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Nutritionists Say Fight Candida with Food

August 29, 2019

We all know that balance is key when it comes to work and home life, but it doesn’t end there. This principle applies to your gut health too. A healthy gut must have a balance of good digestive bacteria and a diverse array of bacterial species, which helps keep your tummy systems in healthy check. It’s when the gastrointestinal tract is out of balance that inflammation can occur and cause problems. One such imbalance could lead to something called Candida albacans, or simply, Candida. It can change your life overnight, and not in a good way!

Candida, a type of yeast, is actually a normal part of the gut, but when too much of it flourishes, problems can arise. The most common manifestations of Candida are thrush (a superficial Candida infection in the mouth) and vaginitis, also commonly referred to as a yeast infection. Some nutritionists believe an estimated 90% of the population has a problem with Candida overgrowth, although most don't know it. It’s also thought that a Candida overgrowth can make symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) worse. 

Therefore, certain lifestyle changes, especially dietary ones, are one of the most surefire and natural ways to help control and reduce harmful, and sometimes painful, Candida symptoms. Let’s learn a little more about Candida, and what types of foods have been shown to help reduce yeast and related gut imbalance symptoms — therefore reducing  candida overgrowth.

All about Candida albacans

Candida albicans is a fungus that is a normal part of the gut flora but can have pathogenic potential in certain conditions. One of those conditions is in immunocompromised patients where the fungi can cause systemic candidiasis and cause the body to fight against itself. This condition is a serious type of yeast infection that can affect the blood, brain, heart, eyes, or bones.

In cases where people have compromised immune systems, Candida albicans can cause problems when it grows in excess. Overuse of antibiotics, for example, can trigger candida overgrowth because it kills off the good bacteria with the bad. It is also thought that those with diabetes are at higher risk for yeast infections, or candidiasis as compared with people who do not suffer from diabetes. However, this doesn’t mean that high amounts of sugar in the blood necessarily lead to candida overgrowth.

Can certain foods cause Candida overgrowth?

Even though high blood sugar levels may not lead to candida overgrowth, certain foods can. A 2018 research study shows that consumption of sugars like glucose and sucrose accelerated the growth of yeast. 

When it comes to gut health, candida overgrowth can lead to a condition known as intestinal permeability. This condition occurs when the candida overgrowth causes the intestinal wall to become permeable, which in turn allows partially digested proteins and other toxins to release into the body.  

Increased permeability of the intestine is also a symptom of certain gastrointestinal conditions such as celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, and irritable bowel syndrome. It’s important to note that experts report that intestinal permeability is not a cause of these digestive conditions.

Those at risk for intestinal permeability, sometimes referred to as Leaky Gut Syndrome, include those with a genetic predisposition to digestive distress. Leaky gut is a more serious consequence of candidiasis. However, experts suggest that the typical American diet of high sugar and low fiber can also make a person prone to leaky gut. Other lifestyle factors like drinking alcohol and having chronic stress can make a person more likely to develop leaky gut.

Natural ways to combat Candida overgrowth

Since yeast is a fungus, and Candida albacans is a type of yeast, it’s no surprise that antifungal medicines are a common course of treatment for candida overgrowth. However, there’s good news for people who like to treat symptoms with more natural methods. Recent research is starting to find natural ways to combat this condition. Here are a few!

Coconut oil

Coconut oil is a plant-based oil rich in medium chain fatty acids that shows potential for candida treatment. In fact, preliminary animal research shows that dietary coconut oil reduced C. albicans colonization in the gastrointestinal tract by inhibiting growth of the yeast. It also reduced long-chain fatty acid content in the colon. This is significant since C. albicans can use fatty acids as a carbon source when carbohydrates are unavailable. 

Apple cider vinegar

Apple cider vinegar (ACV) has grown in popularity as a versatile tonic thought to help induce weight loss. Although studies haven’t proven that claim, research does prove that ACV could help those with C. albicans overgrowth. One research study published in 2018 shows that ACV holds antimicrobial properties that help to break down C. albicans proteins.  Researchers suggest that the activity of ACV stems from its polyphenol antioxidant content. 

Anti-inflammatory Foods

Besides ACV, there are also foods with high antioxidant content that could help treat C. albicans overgrowth. One of those food products that could help treat C. albicans is the golden spice, curcumin. Curcumin is the active compound found inside the turmeric root and holds both inflammation-fighting and antifungal properties that a 2018 study shows can help break down C. albicans proteins. 

Garlic is another food flavoring that holds promise as a possible C. albicans overgrowth treatment option. A 2016 study shows that garlic oil can downregulate the proteins of C. albicans, which in turn disrupts its normal metabolism and physical functions. 

Other plant-based food products and oils that could help treat C. albicans include citral essential oil, ginger extract, and oregano oil. And since these anti-inflammatory foods seem to help C. albicans overgrowth, it may not hurt to also add antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables to your daily diet.

Also choosing a soil-based probiotic supplement may help to suppress Candida, but you do not want the bacteria to die too quickly. So take a safe and high-quality dose of probiotics daily.  

Additional Foods to Include: 

  • Low-sugar fruits: Lemon, limes, berries (eaten in small amounts) 
  • Non-starchy vegetables: Asparagus, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, kale, celery, cucumber, onion, spinach, zucchini and rutabaga (best if eaten raw or steamed).
  • Gluten-free grains: Millet, quinoa, oat bran and buckwheat.
  • High-quality protein: Chicken, eggs, salmon, turkey and sardines (organic, pasture-raised and wild-caught varieties are best).
  • Healthy fats: Avocado, olives, unrefined coconut oil, flax oil, extra-virgin olive oil and sesame oil.
  • Certain dairy products: Ghee (clarified butter) 
  • Nuts and seeds low in mold: Almonds, sunflower seeds, coconut or flaxseed.
  • Herbs and spices: Black pepper, salt, cinnamon, dill, ginger, rosemary, paprika, and thyme.
  • Condiments: Sauerkraut.
  • Non-caffeinated beverages: Herbal teas, chicory coffee, filtered water, homemade almond milk, coconut milk (look for one without additives) and water infused with lemon or lime.

Foods to avoid when treating and preventing C. albicans overgrowth

Besides adding the above foods to your diet to help eradicate C. albicans, there are some foods you should avoid to prevent this yeast’s overgrowth. These foods include not only high sugar foods and related processed food products, but also wheat-based foods that a 2019 study shows can increase the presence of Candida spp. in the gastrointestinal tract.

Here are additional foods and drinks to avoid:

  • High-sugar fruits: Bananas, dates, raisins, grapes and mango.
  • Grains that contain gluten: Wheat, rye, barley and spelt.
  • Certain meats: Deli meats and farmed fish 
  • Refined oils and fats: Canola oil, soybean oil, sunflower oil or margarine.
  • Condiments: Ketchup, soy sauce, white vinegar, BBQ sauce, horseradish or mayonnaise.
  • Certain dairy products: Cheese, milk and cream.
  • Sugar and artificial sweeteners: Aspartame, agave, cane sugar, corn syrup, honey, maple syrup, molasses and table sugar.
  • Nuts and seeds higher in mold: Peanuts, cashews, pecans and pistachios.
  • Caffeine, alcohol and sugary beverages: Caffeinated teas, coffee, energy drinks, soda, fruit juice, beer, wine or spirits.
  • Additives: Nitrates or sulfates.

Bottom line

Too much of anything can be a bad thing, and gut microbiota like Candida is no exception. That’s why if you feel like your digestive symptoms may be related to a Candida overgrowth, then making changes in your diet may help. Although the research is still in the early stages to confirm just how effective these dietary changes can be, it’s certain that limiting high sugar and highly processed foods can’t hurt. Focusing on plenty of whole foods in the diet can benefit pretty much anyone’s gut health. 

Along with diet changes, if you experience digestive distress that you think may be related to a gut imbalance, it may help to start a food-symptom diary. Such a journal can help you to identify trigger foods that may be causing symptoms. Also, be sure to see a healthcare provider like a physician or registered dietitian who specializes in gut health in case other treatments are needed for a period of time. 

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