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 lea f-- there are many that are valuable. These are always combined with caprylic acid, which is also excellent at breaking down candida.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. 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.
If you're struggling with similar symptoms, a naturopathic doctor who can focus on creating ultimate health through the use of natural therapeutics is what your gut just may need. If you want to schedule an appointment with Dr. Maura Henninger, click here. Become a fan of Dr. Maura on Facebook, connect with her on LinkedIn and follow her on Twitter.