If you have persistent thrush, feel tired all the time, are bloated, or have strong sugar cravings, you may be suffering from a condition called candida.
What is candida?
Candida is a yeast that lives naturally in your mouth, gut and vagina. If you have a healthy immune system, it doesn’t usually cause any problems – the friendly bacteria in your gut help keep levels under control.
What are common symptoms of candida?
Sometimes the yeast can grow out of hand, known as a yeast overgrowth, and can lead to symptoms such as:
- Recurring thrush
- Urinary tract infections
- Digestive problems such as bloating
- Thinning hair
- Concentration problems – sometimes described as ‘brain fog’
The yeast overgrowth can affect the way your body absorbs nutrients, which is why candida can lead to a range of symptoms. For example, poor absorption of iron may explain why candida can be linked to hair loss.
Strong alcohol or sugar cravings can also be telltale signs, as the yeast feeds on sugars.
What causes candida?
Unfortunately, our modern lifestyles make it easy for candida to thrive. Long-term use of antibiotics can upset the levels of friendly bacteria in your gut, allowing the yeast to grow, while stress dampens your immune system, stopping it from keeping the yeast in check.
The contraceptive pill and hormone replacement therapy can also affect your body’s delicate balance, allowing yeast to thrive. Eating lots of sugary foods – or drinking too much alcohol – will feed candida too.
Having another health condition that affects your immunity, such as HIV or diabetes, or taking high doses of steroids for medical reasons, could also trigger candida to take over.
How to treat candida
If you think you’re affected, it’s important to tackle candida. Not only are the symptoms unpleasant and debilitating, it is also linked to leaky gut syndrome.
This is when the yeast overgrowth can cause small holes in the gut, which allows tiny food particles to escape into your blood stream. Your immune system doesn’t recognise them and goes on the attack, which may cause you to become intolerant to a range of foods. Over time, you may miss out on important nutrients because you find it hard to tolerate many different foods.
What can your doctor do?
Candida is a controversial diagnosis and most conventional doctors don’t recognise it, except in people with seriously reduced immunity, such as those with HIV. Plus, as symptoms are vague and varied, it can be hard to pinpoint. You may even be diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or given a clean bill of health.
If you’re suffering from the symptoms listed above, it may be worth seeing a nutritionist or naturopath. They can carry out a saliva test to check for candida infection, and a urine test for leaky gut syndrome, and may then recommend diet changes and supplements to help.
Supplements to help
An anti-candida diet can help but it’s restrictive and can be difficult to follow, so isn’t something to embark on lightly. You have to starve the yeast, which means avoiding all the foods and drinks it feeds on, including:
- Sugary foods
- Anything fermented such as yeast extract, blue cheeses or soy sauce
Certain supplements are also thought to help naturally fight yeast overgrowth, such as:
- Probiotics to build up your levels of friendly bacteria
This article has been adapted from longer features appearing in Healthy, the Holland & Barrett magazine. Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP before trying any remedies.