Candida is a term that refers to a large family of yeasts (one celled fungi) that under normal circumstances, harmlessly inhabit the tissues of humans. This is because a balanced intestinal tract from mouth to colon contains a preponderance of beneficial bacteria that keep Candida in check.
When not enough beneficial bacteria are present in a given body tissue to keep Candida under control, Candida transforms from a harmless state into an invasive species. In this rapidly growing state, Candida puts out long stringy hyphae or “roots” which can penetrate through the tissues of the body.
Candida overgrowth can occur in many tissues of the body such as oral candidiasis known as thrush, the scalp as dandruff, or vaginal yeast infections.
What Causes Candida Overgrowth?
Candida is an opportunistic pathogen that can rapidly take over when a person is under a course of antibiotics. Antibiotics decimate beneficial gut flora but have little effect on Candida, giving this normally harmless yeast the chance to take over dominance of the gut environment very quickly.
Many women don’t realize it, but oral contraceptives imbalance the gut in the same way as antibiotics giving Candida an open door to take control.
A diet of processed foods high in sugars and simple carbohydrates also encourages Candida overgrowth as yeasts thrive on sugars.
Babies born via C-Section or to mothers who were treated with IV antibiotics during labor are especially vulnerable to the ravages of Candida overgrowth as they are not exposed to a healthy balance of gut flora from their travels down the birth canal prior to the moment of birth.
Symptoms of Candida Overgrowth
Symptoms of Candida overgrowth are many the most common being fogginess in the morning upon waking (brain fog), digestive complaints of all kinds and a myriad of skin issues.
Many women plagued by yeast infections don’t realize that the source of the problem is actually their diet and the pathogenic state of their gut environment. Using drugs and creams to resolve the problem is only a temporary solution when the source of the problem – gut imbalance – is not addressed head on.
The Anti-Candida Diet
Some 20 years ago, my husband and I tried the Candida Diet to resolve gut imbalance that had been exacerbated by our stressful and overworked lifestyle at the time.
It failed miserably.
Because the Candida Diet goes only part of the way in attempting to resolve gut imbalance by removing all food sources for Candida.
For example, the Candida Diet removes sugar from the diet in all forms – even maple syrup and honey. Fresh fruit, however, is allowed.
Candida overgrowth can frequently trigger an allergy to molds and other types of fungi, so fermented foods including cheese and dairy are also eliminated along with any breads and other foods containing yeast.
Other foods excluded from the Candida Diet include vinegar, mushrooms, tea, coffee, dried fruit and any form of fruit juices.
People Get Better on the Candida Diet But They Don’t Heal
The typical scenario for a person who goes on the Candida Diet goes something like this:
- They feel better almost immediately – primarily because all the sugar has been removed from their diet.
- They continue on the diet for some time perhaps many months or even a year or more and are pleased to see that their symptoms of Candida overgrowth diminish considerably during that time.
- After a period of time, they try to reintroduce some of the foods that were removed only to discover that their symptoms come raging back with full force.
- They realize that it is going to be next to impossible to continue the Candida Diet indefinitely as it is simply too hard to give up cheese and any and all sweets forever.
- They get discouraged, give up and stop the Candida Diet.
Why Doesn’t the Candida Diet Work?
The paradox of the Candida Diet is that symptoms greatly diminish but the person doesn’t actually heal from the root cause of the problem which is a breech in the integrity of the gut lining.
Healing is prevented on the Candida Diet for the following key reasons:
Reason #1: The Candida Diet allows foods like potato, yams and other starchy vegetables.
Reason #2: More important than the allowance of starch in the Candida Diet, however, is the ultimate fatal flaw: the inclusion of grain based foods.
Even if the Candida Diet is used in conjunction with a gluten free, casein free diet, it fails in the majority of instances.
The reason is that disaccharides, or double sugars, are present in many carbohydrates including ALL grains – not just gluten containing ones. An inflamed, inbalanced gut overridden with Candida is unable to digest double sugar molecules completely because the lack of beneficial gut flora has compromised the function of the enterocytes.
According to Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride MD, author of Gut and Psychology Syndrome and one of the key scientists at the forefront of gut restoration research today, the enterocytes are the cells that reside on the villi of the gut wall and produce the enzyme disaccharidase which breaks down the disaccharide molecule into easily absorbed monosaccharide molecules. When the enterocytes are not nourished and strengthened properly by adequate beneficial flora, they become weak and diseased and may even turn cancerous. They do not perform their duties of digesting and absorbing food properly.
The critical importance of the enterocytes to health cannot be overstated!
Weak and diseased enterocytes also have trouble digesting starch molecules which are very large with hundreds of monosugars connected in long branchlike strands. People with weak digestion due to Candida overgrowth and messed up enterocytes have a terrible time digesting these complex molecules leaving large amounts of it undigested- the perfect food for pathogenic yeasts, bacteria, and fungi like Candida to thrive upon.
Even the starch that manages to get digested results in molecules of maltose, which is – you guessed it – a disaccharide! This maltose also goes undigested due to a lack of the enzyme disaccharidase and becomes additional food for Candida.
Therefore, when one follows the Candida Diet and yet still consumes grains and starches, food molecules that are not fully digested continue to putrefy, inflame, and provide food for Candida thereby preventing healing even if some improvement is noted from the removal of all sugars.
What is the Best Diet for Combatting Candida?
In conclusion, it is best not to waste your time with the Candida Diet. It doesn’t work in the majority of cases and you will ultimately feel frustrated in your efforts to heal over the long term.
The best diets for healing and sealing the gut wall and permanently rebalancing the gut environment are the GAPS Diet or the very similar SCD (Specific Carbohydrate) Diet.
To read more about GAPS, click here for my introductory post on the subject. Also, the post The Five Most Common GAPS Diet Mistakes is a review of the most common pitfalls of this approach to gut healing.
Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist
Source: Gut and Psychology Syndrome, Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride MD