Everybody has some of the yeast Candida albicans living in their digestive tract, low levels are normal and do not cause any problems. However, when Candida overgrows it can cause a range of nasty symptoms including wind and bloating, vaginal thrush and itchy bottom. If it becomes severe it can cause more systemic (body-wide) symptoms such as low energy, chronic fatigue, allergies, low mood and irritability, intestinal cramps and chemical sensitivities. Thrush can also develop in the mouth – this is most common in babies and young children and those with very poor immune function.
What causes candida to overgrow?
- Taking antibiotics because they wipe out the friendly gut bacteria which normally keep candida in check.
- A high sugar, high refined carbohydrate diet (refined carbohydrates include white bread, white rice, croissants, bagels, pastries, etc.) Sugar is candida’s favourite food. Refined carbohydrates break down into sugar very quickly in the digestive tract.
- Drinking alcohol – because it is full of sugar and also compromises liver function.
- High oestrogen levels – some women find thrush tends to flare up every month before their periods when their oestrogen levels are peaking.
- Poor digestive function: lack of digestive enzymes or low stomach acid lead to incomplete breakdown and digestion of food leaving more around to feed candida and other harmful gut bacteria.
- Lowered immune function.
How can you treat Candida overgrowth and prevent it happening in the first place?
- If you have to take antibiotics, take a course of probiotic capsules at the same time and continue for a week or two after you finish the antibiotics. (While you are on antibiotics it is important to take your probiotics at least three hours away from the antibiotics or they will be quickly killed in the gut).
- Cut out all sugary foods and refined carbohydrates. This is hard at first, but does get easier the longer you do it for. Sugar is very addictive! Once you have gone a week or two without it your cravings will dramatically lessen. You are highly likely to lose weight if you are overweight when you cut out these foods which may be another nice positive outcome!
- Cut out fruit juices and dried fruit as these are very concentrated sources of sugar.
- Cut out alcohol, especially wine and beer. If you have to drink stick to good quality clear spirits like gin or vodka and mix with sparkling water and fresh lemon or lime.
- Include probiotic foods like kefir (fermented milk drink) or kimchi (a Korean side dish made with vegetables) or sauerkraut in your diet daily if possible as these foods will replenish and feed the friendly bacteria in your gut.
- Improve your digestion by eating three (or four) meals a day and not snacking. This will give your digestive system a chance to rest and heal in between meals.
- Make sure you eating lots of lightly cooked and raw vegetables so that you get the vitamins and minerals you need to build a strong immune system and digestive system. Aim for 6 or more portions daily.
- Garlic will kill candida, try to eat it every day. A traditional remedy for thrush is to peel a garlic clove, thread it with a piece of cotton and insert it into the vagina over night. Use the cotton thread to pull it out in the morning.
- Tinctures of Golden seal, Barberry bark or Oregan grape are all effective at killing off candida (and other unfriendly bacteria) in the gut. Take 10 drops of the tincture of one of these herbs in water before food three times daily. Do not take for more than six weeks continuously. (Note: these herbs are too strong for children unless recommended to you by a trained herbalist).
- For vaginal thrush the probiotic Saccharomyces boulardii is particularly good at killing candida, take one capsule daily with a cold drink 10 minutes before breakfast each day for a few weeks.
Probiotic foods are widely available in the bigger supermarkets; I sell the probiotic Saccharomyces boulardii and the herbal tinctures listed above but you can also find them on the internet and in better health shops.