By Bonnie Jenkins, Advanced Natural Wellness
It seems like every time I need to take an antibiotic, I’m plagued by some sort of fungal overgrowth. Penicillin inevitably leads to a yeast infection. Tetracycline gives rise to thrush. But, for many people, these pesky troubles are often just the visible signs of a much more insidious problem.
Yeast often silently multiplies in unhealthy numbers deep in the intestines. The resulting candidiasis—which affects both men and women—can be hard to spot, because it shares symptoms with other health issues like irritable bowel syndrome and gluten intolerance. It can trigger bloating, diarrhea, constipation, sinusitis, or even headaches. And, unless you’re lucky enough to find a health-care provider familiar with yeast overgrowths, it may take years—and many misdiagnoses—to get to the root of the problem.
The Fungus Among Us
Your body carries hundreds of types of yeasts and fungi, even when you’re in good health. The most prolific is candida (Candida albicans), which likes to hang out in the gastrointestinal tract and the genital area. Normally, this microbe lives in balance with other gut flora and is regulated by the immune system. But many things can tip the balance in favor of this opportunistic yeast.
As I mentioned, the most common reason candida’s numbers grow is antibiotic use. Antiobiotics kill all the bacteria in your gut, both bad and good. This upsets the balance of your body’s bacterial ecosystem, allowing the yeast to take over. Other drugs, such as birth control pills and steroids, can also turn noninvasive yeast into an aggressive fungal form.
A diet heavy in refined sugars and carbohydrates (think white bread) can also trigger candida overgrowth. The resulting fungus eats away at the lining of the intestines, allowing toxins and partially digested proteins to enter the bloodstream. While many sources of refined sugars are obvious, others like alcohol and dairy products can also boost candida. What’s more, many of these foods lack nutrition, which can further zap energy stores and weaken your immune system.
Eat Away Candida
If you think candida might be causing your symptoms, try an elimination diet. Completely eliminate all yeast-friendly foods for a minimum of two to three weeks. This includes all forms of sugar (yes, even fresh and dried fruit), dairy, yeast, and starches, and any food containing vinegar. You also need to limit complex carbohydrates from whole grains and vegetables to 40 to 60 grams a day. The easiest way to do this is to build an elimination diet that contains lean protein, non-starchy vegetables, nuts, seeds, unprocessed oils, and water. If this sounds too restrictive, remember that you need to do this only for a couple of weeks.
Don’t expect things to change overnight. If you’ve been battling yeast for a long time, it can take months for your system to return to normal. Once you rebuild your system and have cleaned up your diet, you may be able to eat limited amounts of starchy, sugary foods. Moderation is key, however, since it’s the frequency in which you eat these kinds of foods that causes trouble.
One proven antifungal and potent yeast inhibitor is garlic. This tasty herb kills off unhealthy bacteria in the body while leaving good bacteria alone. Cooking garlic, however, compromises its antimicrobial activity. Crush or chop a couple fresh, raw cloves and blend into salad dressing. If you aren’t a garlic fan, try a garlic supplement rich in allicin, the active constituent of garlic. Take 5,000 mcg. of an enteric-coated supplement daily.
Another herb that combats candida is pau d’arco. This South American rainforest herb is proven to have both antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effects. Pau d’arco’s antifungal properties prevent yeast from turning into invasive fungi. Drink two to three cups of pau d’arco daily or take 500 to 600 mg, of a pau d’arco supplement one to three times a day.
A host of other natural supplements have also shown promise in treating the symptoms of candida. For instance, antioxidants like vitamins C and E and essential fatty acids such as flaxseed can help protect intestinal cell membranes, while the amino acid L-glutamine helps repair damage to the gut wall.
One Last Thing …
If you have symptoms of candida overgrowth or need to take antibiotics, make sure to take probiotics. A growing number of studies clearly show that probiotics like Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacteria make it harder for yeast to grow in your gut.
Look for a probiotic that contains multiple strains, as well as fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS)—a soluble fiber on which these good bacteria thrive. Take between 2 billion and 10 billion colony-forming units (CFUs) twice a day for three to six weeks. But, because you can feel worse before feeling better as the yeast die off, start slowly and move up to your tolerance.
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Martinez RC, et al. Improved treatment of vulvovaginal candidiasis with fluconazole plus probiotic Lactobacillus rhamnosus GR-1 and Lactobacillus reuteri RC-14. Letters of Applied Microbiology. 2009;48:269-274.