When I first heard of candida, it reminded me of an old song, but it's actually one of the most common and under-diagnosed ailments in this country. Candida albicans is a yeast that exists in everyone's body; women have a higher level than men. The condition of candida occurs when the natural balance of bacteria and intestinal flora in the body is disturbed, causing the regular candida growth to go ballistic and cause a systemic yeast infection.
Systemic is defined as "relating to or affecting the entire body." So when an overgrowth of yeast becomes systemic, it invades organs where it is not usually found and can even enter the blood stream. The symptoms of this condition often mimic other ailments, which is why candida can go undiagnosed. Its symptoms include fatigue, headaches, weight gain, insomnia, confusion, forgetfulness and nail fungus to name a few. The symptoms vary a great deal by person depending on other conditions such as allergies, gluten intolerance, medicines and eating habits.
Candida is very common in our society, due mostly to diets high in carbohydrates and sugar and over-prescribed antibiotics. Antibiotics kill disease bacteria, but they also kill the good bacteria that keep the body balanced. Carbs and sugar provide food for the candida. The spiral into a systemic yeast infection often starts with a person who is stressed and eating poorly (such as replacing whole foods with processed foods and sugars or depending on sugar and coffee for quick pick-me-ups). Stress wears a body down and, though eating well is one of the best ways to defend the body against the effects of stress, eating habits usually get worse rather than better during stressful times. The person then comes across a cold or flu, can't shake it and is given antibiotics by the doctor. The antibiotics kill the good bacteria as well as the bad, and the candida growth accelerates in the off-balance environment. The person gets a little better, but continues to feel tired and starts having cravings for sugar or processed carbs. Candida often causes cravings for sugar or bread because that is how it is fueled. So after a few rounds of poor eating and antibiotics (or other yeast-friendly drugs), the body is racked with out of control candida growth.
The best defense against candida is a diet of lean protein with plenty of vegetables and limiting antibiotics. Many people take antibiotics for a cold or the flu, which is ineffective because colds and flu are caused by viruses, not bacteria. If antibiotics are necessary, following the antibiotics with a series of probiotics will help restore the natural bacterial balance.
Actually addressing candida is both an easy and difficult thing to do. It is a three-phase process that isn't really a cure. Since candida exists in our bodies naturally, it can't be totally eliminated. However, it can be controlled and the body returned to a normal state. The first phase is to change the diet. A candida cleansing diet is very strict. No products with yeast (bread, crackers, beer), no fermented foods, no refined carbohydrates or sugar. All foods which feed candida are eliminated. A green food such as spirellina is a good addition in this phase because it is energizing and stabilizes blood sugar.
Phase two is to kill the overgrowth of candida. This can be done by taking antifungal herbs such as oregano, Paul d'Arco or grapefruit seed extract or by taking one of several candida cleansers on the market such as Candida Cleanse or CandiGone. Some people find this phase makes them feel listless or ill. This is because the candida produces toxins when it dies. It's advisable during this phase to drink plenty of water and take a fiber supplement like flax seed to help the body flush out the toxins.
The third phase is to replace the good bacteria. This can be accomplished by taking probiotics (such as acidolophilus) and eating more cultured food (like yogurt or keifer). After this phase, a less stringent diet can be followed, but once a person has had a candida overgrowth, they are more susceptible to future attacks.
There is a lot of evidence pointing to a systemic yeast infection as the precursor, if not root cause, of many illnesses such as allergies, auto-immune diseases, indigestion, inflammation and skin irritations just to name a few. For example, inflammation causes a great number of maladies, and candida causes inflammation. It also just plain makes a person feel bad. It's simple to be pro-active and alter our lifestyles to be less candida-prone. Reducing the refined carbs and sugars in our diets and only taking antibiotics as a last resort is not only an anti-candida effort, it's also a healthier way to live.