The intestinal flora is a topic that literally fascinates me. It is so complex and I feel like there is always more and more to learn. Not going to lie, I totally Geek-out over it.
For those of you who follow along on Instagram, you know I’ve been doing a Candida protocol for the last month, and I have gotten lots of questions about why I’m doing it and how it works. I’m hoping this post will answer most of those questions!
First and foremost, what is Candida?
Candidiasis - also known as Candida or Yeast Overgrowth - refers to an imbalance of bacteria in the Gut (the intestinal system). Specifically, Candida occurs when we have an overgrowth of a fungus or yeast called Candida Albicans.
When we first enter the world, we have ample amounts of healthy micro-organisms that live and thrive in our Gut. You probably know these as Probiotics, and they serve many different – and crucial - functions when it comes to maintaining our health. They are mostly known for their role in improving digestion, as they help us break down food and assist with intestinal peristalsis (moving waste through the colon), although probiotics have many other important functions, too. They help produce our B Vitamins and Vitamin K, as well as an enzyme called Lactase which is needed to break down dairy (Yes, people who are sensitive to dairy products typically have an imbalanced intestinal flora!). They also produce some of our immune cells and help to kill off unwanted pathogens and other unwanted bacteria.
However, throughout our lives, we become exposed to many different stimuli that can fuel the growth of unwanted pathogens like Candida. In general, having some unhealthy bacteria in the gut won’t cause us too much harm – It is all about maintaining a balanced ratio of good : bad. Issues don't begin to arise until the bad guys (Candida being one of them) begin to multiply, killing our healthy bacteria and essentially, taking over. This is what I refer to as an Overgrowth.
So – What causes an Overgrowth of Candida?
Unfortunately, the overgrowth of Candida Albicans is becoming increasingly common these days. Faulty digestion is the primary cause, although refined foods and antibiotics are also at the top of the list.
Other common contributors include drug use and exposure to environmental toxins. Heck – even the chemicals added to our tap water can contribute to Candida overgrowth!
#1) Faulty Digestion
As mentioned above, poor digestion is the primary, root cause of bacterial overgrowth in the gut. When food is not properly digested in the stomach and the small intestine, it actually begins to ferment. This fermentation creates a breeding ground for Candida Albicans, as they feed directly off of undigested food. This is where we see symptoms like gas, bloating, burping and belching come into play – While digesting our food, Candida produces large amounts of toxins that appear in the form of intestinal gas. Yikes!
In fact, Candida produces more than 78 different types of toxins (including ammonia and formaldehyde, to name a few) which kill our healthy flora (the good guys) and create a toxic environment for more Candida to grow and thrive.
Candida overgrowth also causes chronic inflammation in the gut, which can eventually lead to a condition called Leaky Gut: This occurs when the pores of the intestinal wall become so enlarged that undigested food particles and toxins (produced as bi-products of Candida) travel directly into the blood stream. These toxins then travel throughout the body and become a major trigger for things like allergies, skin issues and joint pain. Arthritic pain is a major symptom of Leaky Gut, as the toxins can actually travel through the blood stream and get lodged in our joints, leading to inflammation and pain.
There is no question that in times of need, antibiotics can be very helpful and necessary. However, most Doctor’s forget to mention that while these antibiotics work to wipe out the bad bacteria that is making you sick, they also kill off all of your healthy and helpful bacteria. This creates a somewhat “sterile” intestinal environment, in which Candida are free to grow. This is especially true when we fail to re-populate a sterile gut with probiotic supplements, or we consume a diet that is high in refined, processed and sugary foods (a delicacy for Candida!).
*Key Takeaway: If you are put on antibiotics, pick up a bottle of probiotics and start supplementing as soon as your antibiotics are finished! I recommend a multi-strain probiotic with a high dose (between 30-50 billion).
#3) A Diet high in refined carbohydrates, sugar and processed foods
While faulty digestion is at the root of Candida Overgrowth, it is often directly correlated with a diet that is chronically high in processed, refined and sugary foods, and low in digestive fiber. Heathy digestion relies on adequate amounts of stomach acid and pancreatic enzymes to break down foods, and unfortunately, these are often depleted when the digestive tract is put under stress for long periods of time.
Moreover, candida feeds directly on glucose (sugar), meaning the more sugar we eat, the more we feed the bacteria and the more likely we are to develop a bacterial overgrowth.
Refined carbohydrates like white flours, white breads and white pastas actually turn to Glucose (sugar) as soon as you eat them, and sugar is the fuel that Candida uses to thrive. Additionally, refined carbohydrates are very low in Fiber (especially in comparison to whole grain alternatives), which is crucial for intestinal health. Not only does fiber bind to toxins, it also assists in eliminating them from the body by promoting regular bowel movements. Plus, it helps to regulate blood sugar which is key in preventing Candida.
This is not to say that enjoying pastries, chocolates, breads and pastas is a complete no-no. It is totally okay – But in moderation. We always want to find a balance in every aspect of life, and we generally only start to see issues when these types of foods become a staple in the diet, as opposed to an occasional treat.
How do I know if I have Candida? What are the Symptoms of an Overgrowth?
While there are many symptoms of candida overgrowth, the most common include digestive symptoms like bloating, gas and IBS symptoms (constipation and/or diarrhea) and yeast-related symptoms like oral thrush, recurrent yeast infections and fungal infections. The full list of symptoms can be found below.
· Irregular Bowels - Constipation, Diarrhea or Both
· Gas and Bloating, especially after meals
· Weight Gain
· Heart Burn
· Oral Thrush
· Bad Breath
· Sensitivity to Smells
· Allergies or Hives
· Nasal Congestion
· Sore Throats or a Chronic Nasal Drip
· Athletes Foot
· Excessive Perspiration
· Nail Fungus
· Recurring Vaginal Yeast Infections
· Low Libido
· Painful Intercourse
· Cravings for Sugars and foods high in Carbohydrates
· Depression or Anxiety
· Poor Concentration and “Brain Fog”
· Chronic Fatigue or Lethargy
· Poor Immune Function
Preventing Candida Overgrowth
There are a few key components to maintaining a healthy intestinal flora and preventing the overgrowth of Candidiasis. However, please note that these suggestions are for people who do not already exhibit symptoms of overgrowth!
#1) Whole Foods
My First piece of Advice: If grows from a plant, eat it in abundance. If it was made in a plant, don’t (or keep it to a minimum).
· Focus on a diet that is primarily whole-foods based (foods that are close to their natural state as possible) and keep processed foods to a minimum
· Eat the best you can while you are at home so that you can indulge and enjoy when out with friends, at dinners, traveling, etc.
· Find a balance – 80 x 20 is key!
· Don’t totally restrict yourself or go crazy reading labels and ingredients! This kind of stress can actually further impede your Digestion.
#2) Natural Fiber
· Aim for a minimum of 30 grams of fiber per day
· Flax Seed, Chia Seed, Beans and Legumes, Whole Grains, Fruits and Vegetables
#3 Probiotic-Rich Foods (Fermented Foods)
· Include fermented foods 2-3 times per week, if you can
· Kimchi, Kefir, Sauerkraut, Tempeh, Miso and Kombucha
#4) Prebiotic-Rich Foods
· Prebiotics are food for our Probiotics! They are a great way to support healthy intestinal flora.
· Bananas, Onion, Leek, Garlic, Jerusalem Artichoke, Chicory Root, Asparagus
#5) Drink Filtered Water (not tap!)
· Tap water contains Chlorine, which is used to kill off unwanted bacteria. However, as you probably guessed – It kills are healthy bacteria, too. Always opt for Filtered water wherever possible!
Treating Candida Overgrowth
Eradicating Candida overgrowth is a 3-phase process that generally goes something like this:
Phase #1: Starve the Yeast by eliminating yeast-feeding foods
Phase #2: Kill the yeast using anti-microbial herbs
Phase #3: Re-populate the gut!
If you exhibit any of the symptoms listed above and believe Candida might be the culprit, please do not hesitate to reach out to me! It is important that you work with a Practitioner who is familiar and knowledgeable with all things Gut Health, as Candida is only one of the many causes of an imbalanced Digestive System.