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Candida overgrowth

 

Candida albicans is a yeast-like organsism which is found in the human gut (large and small intestines) and also in small numbers on the skin and mucous membranes. It has no known benefits to the host, but in a healthy intestine the population is kept under control by maintenance of a low (acidic) pH in the gut by bodily secretions and arising from the activities of ‘friendly bacteria’ such as Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium and Bacteroides species.

Candida albicans

Under normal circumstances this gut flora breaks down foods we couldn’t otherwise digest, and produces small quantities of certain vitamins such as biotin and vitamin K, making us less dependent on food sources. The ‘friendly bacteria’ species do not produce waste products that are harmful to our health and are not invasive, and so are completely beneficial to us. However, prescription antibiotics and ‘background’ antibiotics used in meat production, and certain other drugs, are responsible for reducing the population of ‘friendly bacteria’ in many people to the point where organisms such as Candida (which is not affected by these agents) is able to escape control and begin to replace the benign bacterial population. A diet high in sugars and starch also encourages overgrowth of Candida, so that it becomes able to overwhelm other organisms in the gut and begin changing the internal environment to suit its own growth.

Once this delicate balance is upset, the pH of the gut rises (becomes more alkaline), favouring the yeasts, and a ‘viscious circle’ of Candida colonisation begins. Once disturbed, the healthy balance is not normally restored of its own accord, and may progress to rampant overgrowth of the Candida, which may then invade the gut wall, causing it to become ‘leaky’. Even relatively slight overgrowths of C. albicans can have harmful consequences, largely because the toxic waste products produced by the yeast are absorbed into the body, where they can affect both the nervous system and the immune system. In extreme cases the yeast may enter the hyphal phase, where it produces minute thread-like growths with penetrate into the intestinal lining in search of additional food sources, damaging it in the process.

Candida overgrowth affects both physical and mental well-being, and can cause a slow but relentless loss of quality of life. Symptoms are very varied and may include carbohydrate cravings (for sugar, white bread or pasta, chocolate, etc.), onset of allergies and food sensitivities, oral, genito-urinary and anal infections (which can spread to any area of moist skin), mental confusion, depression, fatigue, headaches, irritability and memory loss, gas and bloating (particularly after eating carbohydrates), intestinal cramping, diarrhoea or constipation, poor circulation and indefinable feelings of unwellness.

In addition both obesity or excessive weight loss may be caused by Candida overgrowths, and this condition may be a major unrecognised cause of age-related obesity in particular. It is no exaggeration to say that Candida albicans may be one of the primary causes of sub-clinical ill health in Western countries, largely because it is unrecognised by medical practitioners and actually promoted by the medical profession’s excessive use of antibiotic prescriptions and our generally sugar-rich diet.

Candida infection is very difficult to diagnose with any certainty because the yeast is present in everyone, and because the symptoms of overgrowth are so varied. If you have ever taken antibiotics, or if you experience cravings for sugar and other ‘high glycemic’ carbs, or if you just don’t feel well, there is a good chance you are being affected by Candida, and should do something about it. Because the course of action required is inexpensive and can only be beneficial even in the absence of a Candida overgrowth, it comes into the ‘worth trying’ category if you even suspect a problem.

 

Treatment of Candida overgrowth

There are two stages to treatment, elimination and restabilisation. In the first stage, active steps are taken to reduce (kill) the Candida population and at the same time replace it with ‘friendly’ bacteria. In the second some changes are made to diet to reduce the chances of another overgrowth occurring, while continuing to introduce beneficial bacteria.

Elimination

Elimination has two components - (1) taking supplements that will preferentially kill yeast cells whilst not destroying the benign bacterial population, and (2) taking ‘probiotic’ capsules containing large numbers (typically around 8 billion per capsule) of cultured ‘friendly bacteria’ in a dormant form.

While most yeast-killing supplements are not lethal to benign bacteria, some such as oregano oil may kill a proportion of them, and in this case it is important to separate these two components. It is recommended that anti-yeast agents be taken mid-way through breakfast and lunch or an afternoon meal so that they become thoroughly mixed with food, and probiotic capsules be taken last thing at night on an empty stomach. This provides for the necessary separation so that yeasts are killed throughout the day, and replaced by friendly bacteria during the following night. Adding natural yohurt to the diet during the later part of the day will further re-inforce this process.

‘Die back’

Unfortunately, killing yeasts in the gut in large numbers is often not without cost. The large-scale die-off will result in release into the gut of the contents of the yeast cells, including various alien proteins and enzymes which will be in part absorbed through the gut wall, especially if it has been damaged by hyphal growth. These toxins will often cause temporary intensification of the symptoms of yeast infection, or express as flu-like symptoms such as headache, sinus pressure, mild fever, nausea, ‘brain fog’ and so on. This so-called ‘Herxheimer reaction’ is a short-term condition however, and a price worth paying to be rid of the problem.

The problem can be minimised by eating a rolled-oat-based breakfast of porridge or muesli. Oats contain high levels of insoluble fibre which helps scrape dead Candida cells from the gut wall and also absorbs and carries away some of the toxins. The dietary fibre psyllium is also valuable for this purpose, and should be taken in the evening along with the probiotic capsule.

Oats also contain a substance galled beta-glucan, which can act as a food source for beneficial bacteria but is indigestible by Candida, providing another gentle pressure towards restoring a health gut flora. It may be worth taking ‘liver supporting’ herbs such as milk thistle at this time, to assist this organ in processing waste products resulting from a die-off of yeast. It is also important to drink more than the usual amount of water to help flush away wastes in the urine.

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There are several herbs and organics which are effective in killing Candida and other yeasts, while at the same time being less harmful to the benign bacteria of the gut. Most need to be taken for at least a month to have full effect. They are listed below in approximate order of effectiveness. Proprietary preparations are also available containing several anti-fungal agents in combination.

 

Short Chain Fatty Acids (plant essential oils)

Essential oils distilled or pressed from certain plants have long been known to have anti-fungal properties, and a number of these can be used against C. albicans. These include oregano, rosemary, peppermint, clove, lemon balm, tea tree, olive leaf, garlic and thyme oils. The most commonly used of these is oregano oil, and because this has the most ‘history’ of effectiveness against Candida it is probably the best choice.

Although the raw oil can be taken when diluted with a suitable carrier, some activity will be lost in the stomach before the oil is delivered to the intestine. Oregano oil is available in so-called ‘enteric’ capsules designed to pass through the stomach and release the contents directly into the gut, and this is the best form to use. The normal dosage recommended is 200 mg oregano oil, twice per day.

A possibly unpleasant ‘die-off’ reaction is to be expected, and you should not cease treatment at this point - the reaction confirms both the presence of excessive yeast and the effectiveness of the treatment in reducing it. If necessary, reduce the dosage or frequency of oregano oil temporarily.

 

Pau D’Arco and Berberine

These two herbal extracts have similar anti-fungal properties. Neither Pau D’Arco or berberine are toxic to benign bacteria, and it is less important to separate anti-fungal and probiotic treatments, as for some other agents.

The herb Pau D’Arco, derived from the bark of a relatively rare Andean tree, has proven to be a very effective in controlling Candida albicans both short-term and on a maintenance basis. It’s anti-fungal properties are very specific and damage to friendly bacteria populations is minimal. The bitter-tasting dried herb can be be taken as a tea, starting with half a cup and working up to 4 cups a day in a month or so. It is also available in capsule form, and in this case suggested dosages should be followed. As it exhibits no measurable toxicity, intake may be continued indefinitely as a maintenance precaution to prevent re-infection with Candida.

Berberine is extracted from the common barberry plant and related species and again is an effective anti-Candida agent. Although not as powerful as Pau D’arco weight for weight, it is relatively inexpensive and there is no problem with using proportionately higher doses. It is available in capsule form and suggested dosages should be followed.

An initial and potentially unpleasant reaction to the yeast ‘die-off’ is to be expected for both Pau D’arco and berberine, as for other anti-fungal agents.

 

Medium Chain Fatty Acids (caprylic, capric, lauric and undecylenic acids)

Caprylic acid has been used for some time for control of Candida. While it is less potent than oregano oil (3-4 g/day in split doses is required) it is also less hard on ‘friendly bacteria’. Although the pure form can be used (mixed with olive oil to aid retention in the gut), it is better to take coconut oil, which contains caprylic acid plus capric and lauric acids, both of which also have strong anti-Candida properties and may be synergistic (more powerful together than if taken separately).

Pure caprylic acid quickly enters the circulation through the gut wall, and is removed by the liver and broken down. Mixing it with olive oil slows this process, but it is still removed more quickly than when when taken in the form of coconut oil. By ensuring the coconut oil is incorporated in meals rather than taken separately, premature absorption will be minimised.

Start with about 5 ml of virgin coconut oil taken twice a day as a part of your meals, and increase each dose gradually to 20 or 30 ml gradually. Coconut oil is very pleasant tasting and can be incorporated into salad dressings and sauces, or added directly to many dishes.

Undecylenic acid is extracted from castor bean oil, and has been used for many years as an anti-fungal. For anti-Candida purposes, dosage is about 1 ml/day, divided into two and taken with food.

Although saturated fatty acids are more gentle than oregano oil, a ‘die-off’ reaction is still to be expected, and treatment should continue despite this, but without further increasing the amount of oil consumed (reduce the intake for a few days if symptoms become excessive).

Stabilisation

Following on from the elimination phase, there are some changes you can make to your diet to minimise the chances of the problem returning. Basically, this involves eating vegetables and proteins such as fish and other lean meats (seek a natural source) and avoiding (or at least minimising) carbohydrates, sugars, alcoholic beverages, fermented foods and even fruit and fruit juices since they contain concentrated fructose, a natural fruit sugar. Dairy products should be used in small amounts because they contain lactose, a milk sugar. This change in diet is not as simple as it may sound because the cravings for sugar and carbohydrates are extremely strong and may overpower any controlled approach to eating.

Once you have been off sugar and carbohydrates for a few days, you begin to feel in control again, as though a fog has been lifted from your brain. After a week or so, you may slowly add fresh fruits. Fruits MUST be eaten alone and on an empty stomach. Fruit is very easily digested and moves through the body quickly. However, if it is eaten with a heavier food like protein, fat or starch, the sugary fruit will remain in the stomach until the heavier food is broken down. The fruit then ferments and spoils in the stomach, thus aggravating candida overgrowth. This is why many candida victims have had problems eating fruit. You can also add natural whole grains like brown rice to your diet. Continue to avoid yeast containing foods for a while (like breads, wine and beer) to maintain control of the fungus growth.

A program of herbal and nutritional supplements is as important as the change in diet. There are a number of natural fungus inhibiting herbs that are very helpful for treating Candida albicans.

Once the candida is cleansed from the system, the intestinal bacteria balance can be restored with ‘probiotics’ such as yogurt and in supplements.

The benefits of regaining a yeast free lifestyle are tremendous. Your thoughts become clear again and your body begins to feel healthy and full of energy. In the future, if you see your symptoms recurring, you will become more aware of your diet and lifestyle and make appropriate changes to foster your own health and well-being.

 

Candida albicans electron micrograph

Candida albicans fungal cells
(electron micrograph)

 

 

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