Candida overgrowth is one of the most common gut infections I encounter in my practice, and I receive numerous emails daily with questions about how to best treat it. It’s a tough one to tackle. Before you embark on a candida cleanse, make sure you avoid these six mistakes in treating candida overgrowth.
What is Candida?
Candida is a fungus, a form of yeast, that is present on and inside humans. It’s a normal part of a healthy digestive tract when it stays in check. There are many different strains/species of candida. It challenges our good gut flora to work more efficiently to keep us healthy.
But candida is an opportunistic organism, meaning that if the conditions are ripe, it will overtake the good bacteria and have a party in your digestive tract, causing you some undesirable symptoms such as weight gain, brain fog, fatigue, achy joints, gas, bloating, sugar cravings, nail fungus, and yeast infections. It produces toxins as it multiplies, and the major waste product of yeast cell activity is acetaldehyde (the same compound that your liver must break down when you drink alcohol), a toxin that promotes free radical activity in the body.
Our Western processed diets and lifestyles are to blame for pathogenic and bacterial overgrowths in the digestive tract. Antibiotic and drug use, birth control pills, refined carb and sugar-heavy diets, stress, alcohol, heavy metals, and female hormone and thyroid imbalance contribute to candida overgrowth. Click here to read my post all about how to address candida.
As I mentioned, candida is hard to kill off. It can become quickly resistant to anti-fungals or antibiotic herbs, so you have to outsmart it. The best advice if you’ve attempted a candida cleanse unsuccessfully is to rotate your antibiotic herbs and hit it hard. It typically takes 2-3 months to kill it off.
Here are some of the biggest mistakes I see in attempts to kill candida. Avoid these mistakes and you should only have to do your candida cleanse once. It took me 3 tries to get it right, and I have finally developed a winning protocol I now use with my clients. Click here to read my tips for getting rid of candida for good. Meantime, avoid these errors when treating candida.
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The 6 Biggest Mistakes in Treating Candida Overgrowth
1. Attempting to wipe out ALL candida. First off, please understand that some candida is absolutely normal in your digestive tract. We need it to keep our gut strong and our immune system healthy. The first big mistake I see is the misconception that we need to kill off ALL candida in the gut.
People are often prescribed strong anti-fungals (such as diflucan) for several weeks to kill candida. These anti-fungals work, and people feel amazing. But they may also wipe out beneficial yeast, which keeps dysbiosis (bad bacteria overgrowth) in check. Then you have other dysbiotic bacterial strains that take hold, or the yeast morphs and can return worse than before. The anti-fungals can also create major die-off symptoms when the yeast is killed, overwhelming your detox pathways and immune system. The key is to “reeducate” the bacteria in the gut by escorting too many bad guys out when they’ve reached capacity rather than coming in with guns blazing and killing everyone.
2. Using the traditional candida diet alone. Google “candida diet” and you’ll get a million different ways to kill candida. Most of these diets recommend removing all molecules of sugar, starch, alcohol, and refined foods–candida’s preferred food sources. But cutting all starchy carbs can yield you a very low carb diet, and studies indicate that yeast may actually feed on the ketones that result from a very low carb diet (source). So cutting all starches and sources of glucose isn’t a great idea.
Your diet will depend mostly on you. I design a different diet for each and every one of my clients. We each have a gut microbiome as unique as our fingerprint. If you have leaky gut, intestinal inflammation, or malabsorption issues, you may fare well on the specific carbohydrate diet or low FODMAP diet that limits hard-to-break -down starches. When a compromised digestive tract can’t fully break down these complex starches (grains, potatoes, certain legumes), they ferment, feed yeast, and cause gas and bloating.
So the short answer about your perfect candida-killing diet is that it depends on the health of your gut. Some may fare fine cutting out sugar, gluten, dairy, alcohol (hard to digest foods) but leaving in starchy carbs. Others may need to go low FODMAP or SCD.
But the larger point is that no matter what, the candida diet alone will not kill candida. Sure, it will starve some of the bad guys, and you’ll feel a reduction in symptoms, but you need anti-microbial herbs and probiotic intervention to seal the deal.
There are foods that help wipe out candida–garlic, lemon (hot water with lemon is a great way to get your lemon), ginger, coconut oil-– to supplement your protocol, but those foods alone won’t cut it.
3. Taking the wrong antimicrobial herbs or taking the same herbs continually. In addition to the right anti-candida diet for you, you’ll need to take anti-microbial herbs to knock back the overgrowth. In the olden days I would recommend taking an anti-candida formula for 6-8 weeks (and did so myself many times). Sometimes it would work, sometimes not. I’ve now developed a protocol that works almost always, and it involves using several different herbs in rotation. Candida can become easily resistant to herbs, so using different herbs prevents this and seems to prevent serious die-off, too. Click here for my preferred protocol. Again, this will depend on the person.
One thing that may work well is diatomaceous earth (food grade). It slices candida and kills it, allowing it to be excreted via stool. It has so many benefits. I often recommend this for the full 8 weeks of my candida protocol. I’ve used it myself and was impressed with the benefits to my skin and hair.
4. Failure to recolonize the gut with the proper strains of probiotic bacteria. This is a big one. Once people are finished with the killing phase, they skip the most important part: putting the good bacteria back in the gut! Imagine you have a beautiful neighborhood that eventually gets trashed by vandals. You come in with a SWAT team and escort the vandals out, and they go back to their area. But now you have a bare neighborhood. Know what happens if you just leave it and don’t rebuild? The vandals come back to trash it again. Same situation in your gut. You’ve cleaned it up, so don’t just leave it. You need to rebuild your nice houses and get your neighborhood watch team in place to keep the vandals out. That requires mega doses of probiotics, especially lactobacillus species, and probiotic-building foods to build back up the good guys that got starved out. Click here for my post on probiotics. You’ll also need to eat plenty of prebiotic foods to feed your probiotic bacteria.
5. Returning to your old eating habits. Don’t celebrate the end of your treatment by going out for pizza and beer. You just spent 8 long weeks being super strict to improve your health– don’t ruin all your hard work! Yes, you may be able to enjoy pizza and croissants again in the future, but it’s important to finish the program. Reintroducing inflammatory and/or sugary foods will encourage the bad guys to come ruin your nice neighborhood again.
So, do the probiotic recolonization. Do the leaky gut healing. Most important, tweak your diet to include lots of gut friendly foods. Once you’ve been symptom-free for a few weeks AFTER these phases are complete, THEN you can begin to reintroduce foods to see how you react. Some of you may need to be gluten & dairy free for life if you have allergies to casein and gluten. Some of you may choose to avoid it because it makes you feel crappy. Some of you may not have sensitivities to those foods and choose to enjoy them from time to time. Fine. Whatever the case, don’t jump back into the same diet that got you here in the first place.
6. Not testing to see what’s causing it. Candida overgrowth is often a secondary infection to some other GI issue, whether it’s a parasite, pathogenic bacteria, SIBO, or another strain of bad bacteria overgrowth. I recommend stool testing to see what else is going on so you know what you’re dealing with and what to treat. Oftentimes parasitic infections occur initially, changing the terrain of the gut, which then becomes a hospitable environment for candida overgrowth to thrive. So, test, don’t guess! You can order your own stool testing here. You also want to make sure your candida overgrowth is gone after all your hard work.
Want help getting rid of candida for good?
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Mary Vance is a Certified Nutrition Consultant and author specializing in digestive health. She combines a science-based approach with natural therapies to rebalance the body. In addition to her 1:1 coaching, she offers courses to help you heal your gut and improve your health. Mary lives in San Francisco and Lake Tahoe in Northern California. Read more about her coaching practice here and her background here.