Have you been experiencing depression, insomnia, mood swings or a low sex drive?
How about yeast infections, cravings for sweets, bloating, nausea and the inability to lose weight? Diarrhea, constipation, mucous in your stool, gas or an urgency to use the washroom?
If so, the culprit may be an overgrowth of Candida, a genus of yeast that is the most common cause of fungal infections worldwide. The usual cause is Candida albicans, a fungus naturally found inside the mucous membranes of the mouth, nose, vagina, digestive tract and on the skin. An overgrowth of Candida is considered an infection called candidiasis. If oral, it is called thrush. If vaginal, a yeast infection.
“Candida is there for a reason and helps us when their numbers are in normal amounts,” says Dr. Sandra Murphy, a naturopath in Halifax, NS. “But when the bacteria we normally have are reduced, then the yeast can overgrow and symptoms show up.”
Causes of an overgrowth include stress, birth control, a depressed immune system, large amounts of sugar, diabetes, the presence of heavy metals and overuse of antibiotics. Excess yeast is another culprit and can be transferred during sexual intercourse.
Murphy suggests finding the core of why your body is allowing an over-growth of the Candida fungus. Is there a heavy metal overdose? Is there something that is lowering your immune system so your good bacteria can’t prevent yeast from growing?
“Let’s look at all possible causes in addition to giving you an anti-fungal,” she says.
Birth control can aggravate Candida because yeast flourishes in high estrogen environments. But even if you are not on birth control, naturally rising estrogen levels at the beginning of the menstrual cycle cause some women to get yeast infections right before their period.
Think you might have a Candida over-growth or are currently struggling with it? Don’t stress about it too much. An overgrowth can be diagnosed with blood tests, stool tests or a physical exam. Your doctor can take a look at the antibody of the yeast to confirm whether there is a yeast overdose.
“It’s actually not too hard to find if you are aware of the problem,” says Dr. Murphy. “Usually we diagnose it by someone’s symptoms and a physical exam. The patient will report that they have a vaginal yeast infection or you can see thrush (a white coating) on their tongue.”
Short term, there are several treatments for the infection: For mouth infections, topical clotrimazole or nystatin; for vaginal infections, topical antifungal medications including clotrimazole, as well as natural anti-fungal agents.
“Unfortunately for some patients, they have repeatedly used over-the-counter treatments or prescription Diflucan and their particular yeast infection has become resistant,” says Murphy.
“Luckily we can turn to our plant-based, broad-spectrum antifungals.”
Long term, changing your diet is often the best solution. The premise of the Candida diet is to starve out the fungus, which feeds on sugars and simple starches by cutting out fruits, sugars, most dairy, starchy vegetables, alcohol, grains and more.
“The Candida diet is extremely restrictive, but it helps in the short term by taking away fermenting foods,” says Dr. Murphy. “Right away the person will have less gas and bloating and their stools are more normal. When the digestive tract is working better, it gives you a huge increase in energy and vitality.”
Stick to green salads, yogurt, vegetables and non-gluten grains. Some types of fermented food can also be helpful, as can probiotics. Depending on the person, the Candida diet can take anywhere from a couple of weeks to a couple of months to pay off—so patience is key!
“The diet portion can be psychologically hard on people,” says Dr. Murphy. “I have certainly treated those who don’t do the diet component. It works, but it just takes longer and that can be challenging too.”
The good news is you can get a Candida overgrowth under control and get back to a more varied diet. It may take anywhere from two weeks to six months, depending on the severity of the condition, but it can be done, and then you can return to a reasonably “normal” diet.