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It’s one of those conditions—like hemorrhoids or body odor—that we’re reluctant to discuss. But yeast infections are a common problem that affect men as well as women. Candida albicans, the fungus responsible for vaginal yeast infections, can also multiply in the intestines, leading to a variety of unpleasant symptoms and potentially increasing the risk of illness and autoimmune conditions.
It’s normal to have some candida in the gut, but it’s usually kept in check by the immune system and beneficial bacteria that live in the intestines. But if antibiotic use, a high-sugar diet, or other lifestyle factors cause probiotic counts to dwindle—or if the immune system becomes weakened for any reason—candida can grow unchecked, a condition known as candidiasis. Symptoms include bloating, gas, constipation, diarrhea, joint pain, fatigue, headaches, sinus problems, depression, and anxiety.
Once it gains a foothold in the body, yeast is tenacious and difficult to eliminate. But you can kick candida overgrowth. It just takes a little perseverance and a few sensible steps.
Step 1: Cut Carbs and Other Yeast Promoters
Decreasing your carbohydrate intake is the foundation of any anti-candida diet. Yeast organisms use sugar for growth and reproduction, and sugar in any form also allows candida yeast to grow faster and become more virulent, which can damage the intestines. On the flip side, cutting sugars and starches from your diet will slow and/or reverse candida growth.
For at least two weeks—and preferably three—cut out as many carbs from your diet as you can and eliminate sugar in all forms, including fresh fruits, dried fruits, starchy vegetables, legumes, and grains. Search for hidden sugar in crackers, soups, sauces, and other processed foods. Avoid artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols (e.g., sorbitol and mannitol), as they encourage candida growth, too. Some say xylitol is an exception, since studies show that it can combat yeast infections. However, like other sugar alcohols, xylitol can upset beneficial bacteria in the gut and exacerbate yeast problems. Err on the side of caution, and stick to small amounts of stevia as a transitional sweetener.
Other foods are thought to exacerbate candidiasis by compromising immunity, producing toxins, or damaging intestinal flora, or because they contain molds. Foods to avoid include alcohol, yeast, aged or processed cheeses, processed or smoked meats, peanuts, pistachios, black tea, coffee, and vinegar (except apple cider vinegar).
Additionally, there has been some controversy over mushrooms. On the one hand, they’re fungi, which some experts believe can worsen symptoms. But many mushroom varieties—such as reishi and maitake—boost immunity and may improve symptoms.
Check supplement labels, too. Many contain fillers or additives that can worsen symptoms. Cellulase, found in many digestive enzymes and other supplements, can exacerbate candida. Maltodextrin promotes yeast growth even more than white sugar does. And alcohol is found in many tinctures. Look for alcohol-free versions, or choose capsules or loose tea over tinctures.
Step 2: Heal Your Gut with Supplements
An overgrowth of candida can create inflammation in the gut and damage intestinal walls. This diminishes the absorption of nutrients and further imbalances beneficial bacteria. If the intestinal barrier is damaged enough to become permeable—a condition known as leaky gut syndrome—undigested protein can escape into the bloodstream and initiate an immune response. Over time, this may play a role in the development of autoimmune diseases.
Supplements can help repair this damage. Omega-3 fats calm inflammation and boost immunity. Slippery elm soothes inflamed stomach and intestinal walls. And L-glutamine helps heal the intestinal lining—look for it in powder form, and try 2,000–4,000 mg once or twice a day.
Many studies show that probiotics, or beneficial bacteria, discourage yeast overgrowth by “crowding out” candida in the gut and improving immunity. Lactobacillus acidophilus, one of the most common strains, prevents candida overgrowth and also improves digestion. Bifidobacteria also boost immunity, repair intestinal damage, and increase the acidity of the intestines, which discourages the growth of yeast and other pathogens. Try a formula that contains a variety of strains for a broader effect. Start with a smaller dose-usually 1-2 billion CFUs twice a day. Then increase your dosage by 1 billion CFUs every two days to avoid yeast die-off symptoms (e.g., headache, fatigue, muscle pain, skin breakouts, and other symptoms caused when yeast cells die off rapidly).
Step 3: Eat These Two Foods
Antifungal foods can also help you kick candida. Two of the best: garlic and coconut oil. Studies show that garlic is an anti-fungal that significantly reduces candida. For maximum effectiveness, eat it raw, as cooking garlic damages allicin, the compound that’s responsible for its antimicrobial effects. Add minced garlic to salad dressings, or put a clove through a garlic press and stir into steamed veggies. If you can’t stomach it raw, try a garlic supplement. Start with 600–900 mg taken in regular doses throughout the day. Try Wakunaga Kyolic Candida Cleanse & Digestion Formula 102, which contains Aged Garlic Extract.
Coconut oil is rich in caprylic acid, an anti-fungal compound that combats yeast while leaving beneficial bacteria intact. In studies, coconut oil significantly reduced or eliminated candida. Use it for cooking or as a replacement for butter on steamed vegetables and other foods. Unrefined is preferable to refined, but there’s no real difference between “virgin” or “extra-virgin” varieties. You can also swap coconut milk for cow’s milk, but avoid varieties that contain added sugars. Caprylic acid is also available as a single supplement at health food stores.
Try these Helpful Herbs
Many herbs also have powerful yeast-fighting activities. Some of the best:
Pau d’arco, a South American rainforest herb, has been used for thousands of years for its antimicrobial effects, and modern studies prove its effectiveness in combatting candida. You’ll find it sold as a tea (which has a pleasant, earthy flavor), or in capsule or extract form. Drink 2–4 cups of tea per day, or take capsules as recommended. If you use tinctures, look for alcohol-free versions.
Olive leaf contains oleuropein, a powerful antifungal that prevents candida overgrowth. It’s also full of antioxidants that support immune function. Look for capsules, or liquid formulations that combine olive leaf extract with other powerful antioxidants. Start by taking moderate doses to avoid die-off symptoms, and gradually increase your dosage.
Oregano oil is rich in concentrated phenols that prevent fungal infection. It also has antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and antiviral properties. In one study, oregano oil completely inhibited the growth of candida. Additionally, candida doesn’t develop resistance to oregano oil as it does to other antifungal agents. Take 2–4 drops daily of oregano oil in a glass of water, slowly increasing to 5–6 drops per day. Or buy softgel capsules for a more convenient dosage.
Commercial household cleaners, laundry detergent, dishwashing liquid, and other products can exacerbate candida, especially if you’re also experiencing chemical sensitivities, which are common in people with candidiasis. The same goes for fragrances, including perfume, air fresheners, and other chemically scented products. So switch to natural cleaners in unscented varieties.
It’s also crucial to determine if you have hidden sources of mold in your home. Long-term or regular exposure to mold, even at low levels, suppresses immune function and leads to fungal overgrowth in the body. Look for areas of visible mold in your house, repair leaking pipes or water damage, and if you have any questions, hire a reputable testing firm.