Most naturopaths will tell you that they spend a great deal of their time with patients treating yeast overgrowth, also called candidiasis, and the persistent physical and psychological symptoms that come along with it. I’m certainly no exception. A day does not go by when I don’t have a handful of people coming in with one or more of the telltale signs. Candida albicans is a naturally occurring, and usually benign yeast, that grows in the gastrointestinal tract. When it over-proliferates in the body, though, the symptoms can be debilitating:
• Painful and persistent gas and bloating
• Recurrent yeast infections in women
• Constipation, or diarrhea
• Weight gain
• Depression and brain fog
• Skin issues like eczema and acne
• Food sensitivities
• Fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome
As I’ve written about before, the microbiome of the gut is a delicate garden and it is easily tipped into yeast overgrowth. There are several causes. In my practice, the number one contributing factor is prolonged use of antibiotics. Others include: birth control, decreased digestive function, stress, and impaired immunity. In many of my patients, I see candidiasis leading to, or running tandem with, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), leaky gut syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome, and food sensitivities.
My patient Anne was a poster child for candida overgrowth. A landscape architect in her late 30s, she spoke softly and deliberately when describing her symptoms to me: itchy ears, gassy and bloated all the time, painful periods, deep fatigue, achy knees, and a recent diagnosis of acne rosacea. She had the white coating of thrush at the back of her throat and yeast infections three or four times each year for the last three years. When I asked her about antibiotic use she described two years of chronic sinus infections during which she’d been taking antibiotics nearly the entire time. She also had a long history of birth control use: 12 years, although she’d stopped a few years prior.
In a case like Anne’s, I don’t necessarily even need to run diagnostics to confirm what I already know. But I typically spot candidiasis one of two ways: with a questionnaire or with a comprehensive digestive stool analysis (CDSA). Oftentimes, doctors will diagnose candida overgrowth based just on symptoms and physical exam results.
Anne’s CDSA came back with huge numbers of Candida albicans, loads of bad bacteria as well as poor markers of digestion and absorption; so her candidiasis had so disrupted her the microflora that she was progressing into SIBO and leaky gut syndrome.
Treatment for my patients that show up positive for candidiasis is in five steps: starve the yeast, kill it off, repopulate the gut, support the body’s ability to detoxify and—so important—ensure that the patient is able to emotionally cope with all the physical effects of detoxing from candidiasis.
With Anne, we did the following:
1. Starve the yeast: This is the first step and we do this with diet. First, no sugar, which will feed the candida. No fruit in the first two weeks of treatment, then fruit is limited to two low-glycemic choices. No milk, which has the sugar lactose that tends to promote yeast overgrowth and in some cases, because milk can contain antibiotics, can promote overgrowth. No yeast-containing foods such as alcohol, peanuts, melons are recommended. Remove food sensitivities: By removing foods a patient is sensitive to (through testing, or an elimination diet), the gastrointestinal tract is better able to repair.
2. Kill the critters: This is can be a months-long process. Each month, I switch the protocol. Potentent antifungal herbs that I use: berberine, grapefruit seed extract, olive leaf— there are many that are valuable. These are always combined with caprylic acid, which is also excellent at breaking down candida.
3. Candida Cleanse:
The candida cleanse helps to rid the body of excess candida through the flushing of the digestive tract, and the introduction of healthy candida fighters found in fermented vegetables and kefir.
You really have two options for a cleanse: a liquids-only cleanse or a more gentle cleanse with food. You may also opt the most thorough gut reboot, starting with the step one cleanse and then move to the step two cleanse. The whole process will set the stage for starting the candida diet as well!
Step One: Liquids-Only Candida Cleanse (Duration 1–2 Days)
Start by making a vegetable broth from organic onions, garlic, celery, kale, sea salt and pure water. Let simmer and strain. Discard the vegetables and refrigerate the broth.
Throughout the day, sip on warm broth; it’s imperative that you drink lots of water to help your body expel all the toxins in your system. While this is not a long-term cleanse, it can be repeated as needed every few weeks. It can also be used as a jumpstart to the food cleanse below.
Step Two: Steamed Vegetables (Duration 3–5 Days)
By eliminating grains, sugars, fruits, starches and alcohol from your diet for three to five days, you can make great headway in your fight against candida overgrowth.
Mostly, eat fresh, organic vegetables that have been steamed. For this cleanse stage, keep away from any starchy vegetables like carrots, radishes, beets, sweet potatoes and white potatoes, which may contribute to sugar levels and feed the candida. Continue to drink plenty of pure water, a minimum of 72 ounces per day, to help flush the candida and by-products from your system.
During this time, no more than once a day, you can eat salads made from leafy greens (like romaine) or bitter greens (like chard) and topped with just a bit of coconut oil and apple cider vinegar (or lemon juice).
During either of the candida cleanses above, you can use bentonite clay to help surround the toxins and efficiently remove them from your system.
4. The candida diet.
This is a diet to not just discourage candida; it’s the diet to help you rid your body of candida! This is also a great next step if you have already started with the candida cleanse.
1) The first step of the diet is to boost your immune system through the elimination of sugar, alcohol and refined carbohydrates. These items are contributing to the growth of the candida in your system.
2) Step two is to replace these foods with organic vegetables, including carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach, kale and asparagus.
According to ancient Chinese medicine, warm starchy vegetables support the spleen in clearing candida from the body. While I don’t recommend these vegetables during the “cleanse” stage, the regular candida diet includes warming fall vegetables that nourish the spleen, such as sweet potatoes, yams, peas, mung beans, lentils, kidney beans, adzuki beans, carrots, beets, corn, butternut squash, spaghetti squash, acorn squash, zucchini, yellow squash, rutabaga and pumpkin. These should be the main sources of carbs that satisfy your cravings for sweets as well.
What about grains? Some grains like quinoa, barley, teff, sorghum and amaranth and a starch like corn can help to dry the overly damp gut, so one serving a day (no more!) of those grains can work for most people with candida.
The same story follows for cold foods, which shouldn’t be consumed more than once per day. Therefore, don’t have a gut-friendly smoothie on the same day you have a salad. Your candida gut will heal most from warm nourishing foods.
As with any food, however, it’s always important to monitor how you feel after consuming a meal when you have candida. Some people who suffer stomach distress after eating any kind of starch, for instance, should avoid starchy vegetables like corn, peas, parsnips, potatoes, pumpkin, squash, zucchini and yams. Instead, they should eat non-starchy vegetables — typically the flowering parts of the plant — like lettuce, asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, cucumber, spinach, mushrooms, onions, peppers and tomatoes.
Also, keep fruit intake low as well as natural sweeteners like maple syrup or honey.
3) Add cultured dairy, preferably goat milk kefir, for healthy probiotic foodscan effectively kill the candida in your system. Kimchi and sauerkraut are good additions to your diet as well as unsweetened cranberry juice, as it creates an acidic environment that makes it difficult for candida to thrive.
Fermented vegetables contain microflora that helps to protect the intestines. Regular consumption can help improve the immune system, making the body less hospitable for candida. Begin with a half cup per day of sauerkraut, kimchi or other fermented vegetables as part of a new eating plan dedicated to bringing your body back into a healthy balance.
The candida diet helps to provide beneficial bacteria, regulate appetite, and reduce your cravings for refined carbohydrates and sugars.
Research shows that candida albicans, the strain of candida that leads to systemic candida overgrowth is often resistant to both fluconazole and itraconazole, the drugs most often prescribed for candida.
a. Coconut oil can effectively fight candida due to its antimicrobial properties. (9) The combination of lauric acid and caprylic acid found in coconut oil, kills off harmful candida through both ingestion and topical application.
b. Milk thistle supplements help to cleanse your liver from prescription medications (steroids, birth control, antibiotics, as well as others), environmental pollution, heavy metals, and the remnants from both chemotherapy and radiation.
As mentioned above, some prescription medications, and cancer treatments can lead to candida overgrowth. Milk thistle, along with the candida diet, can help your body recover and create an environment where candida ceases to thrive.
c. Vitamin C helps to boost adrenal glands, and helps to restore your immune system. I recommend 1,000 milligrams of vitamin C two or three per day, taking a total of 2,000 to 3,000 milligrams daily.
d. Clove oil, oregano oil and myrrh oil help to kill a variety of parasites and fungi, including candida, in the body. Lavender oil also inhibits the growth of candida and is effective at preventing the spread of the infection. (10)
For example, by adding a couple of drops of clove oil or lavender oil, mixed with coconut oil during your cleanse, you can help to kill off the offending candida. Because these essential oils are powerful, they should only be taken internally for 10 days or less.
Also, for oral thrush, use three drops of clove oil with one tablespoon of coconut oil and swish in the mouth for 20 minutes.
Candida Die-Off Symptoms You May Experience
Rapidly killing off candida in your body creates a metabolic reaction that releases over 70 different toxins into your body. Symptoms that show the candida cleanse and the candida diet are working include:
- Impaired brain function
- Intestinal distress including bloating, gas, constipation and nausea
- Sweating and fever
- Sinus infection
- Skin breakouts (not limited to face)
- Typical flu-like symptoms
When you start experiencing the candida die-off symptoms, rejoice! These symptoms usually clear up in seven to 10 days. The candida is leaving your body, and within just a few weeks, you will notice an increase in energy and focus, as well as relief from other symptoms you have experienced.
After your symptoms have subsided and you have completed the cleanse and the diet, you should continue eating a diet that is high in protein and high-fiber vegetables, and limit grains, fruits, sugar and high-starch vegetables like white potatoes. Continue to consume fermented vegetables and kefir to help your body stay in balance and keep the candida at bay.
5. Repopulate the gut: It’s essential to put good bugs into the gut to crowd out the bad ones; sacchromyces boulardii is particularly good at this. I have people rotate probiotics monthly. Probiotics also encourage proper bowel movements; if you’re not pooping properly, the body will recirculate yeast and that’s the last thing you want. Other things that ensure elimination: flaxseeds, psyllium and chia seeds mixed in salads and smoothies. Fermented foods are great for repopulating the gut with good bacteria: kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir, yogurt and coconut water are my patients’ favorites.
6. Support the detox process: Enhanced liver function is imperative at this time. The liver is the body’s oil filter and when you get rid of Candida, it has to function optimally to help the body rid itself of the yeast. Too, candida has been shown to damage the liver. My favorite approach to liver support is biotherapeutic drainage, but I also use milk thistle and things like molybdenum.
7. Emotional healing: It is so important to take it easy while going through this process. The feared die-off reaction can amplify the symptoms of Candida for a short period of time and this can be upsetting and debilitating. I happily spend a lot of time supporting my patients through this phase. I often recommend constitutional homeopathic remedies, which are excellent at rebalancing and supporting the body’s overall vitality during this time of cleansing.
With Anne, it took us about six months to go through this process but at the end she was symptom-free: No more itching or aching, she could eat without fear of immediately bloating up with gas, her skin was clear and her periods were starting to regulate. She no longer suffered from deep fatigue all day. Some people take longer to heal from yeast overgrowth, and some take a much shorter period of time. Lots of factors determine how long it takes: the strength of the immune system, the degree of stress in one’s life (both environmental and emotional), the health of the individual organs being treated and, of course, a patient’s attitude towards his or her healing goes a long way toward hurting or helping the healing process. As with all natural medicine cures, it’s not always a linear progression but the result is that, as in Anne’s case, the problem is gone for good.