbies like hiking, swimming (in non-chlorinated water), playing chess. Also consider creative writing, journal writing unrelated to your illness, and drawing / sculpting. And of course, try to get weekly massages, at least – either from your partner or a professional, or both.
10. Be kind to yourself. Above all else, reward your efforts regularly. Buy yourself flowers, take special weekly spa baths, for instance, using sea salts (which helps with circulation improvement and toxic release) and aromatherapy oils (choose the ones that help with circulation, relaxation and stimulation, but always consult your doctor when using anything they haven’t recommended). Also, recognize that rewarding yourself doesn’t mean gorging on ice-cream because you’ve been so good all week! It means continuing to take care of YOU by making healthy, wise choices. After you’ve gotten past the strictest part of the diet, you can start introducing certain foods back into your diet, like fruits, but learn to moderate these good “sweet” foods.
SOME COMMON TYPES OF YEAST INFECTIONS
Balanitis: Women aren’t the only ones who get yeast infections. Balanitis is an itchy, painful infection that causes red patches and blisters at the end of the penis and around the foreskin
Vulvovaginal Candidiasis: symptoms of Candida albicans (or Vulvovaginal Candidiasis) include an irritation, itching or burning sensation of the vagina or vulva; burning, painful urination; painful intercourse, redness and swelling of the vulva; unusual odor; vaginal discharge (often described as “cottage cheese-like” or whitish-grey and thick or watery in consistency). Bare in mind that Candida symptoms often resemble other forms of sexually transmitted vaginitis, such as Bacterial Vaginosis (BV), so correct diagnosis is essential to eliminate the possibility of other STDs
Intertrigo is a skin irritation caused by friction between moist adjacent surfaces, and is often present with a bacterial or fungal infection. Symptoms include burning, cracking, itching, moistness, red inflamed skin with pus, peeling, especially between the fingers and above the cuticle; shiny, pink rash with a scaly or blistered edge in the skin-folds.
Moniliasis, a vaginal yeast infection that might occur during antibiotic treatment or pregnancy, produces excessive thick white discharge, vaginal itching, and redness and swelling of the vulva, which typically results in painful sexual intercourse.
Oral Thrush is a painless infection of the mouth and throat which leaves a whitish patches on the tongue and inside of the mouth area. It can affect all ages, but tends to occur most often in babies, young children and the elderly. Esophageal thrush, which shows up as white patches in the mouth and throat, occurs often as a complication of AIDS and causes painful swallowing.
Candida (Fungal)-related complex: When toxins from the fungi are released (to protect the fungi from other germs and its host) and spread throughout the rest of the body and into the bloodstream, they can produce a myriad of central nervous system symptoms such as memory loss, depression, mood swings, numbness, among other symptoms.
The following websites contain useful information on the topic of Candida and fungal-related illnesses as well as other conditions:
www.afpafitness.com/articles/LEAKGUT4.HTM (by Zoltan P. Rona, MD, MSc)
• Martin, Jeanne Marie, with Zoltan P. Rona; The Complete Candida Yeast GuideBook. Revised 2nd Ed. 2000. Available at The Big Carrot Dispensary and Eternal Moment Bookstore, as well as Whole Foods Market and other selected health food stores.
• Shah, Sushma, ND., Candidiasis; Nature’s Intention Naturopathic Clinic. Accessed from the World Wide Web August 1, 2006 at http://www.naturesintentionsnaturopathy.com/candidiasisArticle.htm
• Rona, Zoltan P. Altered immunity and leaky gut syndrome. Article accessed from the World Wide Web, August 1, 2006 at www.afpafitness.com/ articles/LEAKGUT4.HTM