“I have recurrent problems with candida or yeast. I have seen articles stating that I should eat less sugar and avoid foods that contain yeast, such as bread. How accurate is this advice?”
I’m so glad you asked! There is a confusing mix of true and false information about candida diet and nutrition. Let’s sort fact from fiction.
We talk a lot about the microbiome, the microbes that live in and on our bodies. Although most of the microbes in the microbiome are bacteria, a small number are actually fungi or yeast, and these are sometimes referred to as the mycobiome.
Candida albicans is a type of yeast that is very commonly found both on and in the human body, where it generally causes no problems. Certain conditions, however, can lead to an overgrowth of this benign organism. The resulting infection is known as candidiasis.
An overgrowth can affect the mouth and throat, in which case it is commonly referred to as thrush. This condition occurs most often in people with suppressed immune systems, such as premature babies, cancer patients and others being treated with immune-suppressing drugs.
Very rarely, it can spread via the blood to internal organs, and this can be quite serious.
What are the symptoms of Candida overgrowth?
Candidiasis of the oral cavity results in a very characteristic white coating on the inside of the mouth and may be accompanied by redness and irritation. Candidiasis causes a very characteristic discharge and localized itching.
But candida overgrowth in the intestines generally has no symptoms whatsoever. Studies have found no link between candida counts in the gut and chronic fatigue, headaches or any of the other symptoms sometimes attributed to candida.
Also, a word to the wise: Breath tests are not a valid way to diagnose candida overgrowth. These diagnoses are confirmed by taking a fecal sample or swabbing of the affected tissue and testing it for yeast.
What causes yeast infections?
Antibiotic use can set the stage for yeast overgrowth by killing off beneficial bacteria that would normally hold candida populations in check. High estrogen levels can also be a risk factor, which is why yeast infections are more common when you are pregnant or taking hormones. People with a suppressed immune system can also be more susceptible to yeast overgrowth, as are those with diabetes.
But apart from these more obvious risk factors, some women just seem to suffer from more than their share of these uncomfortable infections. It’s natural to wonder whether diet and nutrition could possibly play a role. And you’ll find lots of advice on the internet for anti-yeast or anti-candida diets.
The most common advice is to limit sugar and carbohydrates, avoid yeast-containing foods and increase your intake of probiotic foods. Let’s take these one by one.
Does a high-carb diet cause yeast infections?
As I mentioned before, people with diabetes are at higher risk for yeast infections, especially if their diabetes is poorly controlled. This might suggest that high blood sugar levels encourage yeast growth, but this hasn’t been proven. Yeast organisms are generally not in your bloodstream, so it’s not as if having extra sugar in your blood provides more food for the yeast and causes them to proliferate.
In fact, researchers tested the effects of a high-sugar diet on the intestinal candida populations and found that the amount of sugar in the diet had very little impact on the amount of candida in the gut.
Many so-called candida diets also recommend eliminating starches as well. I was unable to find any research showing that cutting out pasta, bread, crackers and other things made with white flour affects the frequency or severity of yeast infections. That said, there are a lot of other benefits to limiting your consumption of both added sugars and refined flour.
Will avoiding yeast help prevent yeast infections?
Probably not. The type of yeast that lives on your skin and sometimes causes infections is candida albicans. The type of yeast used to bake bread and brew beer is called Saccharomyces cerevisiae, and it only rarely causes infections. If anything, having some S. cerevisiae around may help keep your C. albicans population in check.
People with an allergy to yeast or mold, which can readily be confirmed with allergy testing, should absolutely avoid foods made with yeast. However, yeast infections are not caused by yeast allergy.
Can probiotic foods prevent yeast infections?
There is some research showing that eating yogurt can reduce the proliferation of candida in the mouth, and this seems logical. The beneficial bacteria in yogurt and other fermented foods may help keep the candida population in check. Probiotic supplementation during or after antibiotic use may also help reduce the risk of antibiotic-related yeast infections.
Although probiotics or probiotic foods may help prevent yeast infections, they are usually not sufficient to treat one that’s already underway. Fortunately, there are anti-fungal medications (both topical and systemic) that are effective. And at least one study found that combining one of these antifungal therapies with a probiotic supplement can work even better.
Do we all suffer from Candida?
Yeast infections are pretty hard to miss. The symptoms are fairly obvious, pretty unambiguous and usually uncomfortable enough to get your attention. However, there are some practitioners who blame yeast intolerance or hypersensitivity for a long list of vague symptoms, ranging from headaches to fatigue to muscle pain to depression. Some even claim that the vast majority of the population is suffering from undiagnosed yeast overgrowth. There is little evidence to support this theory.
It’s possible that some of those symptoms might improve on an “anti-candida,” diet but this probably has more to do with reducing your consumption of refined carbohydrates and other processed foods than it does with your candida counts.
If you suffer from frequent yeast infections, check with a doctor to rule out any underlying causes such as diabetes or immune dysfunction. After that, reducing your consumption of added sugars and increasing your intake of yogurt and other probiotic foods might help and can’t hurt. In fact, it’s a good strategy for improving your overall nutrition.
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