Candida Overgrowth: the Sugar-Yeast Connection
“I have such a big sweet tooth,” I often hear my patients tell me. On top of claiming to have uncontrollable cravings for sugar and processed carbohydrates, these patients often also complain of other common symptoms like fatigue, bloating, gastrointestinal irregularities, moodiness, and brain fog. What they may not realize is that these may be all related to the same root problem: an overgrowth of candida fungus, otherwise commonly known as yeast. Once we are able to get their candida levels under control, they regain their energy.
This less commonly known health imbalance caused by candida overgrowth is important to understand: what does it look like, and what symptoms are associated with this condition? We will also discuss strategies to rebalance yeast levels, and improve quality of life and longevity in the process.
Lack of Self Control, or Out of Control Yeast?
Most patients assume their sweet tooth is merely caused by a lack of self control, when really it is the out of control yeast in their body. Many of these same patients are later surprised how they can resist the temptation of having an entire bag of cookies once we have corrected the gut problem of Candida overgrowth, and corrected the reward cascade in the brain. Did you ever imagine that getting rid of sugar cravings was even a possibility?
The Brain Reward Cascade
You may already be aware that the Gut, Brain, and Immune Systems are closely interconnected. These systems working together may be driving your sweet tooth, skin irritations, and depression. If your gut microbiome is not in balance and laden with yeast, neurotransmitters in the brain may also be unbalanced and become dysfunctional. The optimal functioning of the Brain Reward Cascade involves specifically four important neurochemical pathways: serotonergic (5-HT); enkephalinergic (Enk), GABAergic (GABA), and dopaminergic (DA). They affect your moods: happiness, pleasure, peace, etc. When we put our bodies under physical and/or mental stress, there is a trigger to increase good feelings. Many individuals reach for food, video games, gambling, sex, drugs – it is a need to increase dopamine. In the case of a yeast overgrowth, this imbalance in our gut causes an imbalance in the brain reward cascade, which may end up causing us to eat the whole tub of ice cream instead of one scoop.
The role of yeast in a healthy gut microbiome
When present in small amounts, the candida fungus — along with other fungi, bacteria, and microorganisms — make up a healthy gut microbiome, which plays a vital role in our body’s digestion, metabolism, immune function, and brain health. However under the right conditions, candida fungus can grow out of control and cause a wide range of discomforts, infection, even disease.
The environments in which Candida thrive
Yeast overgrowth is more common among individuals with the following risk factors:
- A compromised immune system:
- Autoimmune diseases
- Diabetes (diabetes mellitus)
- Leukemias and lymphomas
- Low counts of beneficial bacteria, due to:
- Antibiotic use
- Excessive sugar or processed carbohydrates intake
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Hormonal imbalance
- High-stress levels, both physical and/or mental
Types of Candida
Various types of candida affect the body in specific ways when overpopulated in the body. The most common species, candida albicans, overgrowth can lead to systemic infection via the bloodstream, creating an environment for numerous disease processes to occur. Candida tropicalis is noted as the second most common species and is believed to be responsible for up to 30% of Candida bloodstream infections. Overgrowth of this species has also been linked with nervous system disorders resulting in depression, anxiety, headaches, and memory loss. It is also becoming more resistant to antifungal drugs, making it more difficult to treat. Maintaining balance is key.
Signs your body may be suffering from candida overgrowth
There are many signs your body may be suffering from candida, including:
- Persistent, intense sugar cravings
- Cravings for processed carbs, such as bread, pasta, and pastries
- Unexplained fatigue/exhaustion
- Inflammation: achy joints
- Brain fog, impaired memory
- Anxiety and/or depression
- Mood swings and irritability
- Vaginal yeast infections (itching, swelling, discharge)
- Poor focus and concentration
- Developing new food sensitivities/intolerances
- A white coat on your tongue (oral thrush)
- Digestive issues (gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, stomach cramps, mucus in stool)
- Skin issues (eczema, itchy skin, hives, acne, psoriasis)
- Itchy ears
- Low libido
- Skin or nail fungal infections
- Canker sores
- Prolonged or frequent sinus infections
- Flu-like symptoms
Candida prefer cold and moist environments to spread and grow, which can aggravate the above mentioned symptoms.
Common Conditions associated with Yeast Overgrowth
Look at your tongue in the mirror. Have you ever noticed your tongue looking or feeling strange after a prolonged period of eating too many sweets/carbs? Yeast overgrowth in the mouth can cause white, bumpy lesions, redness, and pain in the mouth and throat. Severe cases can spread to the esophagus and cause pain or difficulty swallowing. Having a weakened immune system is commonly associated with oral thrush.
TIREDNESS AND FATIGUE
This is among the most common symptoms for several reasons. Nutritional deficiencies, such as vitamin B6, essential fatty acids, and magnesium usually accompany fungal infection (candidiasis). Again, infections are especially common when the immune system is impaired.
RECURRING GENITAL AND URINARY TRACT INFECTIONS
While men can get yeast infections, it is much less common than the estimated 75% of women who experience at least one vaginal yeast infection in their lifetime. Recurring infections can be a result of Candida overgrowth.
When the balance between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria is impaired, you can experience digestive issues, including constipation, diarrhea, nausea, gas, cramps, and bloating.
Long lasting, chronic sinus infections are believed to be caused by fungi. Antibiotics are commonly prescribed for sinus infections, however, are ineffective if the cause isn’t bacterial.
SKIN AND NAIL FUNGAL INFECTIONS
Skin is naturally covered in bacteria to prevent candida from growing uncontrollably, however, many products we put on our skin contain antibacterial ingredients,
disrupting the natural balance of beneficial bacteria. Itching and a visible rash are the two most common symptoms of skin fungal infections. Yellowing, jagged nails are a sign of fungal infections on fingernails and toenails.
Common Illnesses associated with Yeast Overgrowth
Research has found that an overgrowth of Candida can be associated with more serious illnesses and diseases such as:
- Diseases of the gastrointestinal tract, including leaky gut syndrome, ulcerative colitis, and Crohn’s disease
Yeast and Cancer Connection
Researchers have known for years now that bacterial and viral infections cause several types of cancer. Current research is examining the link between cancer and fungal overgrowth and many believe there is a connection between cancer and candida.
The coexistence of cancer and candidiasis has been well documented over the years. In fact, Dr. Tullio Simoncini, author of Cancer Is a Fungus, points out that at the most basic level cancer and yeast fungus have very similar (if not identical) characteristics:
“Both cancer and Candida feed on sugar.”
“Both grow and reproduce only in anaerobic (low oxygen) environments.”
“Both need an acidic environment to survive.”
“When you probe cancer cells within the human body, they appear white in color and uneven in texture just like yeast.”
Yeast and Neurodegeneration
What’s missing are recent significant findings that early neurodegeneration is caused by fungal imbalance and yeast overgrowth. Although yeast can be mostly harmless, it also has the potential to develop into more serious infections that reach the blood and other organs.
New research shows that the fungus can enter the brain, trigger an inflammatory response, and impair memory in mice. (https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/324106) Importantly, the infection leads to the formation of abnormal structures in the brain, and these share similarities with amyloid plaques — a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease.
Candida Regulating foods: eat more of….
Diet is a surefire way to improve conditions in the gut. By eating more of the following foods, we can help combat candida overgrowth.
- Non-starchy vegetables: Artichokes, Broccoli, Celery, Eggplant, Kale, Onions, Spinach, Zucchini
- Low sugar fruits: Avocado, Lemon, Lime, Olives
- Non-glutinous grains: Buckwheat, Millet, Oat bran, Quinoa, Teff
- Healthy proteins: Eggs, Herring, Salmon
- Some dairy products: Kefir, Yogurt (probiotic)
- Low-mold nuts and seeds: Almonds, Flax seed, Hazelnuts
- Herbs, spices, & condiments: Apple cider vinegar, Basil, Cloves, Paprika, Rosemary
- Healthy fats and oils: Flax oil, Olive oil, Sesame oil
- Sweeteners like stevia and erythritol
- Fermented foods: Kefir, Olives, Sauerkraut
- Drinks like chicory coffee and herbal teas
Candida promoting: Foods to avoid
Likewise, the following foods provide fuel for candida to thrive, so we should be careful to avoid consuming too much of them in our diet.
- High sugar fruits: Ripe Bananas*, Dates, Fruit Juice, Grapes
- Glutinous grains: Barley, Rye, Wheat
- Meats like pork and lunch meat
- Fish like tuna and swordfish
- Some dairy products: Cheese, Milk, Moldy nuts( pitsachio )and seeds
- Condiments with added sugars
- Refined and processed vegetable oils
- Sugars and sugar substitutes
- Caffeinated or sugary drinks
- Alcoholic drinks
*Unlike ripe bananas, green bananas are ok because they contain resistant starch and are lower in sugar
The bottom line: together we fight
Dr. Wang has helped hundreds of patients take control of their health and regain their energy. She may recommend blood tests, saliva, urine tests, or stool tests to determine if you have a yeast overgrowth. (measure the levels and species of yeasts in your body.)An overgrowth of candida in your body can produce annoyances like sugar cravings and gas, but can also cause infections that require more medical attention. In some cases, this excess candida finds its way in the bloodstream, where it can adversely affect organs and causes a greater immune response. Ultimately, your diet affects your overall immune resilience. Contact Dr. Wang or your functional health professional to stop Candida overgrowth, banish your symptoms, and help you live a long life, full of vitality.