Candida. It comes up in conversation a lot here at SuperFeast HQ. We have tonnes of people asking for advice on this fungal infection. So much so, we have done a whole podcast episode covering this exact topic. Check it out here.
So What is Candida?
Candida albicans is a yeast-like fungus; a very natural and [normally] healthy organism within the body helping us maintain homeostasis. Candida resides within our mucus membranes, on our skin, in our mouths, genitalia and within our digestive system. We all have candida albicans.
It only becomes a problem when an imbalance occurs.
And with this imbalance, there are a whole range of symptoms. In fact, a candida overgrowth leads to an overall Jing depletion, and as you guys know, Jing is your core, foundational energy (hear all about it here). When we leak Jing, or are depleted in our stores, we can feel exhausted, with undernourished organs and a lack of vigour; the whole body system is taxed and depleted.
Causes of Excess Candida
There are a whole bunch of phenomena that play a role in how your body's natural and healthy balance of candida can over-proliferate. In fact, it's our overall lifestyle and the environment in which we are interacting with that plays the biggest role in how candida presents itself...
the modern and chronic use of antibiotics
Antibiotics are pharmaceuticals that lead to an upset within our microbiome, which can very quickly deplete our immune stores and lead to immune deficiencies. We understand life happens and you just can't get around taking a course of antibiotics. But we do need to consider the elephant in the room - antibiotics DO kill off your good gut bacteria. And a compromised immune system leads to the opportunistic ability of candida to overgrow. Remember, candida is a normal part of the human make-up, but it is an opportunistic yeast and as soon as the opportunity presents, candida will take control. Exposure to antibiotics or immunosuppressants, or corticosteroid-based medications create the perfect eco-system for candida to thrive.
an over reliance on highly processed, carbohydrate-rich foods
The nature of Candida albicans is that it is fed by starch. If your carbohydrate consumption has been high (and the average Western diet is exactly this), then you are more susceptible to experiencing a candida overgrowth. Highly refined, starchy foods (think all the white stuff, bread, sugars, cakes, pastries etc) not only directly provide fuel for the candida, but they also undermine your immune system. So it's basically the double whammy. Unfortunately the sweet stuff provides fuel for yeast, mould, bacterias and fungus within the body.
gut dysbiosis and viral load
It is very rare that a candida overgrowth will appear solo. As we have discussed, a candida proliferation occurs when the opportunity arises; that opportunity is a weakened immune system. So generally, candida will be found with an overall gut dysbiosis, potentially there may be parasites present, there may be a heavy metal load happening; there is generally a viral and / or bacterial overload in the system too. While this isn't technically a cause, there are likely to be co-infections present which means your healing protocol will need to consider these.
Symptoms Associated with Excess Candida
Like many bacteria, viruses, illness and chronic diseases, the pathology and symptoms often present differently, for different constitutions. Below is a non-exhaustive list suggesting you may have a candida overgrowth:
- chronic fatigue
- brain fog
- digestive disturbances
- weakened immunity
- oral thrush
- vaginal thrush
- cradle cap
- sinus infections
- memory issues
- jock itch
- joint pain
- fungal infections on the skin and nails.
As you can see, the symptoms are varied! If any of these hit a sweet spot for you, we encourage you to do your own research into excess candida symptoms. Body Ecology have a wonderful quiz you can try here.
But How Do I Actually Know If I Have An Overgrowth?
You can definitely feel into your symptoms and consider your health history and intuit if you are out of balance with candida. But there are diagnostic tests you can have organised through your health care practitioner so you won't be left guessing.
From a naturopathic perspective there are clinical markers used to identify the condition. There are tests you can use to distinguish candida from other bacterial loads within the body, like the OAT (organic acids test); this test gauges fungal metabolites in the urine. There are blood tests, which examine the levels of antibodies, which relate to the immune system and how they relate to possible Candida albicans overgrowth. Stool tests are another way to test for excess candida in the stool. If you need more information or guidance here, please give the Functional Naturopath Dan Sipple a shout out.
Medicinal Mushrooms Help Combat Candida
Yes, you read that right. Now there is a long 'known' concept that if you have any sort of fungus (like a candida overgrowth), then you should not introduce any other fungi to the body. E.g. mushrooms. And this blanket view has lead many of you astray!
Medicinal mushrooms are an entirely different classification of fungi to culinary mushrooms. During times of fungal infections, ground-dwelling mushrooms (culinary types), like button, brown and portobello, are NOT your friends. They can be contaminated with mould, increase dampness in the body and will not help your healing journey. There are some who believe it is still useful to eat culinary mushrooms during candida infection as it will "compete" for the feed source of the fungal infection in the body, but we don't subscribe to this. However tree-growing mushrooms (medicinal mushrooms) are going to give your immune system the upgrade to help enhance your own body's immune defences.
Try using a superior fungus (medicinal mushroom) to combat lower grade fungus (candida).
We recommend bringing in medicinal mushrooms when healing from candida overgrowth; these mushrooms will help fortify your gut and immune system and help enhance your immune system's own natural intelligence. Clinical work is supporting that humans are biologically hardwired to receive these fungi polysaccharide compounds (found in medicinal mushrooms). If you would like to explore medicinal mushrooms and their amazing benefits, along with their traditional uses and how to integrate them into your life. It's online and covers the basics of tonic herbalism. We hope you love it.
Not only will these medicinal mushrooms provide the much needed ammo for your gut health (where our immune system resides), the mushies will also provide support to your nervous system and general feelings of wellbeing and calm. When one's system is overrun with candida (and there are a host of aforementioned symptoms presenting), the mind can become more stressed and quite frankly, it can be a really shoddy time. Reishi, especially will provide that safe haven for you, during times of distress. These mushies really are stars, as they are further supporting your endocrine system to be fully fortified and balanced. Wow, we really do love medicinal mushrooms. We suggest incorporating the below mushies into your candida overgrowth protocol:
- turkey tail
- lion's mane
- Mason's Mushrooms (a super potent blend of 8 powerful immune-modulating mushies)
While we are not saying these medicinal mushrooms are the silver bullet to rid you of your candida overgrowth, they are one of the tools we highly recommend. Your entire lifestyle will need to be examined and set up for maximum immunity and a long-term resistance to being overtaken by candida overgrowth again. Read on for more tips...
Other Ways To Balance Candida
Ok so, medicinal mushrooms are going to be a huge support while you get your candida under control. And, incase we haven't made it clear enough, Candida albicans is a pesky little organism, it needs some very tough treatment to get the hint that it is no longer welcome in its out-of-control amounts. In fact, candida cells have tough biofilms, which need to be essentially cracked to allow a rebalance of levels.
Diet and lifestyle practices really help to bring your microbiota and candida back into harmony. This part of the puzzle is absolutely essential. It really is clear that wholesome and nourishing lifestyle practices to heal the gut and promote a more balanced day to day (aka lowering stress levels) go a long way to healing your candida overgrowth. We know stress literally paralyses the immune system. We never said this was going to be a quick and easy fix! The below is a list of tips that will help you get your candida overgrowth back into balance (and are not forever! You can slowly introduce these foods back in once you have a healthy level of candida):
- Cut carbohydrates and sugars (in the future, you can eat these things again in moderate amounts)
- Stick to citrus and berries for your fruits
- Stay away from starchy foods
- Cut out gluten and grains
- Steer clear of sugars, even 'healthy' ones (like agave, coconut sugar, honey)
- Leave out soil-born mushrooms
- Focus on good quality fats as your fuel
- Cut your caffeine and alcohol intake
- Try green tea instead of coffee (it's anti-candida)
- Probiotics and fermented foods (like sauerkraut and coconut kefir) can help repopulate your good gut microbiota
herbs to consider
- Jing herbs are super beneficial to rebuild your foundational energy stores, like: SuperFeast He Shou Wu, rehmannia, morinda and SuperFeast Cordyceps
- Herbs such as pau d'arco, SuperFeast Schizandra / Schisandra, burdock, dandelion root, St Mary's Thistle and SuperFeast Chaga can really support your liver and overall healing (consider any anti-fungal and immunity-boosting herbs)
- SuperFeast Reishi, SuperFeast Ashwagandha, camomile and passionflower are beautiful herbs to support your parasympathetic nervous system response (try this delicious sleepy milk)
- N-Acetyl Cysteine and MSM, to help break up biofilm of candida organisms
- Consider binders and chelaters (charcoal, zeolite, clay, slippery elm, chia seed)
- Pomegranate tincture
- Normalise your circadian rhythm and adrenal response
- Sleep!! Rest!!
- Breathing practices, slowing down and doing diaphragmatic breathes (we love Benny Fergusson and Wim Hof)
- Sweating and yoga
- Skin brushing to move lymph
- Nature time and barefoot earthing
- Consider good sleep hygiene (cut blue light and check EMF's, can you switch off the wifi at night when you sleep?)
- Sunshine and vitamin D!
- Any other activities to bring your system back into parasympathetic mode
- Infrared saunas help parasympathetic activation
- the Body Ecology Diet is a magnificent resource
This might all sound a lot, but the reality is, getting these lifestyle and diet practices in place, provide the strong foundation for your body to intelligently enter into it's own healing mode, to more easily divert from sympathetic to parasympathetic states.
A Special Note on the Candida Die Off
As you make these changes to your diet and lifestyle (e.g starving the candida of carbohydrates and sugars, using specific herbs to actively kill off the candida and bolster your immunity), the candida cells will literally 'die off'. And there can be some unpleasant side effects from this! You may feel almost drunk from the off-gassing, you may have mood swings, you may experience flu-like symptoms... stay strong! These symptoms will pass, but we like supporting the detox process with thorough hydration and taking dietary clays to help bind to the die off.
1. Candida albicans is a part of a healthy microbiome, but when things are thrown out of balance, there will be trouble
2. An extended use of antibiotics can allow candida to really proliferate beyond the natural, healthy levels
3. Reappearing fungal issues (nails, tongue, skin, vagina, feet, scalp) are a good sign you have an imbalance
3. A weakened or compromised immune system allows the candida imbalance to occur
4. Herbal protocols are key to overcoming candida overgrowth
5. Lifestyle changes are an absolute, to prevent a reoccurrence of overgrowth. Focus on resting, digesting and healing (in the parasympathetic state, versus sympathetic)
6. A robust gut microbiome is key
8. If you have experienced a significant candida overgrowth, it is likely you will be susceptible in the future and thus, it is possible you may not be able to have same levels of carbohydrate, sugar consumption and fruit consumption as somebody who hadn't.
Whew. A fair bit of information to integrate here. Make sure you tune into our podcast episode on Candida and Medicinal Mushrooms and if you have any queries at all, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we'd love to help you out on your candida journey.