Sugar Cravings and Candida
Do you crave sugar-laden treats? Do you struggle with allergies, chronic sinus infections or yeast infections, upper respiratory infections, PMS, acne or anxiety? Have you ever used birth control pills, taken antibiotics, or undergone chemotherapy? Do you find yourself needing a drink to wind down at the end of the day or alleviate stress? If so, there’s a chance you could be feeding candida overgrowth in your body.
What is Candida?
We all have Candida in our bodies. It can be found in our gut, mouth and reproductive system. It typically lives in warm, dark and moist environments. It does so because it is a yeast. We have talked a lot about bacteria, but haven’t really covered yeasts yet. Yeast is a type of fungus. From a food perspective, yeasts show up in bread, wine, beer and cheese. Candida is an opportunistic fungus that hides out, living in balance within our body’s ecosystem until circumstances are created that cause it to grow out of control. At that point, it competes with the good bacteria for resources. Candida like a high pH environment, and take the opportunity to grow. One example is low stomach acid. Individuals with low stomach acid have a greater chance of Candida overgrowth due to the higher pH environment in their stomach.
When there is a fungal overgrowth, Candida produces byproducts like acetaldehyde through sugar processing, which can be toxic. This is the same byproduct created when the liver breaks down alcohol, and which causes hangovers. Acetaldehyde can create vitamin B1 (thiamine) deficiency, creating symptoms like brain fog, irritability, sugar cravings and depression.
How is Candida Diagnosed?
Unfortunately, there is no reliable test for Candida overgrowth; yet. There are three tests that can be used, but they can produce false negatives. There is hope that stool testing will become more reliable in the near future in diagnosing Candida. For now, a holistic approach towards diagnosis is used by looking at symptoms and health history to assess the possibility of Candida overgrowth.
If typical symptoms of Candida are present, your doctor will also inquire as to any current or prior use of birth control pills and antibiotics to determine the probability of Candida overgrowth. Antibiotics are probably the strongest indicator. If an individual has taken multiple rounds of antibiotics over their lifetime without protecting the good bacteria balance, an environment has been created for yeast to take over. Antibiotics kill off good bacteria as well as bad, but do not kill off yeast. This leaves plenty of space in the gut for yeast to fill in the void. Normally our good bacteria take up space and keep the gut in balance. When they are killed off, room is made for other microbes like yeast to grow. Women especially are familiar with this phenomenon. Vaginal yeast infections are a common adverse effect of taking antibiotics because the good bacteria is being killed off by the antibiotics, leaving space for yeast to take over. As I mentioned earlier, yeast like moist, warm environments. The vagina is already home to yeast laying in wait for the opportunity to grow and take over.
Sugar intake is also a risk factor for Candida overgrowth. And sugar combined with chronic stress increases that risk further. Cortisol production is a result of stress. Cortisol is a stress hormone released by the body in response to stress. Think fight or flight. The body breaks the cortisol down into glucose for energy to escape the tiger. Candida thrives on sugar. If there is no tiger and we don’t need the sugar in the bloodstream to fuel our escape, it needs to go somewhere. Ultimately, stress feeds Candida growth. Stress also impairs the immune system, which creates an environment conducive to the growth of pathogens like Candida. And when Candida breaks down, remember, it creates toxic byproducts that further compromise the immune system and leave the body more susceptible to infections, creating a vicious cycle.
Another possible result of Candida overgrowth is leaky gut. When yeast take up residence in the lining of the gut due to the killing off of the good bacteria that had previously occupied that space, they impair the lining and may contribute to leaky gut. This creates a whole other set of issues and symptoms as we previously discussed.
Another link comes by way of excess estrogen. Excess estrogen can provoke Candida overgrowth. It is for this reason that pregnant women may experience yeast infections during pregnancy. This is why birth control pills are a risk factor for Candid overgrowth. Birth control pills are hormone based, containing varying levels of estrogen and progestin. The additional estrogen supplied by birth control pills may relieve some PMS symptoms or reduce the severity of the menstrual cycle, but they also increase the risk of Candida overgrowth through the presence of excess estrogen in the body.
Candida overgrowth may also be a trigger for gastrointestinal diseases like Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis. This is a result of heavy rounds of antibiotics or steroid treatment. Candida resulting in Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis are extreme cases.
Summing it all up
Candida overgrowth is typically triggered by the use of antibiotics. When the gut balance is not restored, typically through the use of probiotics and prebiotics, the environment is ripe for yeast overgrowth. If the individual’s diet is high in sugar or carbohydrates, this will allow the yeast to grow and thrive.
Here are symptoms related to Candida overgrowth:
- Brain fog
- Chronic fatigue
- Digestive issues
- Recurring yeast infections
- Oral thrush
- Sinus infections
- Food allergies
- Fungal infections of the skin or nails
- Weakened immune system
- Joint pain
- Mood swings
Here are ways to address a possible Candida overgrowth:
- Remove yeast and molds from the diet. Although the yeast in food is not live, it can be an irritant to an environment where yeast overgrowth is already causing problems. Yeast and mold containing foods include, kombucha, alcohol, wine, cheese, dried fruits and bread. Peanuts are also a common source of mold.
- Add in probiotic and prebiotic foods to help repopulate good bacteria. Fermented foods are a great source of probiotics and in some cases a better source than probiotic supplements. Just remember, if you are suffering from SIBO, you will need to tackle that overgrowth before adding in probiotics and fermented foods. Prebiotics feed the good bacteria.
- Eliminate sugar from the diet. By this I mean added sugar and low fiber, high carbohydrate foods. Sugar and simple (low fiber) carbohydrate foods feed candida. This means reducing or avoiding starchy vegetables and high fructose fruits. Berries are lower in sugar, so you don’t have to give up fruit altogether unless your doctor determines you should be on an anti-Candida diet.
- Reduce stress levels. Remember, stress produces cortisol, which breaks down as sugar in the body. Managing stress is critical to getting Candida overgrowth under control. Only addressing one factor will not bring success.
- Add in anti-fungal herbs. There are many herbs that have anti-fungal properties. They include oregano, turmeric and garlic.
Here is a list of foods to eat and avoid if you think Candida overgrowth is creating problems for you.
|Foods to Eat||Foods to Avoid|
|Green and leafy vegetables||Starchy vegetables|
|Nuts (almonds, walnuts, pecans, pistachios) and seeds, soaked overnight||Legumes, peanuts and cashews|
|Organic (grass-fed) meat, poultry and wild-caught seafood||Processed lunchmeats|
|Lemons, limes, cranberries, black currents, green apples, grapefruit and berries||High-sugar fruits and dried fruits|
|Amaranth, quinoa and millet||Grains and flours containing gluten; rice and oats|
|Avocado, grass-fed butter, coconut oil, ghee and olive oil||Dairy, milk and kefir|
|Lo han, probiotics, stevia, xylitol||Artificial sugar substitutes, brown rice syrup, corn syrup, agave, honey, maple syrup, molasses, sugar, evaporated cane sugar, vinegar, refined vegetable oils, and processed foods|
Remember, unlike drugs, clean foods will not typically create problems for you. Adding them in can only improve your diet. Also remember to read labels. Food without labels, meaning whole foods with no additional ingredients other than the whole food itself, are your best bet for avoiding bad actors in your food. If you like seeds, you can buy sprouted seeds. My favorite seeds are from Go Raw. I put a tablespoon each of their sprouted pumpkin and sunflower seeds on my lunch salad. I also add five stalks of chopped, raw asparagus and a quarter cup of quinoa to my salad as prebiotic foods. I top that off with half an avocado and olive oil for good, healthy fat.
As with anything, if you believe Candida overgrowth is an issue for you I recommend you speak with your doctor. Although the food lists above are safe and healthy ways to address just about any health issue, having a partner in uncovering the root cause(s) of your symptoms will make your path a bit easier than using just trial and error.
Yours in Wellness,
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