A connection with Yeast
A Generalized Imbalance That May Leave You Feeling "Bad All Over"
"Of all the things I’ve lost in life, I miss my mind the most" is a humorous line found on posters and refrigerator magnets. Less humorous are the real complaints of a common yeast organism called Candida albicans, including mental fogging, the inability to concentrate, a short attention span, a feeling of general spaciness, a loss of former alertness, and poor memory. Candida patients often have to read some things at least three times, and to their despair, might still be unable to retain it.
The symptoms affecting the mind —added to the chronic complaints of low energy, fatigue, depression, irritability, angry outbursts, migraine headaches, bladder irritations and infections, intermittent diarrhea, constipation, bloating, indigestion, allergic reactions, chemical intolerances to foods, skin eruptions, vaginal discharge and itching, menstrual irregularities, severe menstrual cramps, blurred vision, and sinusitis—may make you feel as if you are losing your mind! Your healthcare practitioner may even have hinted that “it’s all in your head” after not being able to discover a specific medical diagnosis to cover your medical complaints. Thousands of people have been labeled mentally or emotionally ill when they indeed have a legitimate health problem.
According to some medical professionals, the cause of these varied medical complaints could be Candida albicans, a generalized yeast infection. In The Yeast Syndrome, John Parks Trowbridge, MD, described Candida overgrowth as a “medical condition … affecting approximately one-third of the total populations of all Western industrialized countries.”
Candida albicans are yeast cells that, in normal circumstances, are only present in the gastrointestinal tract and on the skin, mucosa, esophagus and small intestine. The Candida yeast cells consume substances such as sugar in order to survive, and usually live in harmony with other bacterial flora present in and on the body. Typically, one Candida organism lives in a concentration of millions of other bacteria, within the normal flora of the gastrointestinal tract.
The normal balance prevents yeast from overgrowing and causing problems. Candida is normally controlled by our immune defenses. However, when our internal environment is disrupted by taking antibiotics, helpful bacteria tend to be decreased. Antigens and toxins overwhelm immune system cells and our immunity decreases, causing conditions in which Candida colonization may begin.
The Candida organism exists as a “spore” in the gut, in a somewhat rounded form. When the immune system is weakened, Candida assumes a thread-like shape and goes through the gut (stomach and intestine) wall releasing powerful toxins that may be absorbed into deeper tissues or the blood stream, and damages the gut wall, allowing foreign substances to enter.
Once the boundary into the blood stream is broken down, incompletely digested dietary proteins may travel through the blood stream assaulting the immune system. The immune system then produces antibodies, causing allergic reactions. For example, a cerebral allergy may cause depression, mood swings, memory problems and changes in behavior.
When Candida multiplies in the intestinal tract, toxins produced find their way into other tissues, resulting in a wide range of problems, including chronic fatigue, headache, and depression. Candida overgrowth can also lead to a “leaky gut” and subsequent food sensitivities.
According to William G. Crook, MD, author of The Yeast Connection Handbook, there is a growing consensus among healthcare practitioners that vulvodynia (chronic vulvar discomfort) and a variety of other disorders, such as fibromyalgia and endometriosis, may also be yeast related. Most people seem to develop these disorders as a result of a weakened immune system, in which viruses are activated, yeasts multiply, food and chemical allergies become activated, and nutritional deficiencies develop. While Candida albicans may not be the root cause, mounting evidence supports the notion that people with these disorders are helped by a sugar-free diet and antifungal medications.
Conditions that encourage yeast overgrowth include the use of antibiotics, taking cortisone, the birth control pill, multiple pregnancies, worry, stress, and diet.
Eating foods high in mold or yeast content (such as bread, brewer’s yeast, beer, and mushrooms), as well as diets high in refined or simple sugar carbohydrates (such as sweets, chips, and pastas), create an imbalance in our body, producing an environment that fosters yeast growth.
This generalized yeast infection grows more abundantly when our body’s resistance has been lowered due to nutritional deficiency, infection, or environmental toxins.
When you take long-term antibiotics to control against infections or acne, or take them repeatedly for colds, many of the helpful bacteria in your digestive tract are killed. Since yeasts aren’t harmed by these antibiotics, they spread out and colonize.
When yeasts multiply and an overgrowth situation occurs, they put out toxins that circulate throughout the body, weakening the immune system and leaving you “feeling bad all over.” With a weakened immune system, you’re more likely to develop respiratory and digestive disorders that your body is unable to fight.
Other factors that weaken the immune system include nutritional deficiencies caused by inadequate intake and/or poor absorption of essential amino acids, essential fatty acids, complex carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals.
Excessive worry, obsession, and burying your feelings deep within may also play an important role in the development of Candida overgrowth, as these can gradually lead to a weakened immune system.
Both women and men are susceptible to chronic Candida disorders. Those disorders can affect nine different body systems: digestive, nervous, cardiovascular, lymphatic, respiratory, reproductive, urinary, endocrine and musculoskeletal. Each of these systems may be affected, with varying degrees of severity over time.
Because Candida is always present in our bodies, every individual has the potential for developing a Candida overgrowth condition sometime during their lifetime. However, about 60% of the yeast syndrome cases occur in women. Reasons for this may be that women go to healthcare practitioners more frequently and receive more antibiotics than men. Also, hormonal changes associated with the normal monthly menstrual cycle, use of the birth control pill, and hormonal changes during pregnancy also contribute to yeast growth.
Candida symptoms typically occur when a person’s immunity becomes compromised due to antibiotics, diet, or other factors. This creates an environment in which the yeasts increase in number and release toxins that weaken the immune system. The body’s defense system becomes ineffective, causing membranes to swell and germs to multiply, and an invasion of deeper tissues to take place. This can cause throat, sinus, bladder, and other infections. Taking antibiotics to combat these infections further perpetuates the yeast growth with a guarantee of continued health problems, unless appropriate Candida treatment is started.
Candida upsets the female hormone cycle. Candida can bind hormones producing a deficit within normal cells. When Candida exhausts the endocrine system, it can lead to the development of other medical conditions, such as PMS, ovaritis, hypothyroidism, thyroiditis, hypoadrenalism, diabetes mellitus, hypoparathyroidism, pernicious anemia, hepatitis, pemphigus, allergic rhinitis, schizophrenia, Addison’s disease, myasthenia gravis, alopecia, vitiligo, autism, sprue, celiac disease, idiopathic thrombocytopenia purpura, pituitary deficiency with amenorrhea, systemic lupus erythematosis, rheumatoid arthritis, Sjogren’s syndrome, and Goodpasture’s syndrome. These disorders are all systemic autoimmune problems that may be linked to Candida.
Many women with chronic Candida experience PMS symptoms that could be related to yeast overgrowth. Women with a history of feeling worse on damp days, chemical hypersensitivities, intolerance to birth control pills, or recurrent vaginitis—and who have received repeated antibiotics—may have yeast-connected PMS. These symptoms may be helped with anti-Candida therapy.
Interference with Hormone Medications
Ineffective oral hormone replacement therapies may be due to gut wall damage caused by Candida. When inadequate hormone blood levels or poor resolution of PMS or menopausal symptoms occur with natural hormone therapies, it may be a good idea to try other methods of taking the hormones.
In the case of steroidal (i.e., estrogen and progesterone) hormones, the skin absorption is good and symptoms of hormone deprivation may be more easily relieved. Progesterone and estrogen can also be given sublingually, vaginally, rectally or by injection to avoid absorption problems with the gut.
It has been demonstrated that the Candida organism may bind estrogen, preventing it from filling estrogen receptor sites. Women with Candida overgrowth problems may need more estrogen replacement to get a satisfactory response.
A patient with pre-existing yeast-related conditions, (i.e., sinusitis, a tendency toward vaginal infections, or stomach and intestinal problems) may notice that the symptoms get worse when taking progesterone supplementation. It may be that the Candida organism thrives in the presence of progesterone.
Progesterone plays many roles and can contribute to rebuilding impaired adrenal function. When the body converts the progesterone to other hormones, there is less progesterone available to fill progesterone receptors.
Ironically, estrogen side-effects may occur when progesterone therapy is initiated. Estrogen symptoms such as headaches, nausea and depression sometime get worse with progesterone replacement, particularly when the dose is small. Progesterone stimulates estrogen receptors for estrogen. The initial stimulation occurs and potentiates the estrogen effect. When activity is potentiated, the amount of non-converted progesterone may not be enough to counter or balance these symptoms. Higher doses of progesterone may be needed.
When a woman has a Candida overgrowth problem and a hormonal deficit, it is important to treat both of these problems at the same time. It can be done successfully, as long as it is managed properly.
In Candida: Diet Against It, Dr. Luc De Schepper says “starve the Candida, kill the Candida, rebuild the immune system.” Aggressively addressing these steps with proper diet and exercise, antifungal measures, and immune support should be concurrent with progesterone replacement. Begin with low doses of progesterone and build up on that. Eventually, a point of renewed health can be reached. Many patients may exhibit some estrogen deficiency problems, such as hot flashes. When using estrogen supplementation, it becomes a triple management problem trying to address the hot flashes, the Candida, and the progesterone.
Many Candida patients have been diagnosed as having hypoglycemia, which can be a result of Candida overgrowth. Patients may be very stimulated by sugar, crave it enormously, and then have a letdown, even to the point of falling asleep.
In Lick the Sugar Habit, Nancy Appleton is inclined to believe that those metabolic problems and the problems with Candida are created by too much sugar in the diet to begin with. Diets containing large amounts of refined sugar cause the pancreas to put out extra insulin. Nervousness, weakness, irritability, drowsiness, and other symptoms of hypoglycemia are a result of rapid up and down fluctuations occurring in blood and brain sugar levels. Eating refined sugars feeds the yeast, causing it to multiply. The result is that toxins are produced, which may cause symptoms all over the body.
Cravings for sugar may also be the result of regular monthly hormone fluctuations. Progesterone, testosterone, and hydrocortisone are hormones that aid in glucose regulation. These hormones help move sugar from cell storage into the blood stream, bringing up the blood sugar level, which may encourage the Candida organism to flare. A hypoglycemic woman with Candida, who also takes hormone medications, may have more significant symptoms of hypoglycemia from the drop in blood sugar occurring as the yeast growth increases.
A woman’s progesterone level increases the week before the beginning of menstruation. Progesterone raises the amount of glucose or sugar in the blood, which is exactly what yeast cells thrive on. It comes as no surprise that women with Candida crave sugar premenstrually because that is exactly what the yeast cells are screaming for. Then, the increased sugar intake often leads to irritability, mood swings and depression.
A Quixotic Relationship Between Yeast and Mercury
Theories abound about the correlations between yeast overgrowth and mercury, but it is unclear what comes first. Mercury exposure from dental amalgams and food sources can contribute to a rise in Candida. This could be mediated through damage to the immune system.
Alternatively, Candida and other yeast organisms are known to convert inorganic mercury into more toxic forms. Yeast organisms also store mercury, which means that aggressive yeast therapies may release more mercury into the body leading to an acute mercury toxic burden.
If you’ve had thoughts like “I never feel 100% healthy” or you “just feel bad all over” at times, discuss the possibility of a Candida problem with your healthcare practitioner. This diagnosis may have been missed previously because you’ve never connected and/or discussed all of your symptoms before.
Your practitioner’s laboratory-assisted diagnosis of Candida syndrome may include:
- Nutritional profile
- Food hypersensitivity profile
- Fungal hypersensitivity profile
- Chronic fungal disease profile, focusing on antibodies to Candida antigen
- Chronic viral disease profile, seeking evidence of past, present, or chronic Epstein Bar Virus, cytomegalovirus (CMV), and herpes virus infections.
A lab urinalysis that detects an organic acid associated with yeast is also available.
Your medical history is another valuable diagnostic tool. If you identify with many of the Candida symptoms, evaluate your personal medical history to see if it includes some of the following factors:
- Frequent or continuous use of antibiotics for respiratory, urinary, or other infections
- Use of the birth control pill for more than six months
- Use of cortisone-type drugs such as prednisone or Decadron®
- Surgical intervention or severe burns
- Cravings for breads, sugar, or alcoholic beverages
- Mild to severe symptoms due to exposure to perfumes, insecticides, or clothing store odors and other chemicals
- Symptoms worsen on damp, muggy days, or when you are in basements or moldy places
- Athlete’s foot, ring worm, or other chronic fungus infections of the skin or nails
- Bothered by tobacco smoke.
Lactobacillus Acidophilus is one form of probiotic or “friendly” bacteria that helps control yeast overgrowth by competing with Candida in the digestive tract. This friendly bacteria is commonly killed when you use antibiotics. Candida albicans is unaffected by the antibiotics and proliferates when the friendly bacteria is not there to keep it in balance.
Lactobacilli are considered to be the protective flora in the vagina. Lactobacilli produce lactic acid, maintaining an acidic pH of 4.0–4.5, thereby protecting against vaginal infection. Candida is less likely to attach to vaginal epithelial cells when the pH of the vagina is acidic. Maximal attachment occurs when the pH is neutral, at a pH of 7.3. Lactobacilli have also been shown to inhibit other vaginal micro-organisms, including Escherichia coli, Garderella vaginalis, and Mobiluncus species.
Products that contain Lactobacillus acidophilus include yogurt, acidophilus milk, and Lactobacillus powders and tablets. The bacteria provide essential vitamins, proteins and other nutrients for your body. When you take preparations of this friendly bacteria, they become implanted and start multiplying, thus restoring a more normal balance among the friendly and unfriendly germs in your digestive tract. You can purchase acidophilus milk in most grocery or health food stores. Lactobacillus acidophilus powder or tablets are available as supplements through Women’s International Pharmacy, or over-the-counter at most pharmacies or natural food stores.
Our newsletter titled The Promise of Probiotics discusses these friendly bacteria in more detail.
Dietary changes could solve your yeast-connected health problems. Some fundamental guidelines include:
- Eat nutritional fresh food.
- Rotate your foods. Food sensitivities or allergies are more common if you eat the same foods every day, and this will also help you identify any food allergies.
- Avoid refined carbohydrates, including sugar, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, honey, maple syrup and date syrup.
- Avoid refined, processed, and fabricated foods; these foods usually contain sugar, yeasts and other hidden ingredients that may feed Candida.
- Try avoiding milk and fruits. After a few weeks, rotate them back into your diet and monitor for symptoms.
- Try avoiding foods that contain yeast, such as bread, cheese and beer. After a few weeks, try foods with yeast again to see if you react to them. If not, you may add them back in moderation.
- Eat unsweetened yogurt and take nutritional supplements, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus (see box at right), vitamins and minerals.
- Consume foods containing short-chain fatty acids, such as butter and coconut oil.
- Consume aged garlic extract (or fresh garlic cloves).
Dr. Trowbridge recommends a four-phase “Celebration of Healthy Eating” program. If you follow his eating program fully, it can eliminate or control most Candida symptoms.
Phase One involves eating a MEVY (meat, eggs, vegetables and yogurt with acidophilus) diet to counteract the Candida symptoms.
Phase Two adds some foods that could encourage yeast growth if they were consumed in excess.
Phase Three lets you add moderate amounts of fruits and other foods with yeast or a higher sugar/carbohydrate content.
Phase Four encourages you to choose items from many different food families. These foods contain yeast or are foods with an elevated sugar/carbohydrate content that you are unable to eat when you have a weakened immune system from Candida overgrowth.
In addition to the dietary guidelines mentioned, treating a Candida problem may involve avoiding other things in your environment that may be contributing to a yeast overgrowth, such as:
- Moldy conditions in your home, such as mold in your refrigerator, bathroom or basement, or mold in your workplace
- Chemicals, such as perfumes, insecticides and smoke
- Birth control pills, antibiotics and cortisone-type medications
- Alcoholic beverages.
- Taking Nystatin or other antifungal drugs
- Taking probiotics (see The Promise of Probiotics for more information) and nutritional supplements to support your body’s immunity
- Drinking tabebuia/la pacho/taheebo tea (an herbal remedy).
Depending on the severity of the overgrowth, eradicating Candida may prove difficult. Research indicates that Candida organisms are able to form biofilms (a type of slime that encases colonies of mixed organisms) that make them resistant to treatment, and promotes frequent reinfection. Enzymes, metal chelating agents, and probiotics such as Saccharomyces boulardii may help eradicate the biofilm, allowing dietary changes and other treatments to be more effective.
Treatment will require patience on your part, and it may take some time for you to get well. In fact, once you start treatment, you may actually feel worse for a short time while the Candida organisms start to die off and their toxins are released into your system. If this happens, don’t give up entirely on your diet and treatment plan; back off a little bit and continue more slowly to give your body some time to adjust. After all, your yeast overgrowth problem didn’t develop overnight, so you can’t expect it to go away overnight.
Note: This newsletter was originally published in September 2004, updated in May 2011 and updated again in October 2012.
For more information on Candida, please refer to the following organizations and publications:
- The Yeast Connection: www.yeastconnection.com
- Endometriosis Association: www.endometriosisassn.org
- Fibromyalgia Network: www.fmnetnews.com
- The Yeast Syndrome by John Parks Trowbridge, MD, and Morton Walker, DPM; Bantam Books; New York, NY; 1986.
- The Yeast Connection Handbook by William Crook, MD; Professional Books, Inc.; Jackson, TN; 2002.
- Candida: Diet Against It by Luc De Schepper, MD, PhD; Foulsham; London; 1989.
- Lick the Sugar Habit by Nancy Appleton, PhD; Avery Publishing Group; New York, NY; 1988.
- “Transformation of Inorganic Mercury by Candida Albicans and Saccharomyces cerevisiae” by Shmuel Yannai et al; Applied and Environmental Microbiology; Jan 1991, pp. 245-247.
- The Missing Diagnosis by C. Orian Truss, MD; Self-published; 1986.
- “Candida, Fungal-Type Dysbiosis, and Chronic Disease: Exploring the Nature of the Yeast Connection” by Stephen Olmstead, MD, et al.; in the Townsend Letter, June 2012.
- The Promise of Probiotics published by Women’s International Pharmacy; updated November 2012.