You probably have heard about Candida as the source of over tiredness and you probably have read that there are quite restrictive diets out there that promise a better life – but is it just worth it, and for starters, what is Candida really?
What is Candida?
Candida albicans is a yeast, or fungus, which is commonly found on the skin, in the oral cavity, oesophagus, gastrointestinal tract and the vagina. So why would this commonly found yeast make us over tired? An infection or candidiasis results from the overgrowth of the yeast, which can occur in immunodepressed individuals (from some diseases like AIDS, or some treatments such as chemotherapy), with the repeated use of antibiotics or corticosteroids or in a wide range of other conditions including obesity, pregnancy, infancy, old age, diabetes, use of oral contraceptives, use of antacids, smoking, food intolerances and allergies.
Symptoms of candidiasis
Symptoms of candidiasis depend on the site of infection. On the skin surface, Candidiasis mostly results in red scaly areas, whereas in the mouth and throat the disease forms thick white patches. Genital candidiasis is characterized by thick, white discharge. Finally, the symptoms of the systemic candidiasis, which start with the overgrowth of Candida in the gastrointestinal tract, but then migrates to the rest of the body when the intestinal barrier is compromised (“leaky gut syndrome”), are more difficult to identify and less specific, sometimes including fever, headaches, tiredness, rashes and joint pain.
The incidence of systemic candidiasis is generally considered very low by general practitioners, however, the non specific nature of symptoms of this type of candidiasis might hide an underestimation of actual numbers of people suffering from this ailment. A major issue with the treatment for candidiasis is the use of antifungal medications, which cause the yeast to develop resistance. Patients often end up with an infection they can’t manage. For these people, finding an alternative method to help decrease the proliferation of the yeast becomes critical.
What type of diet can help fight a Candida overgrowth?
Exploring the web, you will find a wealth of advice on how to fight a Candida overgrowth with a radical change in diet, and you might wonder if all the recommended restrictions are necessary, or which ones to pick, and whether there are any scientific facts to back them up. Although the medical community doesn’t support a change in diet as a treatment of candidiasis – the only recommended treatment is antifungal medications – there are scientific articles, which support all the different aspects of dietary changes aiming at controlling Candida overgrowth detailed below. You can find a non-exhaustive list at the end of this post.
Candida albicans is a yeast. Diets aiming at managing Candida overgrowth are based on the limitation of foods containing yeasts, and on the reduction of carbohydrates (sugars and starches), on which the yeast feeds. Because an association between Candida albicans and the “leaky gut syndrome” (an increase in intestinal permeability, which allows incompletely digested food particles to enter the bloodstream) has been found, it is also important to reduce foods that irritate the intestinal mucosa, in particular all cereals containing gluten. Some essential oils and herbs with anti fungal activity are also used to reduce the proliferation of the yeast. Finally, steps should be taken to strengthen the immune system, which is weakened by the presence of the yeast.
Please remember: Before any major diet modification, make sure you really are suffering from a candidiasis. The most reliable tests available involve measuring blood levels of IgG, and IgE.
Foods to avoid:
Foods containing yeasts: bread and other baked goods prepared with yeast (rolls and pretzels), fermented foods such as miso, tempeh, sauerkraut and beer. A lot of commercially prepared foods contain yeast: check the labels.
Foods with high levels of carbohydrates (sugars and starch): sugar, honey, molasses, fruits and all products containing those, all grains containing gluten, such as wheat, rye, and their sub-products and preparations, flour, couscous, pasta, starchy vegetables such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, yams, beans.
Foods to eat:
Non-starchy vegetables, such as artichoke, green beans, eggplant, zucchini, gluten-free grains, such as amaranth, quinoa, buckwheat, non-processed meats, yogurts and kefir.
Foods to add to your diet: Garlic, essential oils from thyme, clove and turmeric (curcuma).
A note about the use of sweeteners:
It is sometimes difficult to eliminate completely all sources of sweetness, although a lot of people report missing sugary foods less and less as they follow the diet. Artificial sweeteners are in general not recommended because of their potentially negative effects on health. Stevia though is a natural sweetener, which has been found to have antifungal properties. This sweetener (especially in its organic form) can thus be used during a Candida diet.
Scientific references in support of dietary changes to manage Candida overgrowth
The following are certainly not supposed to be an exhaustive list of references but merely present a few examples of scientific studies in support of the elements discussed above.
1. Hoffmann C, Dollive S, Grunberg S, Chen J, Li H, Wu GD, Lewis JD, Bushman FD. Archaea and fungi of the human gut microbiome: correlations with diet and bacterial residents. PLoS One. 2013 Jun 17;8(6):e66019. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0066019. Print 2013.
This study describes a positive association between carbohydrates and Candida, meaning Candida proliferates with a diet rich in starches and sugars, and a negative association between the yeast and amino acids, proteins and fatty acids, which means that Candida tends to be decrease with a diet rich in meats and fats.
2. Maryam Omidbeygi, Mohsen Barzegar, Zohreh Hamidi, Hassanali Naghdibadi, Antifungal activity of thyme, summer savory and clove essential oils against Aspergillus flavus in liquid medium and tomato paste, Food Control, Volume 18, Issue 12, December 2007, Pages 1518-1523, ISSN 0956-7135, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.foodcont.2006.12.003.
This article describes the antifungal activity of thyme, summer savory and clove essential oils. The addition of these herbs to the diet should decrease the activity of yeasts such as Candida albicans.
3. Amphawan Apisariyakul, Nongnuch Vanittanakom, Duang Buddhasukh, Antifungal activity of turmeric oil extracted from Curcuma longa (Zingiberaceae), Journal of Ethnopharmacology, Volume 49, Issue 3, 15 December 1995, Pages 163-169, ISSN 0378-8741
This article describes the antifungal activity of turmeric oil from Curcuma. The addition of this oil to the diet should help manage overgrowth from yeasts such as Candida albicans.
4. Lemar KM, Turner MP, Lloyd D, Garlic (Allium sativum) as an anti-Candida agent: a comparison of the efficacy of fresh garlic and freeze-dried extracts. J Appl Microbiol. 2002;93(3):398-405. PMID:12174037
In this article the authors present the effects of garlic as an inhibitor of growth of Candida albicans and demonstrate the greater efficacy of fresh garlic over dried extracts.
5. Silva KR, Rodrigues SA, Filho LX, Lima AS, Antimicrobial activity of broth fermented with kefir grains. Appl Biochem Biotechnol. 2009 Feb;152(2):316-25. doi: 10.1007/s12010-008-8303-3. Epub 2008 Jul 29.
This article describes the antifungic activity of kefic grains. The consumption of kefir should help fighting the overgrowth of yeasts such as Candida albicans.
6. Muanda F.N., Soulimani R, Diop B., Dicko A., Study on chemical composition and biological activities of essential oil and extracts from Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni leaves, LWT – Food Science and Technology, 44, 9, 2011 Nov, 1865-1872, ISSN 0023-6438
This article evaluates the antifungal activity of stevia extracts against different types of microorganisms including Candida albicans. The results show that stevia has good antioxidant, anti-inflammation and antimicrobial activities.
- Are You Suffering from a Candida Overgrowth? (zen-haven.com)
- Do Home Remedies For Yeast Infection Actually Work? (YES!) (greathealthandfitnessprogram.wordpress.com)
- Treating Yeast Infections Naturally (healing.answers.com)
- Does the Candida Diet Work? (everydayhealth.com)
Copyright (see copyright page): © “Food, Science and Health” (FoodScienceHealth.com) by Barbara Cerf-Allen, 2013 All Rights Reserved
Disclaimer: I am not advocating any of the above mentioned diets, nor am I making any claim about their usefulness for your specific condition. I am not a medical doctor and I am not giving medical advice. This blog is about sharing scientific information and my personal anecdotal experience,