- Alternative & Natural Medicine
Candida albicans - A Natural Approach
Candida Under the Microscope
What is Candida albicans?
Candida albicans is naturally present in all of us from the very earliest age; in fact, it is thought that the main way that it gets into most people is during birth, because Candida is present in the vagina. Candida is a rather odd organism, related to yeasts; overgrowth of Candida is often referred to as a yeast infection. It normally lives in the gastrointestinal tract (with the exception of the stomach, which is normally very hostile to it) and in women it lives in the vagina as well.
Candida usually causes no problems, but if conditions permit or encourage it, Candida can get very aggressive and invasive. This can cause a disease state that varies from inconvenient through various degrees of disability, all the way to being life-threatening.
The last stage of this is rather uncommon, and involves Candida albicans in the blood; however, people who develop this problem usually do so as a secondary effect of some other serious condition, particularly conditions in which the immune system is compromised. This includes late-stage AIDS patients and those on strongly immunosuppressive drugs, or those whose immune system has been affected as a result of medical treatment; the usual reasons for this are radiation therapy and very aggressive chemotherapy for cancer. Needless to say, anyone with any of these problems is already very seriously ill, and will probably already be undergoing treatment.
However, Candida albicans can get quite aggressive and its effects quite disabling, even short of medical catastrophes such as this.
The effects of Candida overgrowth can mimic many other diseases and can sometimes present as a bizarre and difficult-to-understand constellation of symptoms, which unfortunately can lead to Candida overgrowth being dismissed as some sort of psychosomatic disorder. It is also rather difficult to diagnose Candida problems by conventional means, unless it is already in the blood, because everyone carries it in various body cavities all the time in any case.
Commons symptoms of Candida overgrowth include obvious gastrointestinal symptoms such as gas, bloating and irregular bowel habit; thrush (which presents as a white deposit in the mouth and/or vagina that can cause severe itching; rectal itching. Also endocrine disturbances that can present as menstrual irregularities.
Allergies, chemical sensitivity, impaired immune function and urological infections can also be caused by Candida albicans, as can mental problems such as irritability, depression, confusion and inability to concentrate.
All these problems have many other possible causes, so to identify them as being caused by Candida albicans it is necessary to first eliminate other medical problems – which can be a very long-drawn-out affair indeed. After that, looking at the presence of possible triggers of Candida albicans overgrowth can identify the problem as probably being related to Candida albicans. There are various other non-bacterial parasites such as worms, protozoa and Giardia that can lead to similar symptoms to Candida albicans overgrowth, but the same natural approach that helps with Candida albicans can help with the others as well.
Pre-disposing factors for Candida albicans
A poorly functioning digestive system can encourage the growth of Candida albicans, as well as other pathogens. This is because the colon, the main reservoir of Candida albicans, normally has rather low levels of nutrients because they have been absorbed further up the digestive tract. If the digestion is inefficient, this is no longer the case. In addition, one of the factors in a poorly functioning digestive symptom is low levels of stomach acid – which allows Candida albicans to grow in the stomach, an area usually very hostile to it. Low levels of pancreatic enzymes and bile can make the problem worse in the small intestine.
A diet high in sugars and refined carbohydrates (such as white bread and white rice) promotes the growth of Candida albicans. This is fairly obvious, as Candida albicans is related to more familiar yeasts such as those used to make bread and brew alcoholic drinks. Yeast and moulds, particularly when still alive (as in blue cheese) encourage Candida albicans growth and also make the symptoms worse, as the other yeasts and moulds produce many of the same toxins.
Impaired immune function can encourage Candida albicans growth. Apart from the drastic problems mentioned above, prolonged stress or the use of steroid-based drugs such as cortisone can impair the immune system enough to let Candida albicans get a hold. Sex-hormone based drugs, the most common being the contraceptive pill and HRT, can also predispose to Candida albicans overgrowth. It is notable that pregnant women are prone to thrush, and the contraceptive pill mimics to some extent the hormone levels in pregnancy – that’s how it works.
Immune function can also be impaired by high levels of ingested contaminants, the most common being food additives and heavy metals such as lead, mercury and cadmium.
Antibiotics, although they do not impair the immune system in general, do encourage the growth of Candida albicans. This is because they kill off the beneficial bacteria that normally keep Candida albicans in check, while not affecting Candida albicans itself at all.
Finally, a diet lacking nutrients can depress the immune system and predispose to Candida albicans infestation, along with making other infectious diseases more likely as well.
Natural approach to Candida problems
A multi-pronged approach is required to get Candida albicans under control. The steps are, more or less in order:
1. Reduce pre-disposing factors
2. Crowd out Candida albicans
3. Starve Candida albicans
4. Directly kill Candida albicans
1. Correct pre-disposing factors
The approach here is to boost the immune system and the body’s repair systems by improving nutrition. Part of the solution to this also helps with other parts of the process. Essentially, the procedure here is to take a good, comprehensive multi-vitamin/mineral supplement and also a digestive enzyme supplement; the latter improves absorption of protein and essential fats, and also leaves less nutrition for pathogens such as Candida albicans, lower down the digestive tract.
2. Crowd out Candida albicans
Probiotic bacteria (the best known of which is Lactobacillus acidophilus) are so called partly because they crowd out, and make the environment uncomfortable for, pathogens such as Candida albicans. Simply put, taking a supplement of probiotics (in the form of live yoghurt or commercial probiotic supplements)can increase the population of these beneficial bacteria.
3. Starve Candida albicans
This is a matter of diet. The most important foods to eliminate are those with easily absorbed carbohydrates; these include sugar and honey, also fruit juices and some fruits. (The fruit with easiest-absorbed carbohydrates is grapes; these also have quite a lot of yeast on their skins.) In extreme cases, it might also be necessary to remove other fruits from the diet, and also high-carbohydrate vegetables such as potatoes and carrots.
Foods containing fungi are also to be avoided. These include some obvious ones and also some not so obvious. The obvious ones are mushrooms and cheese, particularly blue cheese. Less obvious are nuts out of shell, peanuts, dried fruit, smoked products and bread (which normally contains yeast; soda and unleavened breads are OK).
Milk, particularly cows’ milk, contains lactose which people find it difficult to impossible to digest; but Candida albicans and other pathogens find it quite easy. It is possible to find lactose-free milk or enzyme drops to break down the lactose in milk. Soya, oat or nut milks are also a good substitute.
Meat, eggs and poultry which are neither organic nor free-range can cause problems because they contain antibiotic and sometimes hormone residues, both of which can encourage the growth of Candida albicans.
Of course, eliminating all these foods leads to a slight problem; what CAN one eat? Well, foods with which there are no problems include most vegetables, fish and free-range or preferably organic meat and poultry; also brown rice and sweet potatoes. All these foods are useful components of a healthy diet in any case.
4. Kill Candida albicans
I place this step last because people with high levels of Candida albicans overgrowth may have problems if they start this step earlier. The reason is something called the die-off reaction, or the Herxheimer reaction after the man who first described it. This problem is caused when large numbers of Candida albicans cells are killed off and release their internal toxic components, which the body then absorbs. The result is a worsening of the symptoms present in the original problem, and can be quite disabling. If Candida albicans population is first reduced by the other steps, then the die-off reaction is less severe.
Taking all that into account:
Grapefruit seed extract and garlic are both powerful antifungals, but grapefruit seed extract in particular is only effective in the spaces in the gastrointestinal tract and to a lesser extent on the GI tract walls, because grapefruit seed extract is not absorbed to any extent. The best way of taking grapefruit seed extract is to use the liquid and gargle with a fairly dilute solution before swallowing the gargle; but be warned that it tastes absolutely disgusting!
Olive leaf extract is also powerfully antifungal, but has some side effects that can range from distressing to dangerous. This is because olive extract is fairly indiscriminate in its killing of microbes, and so kills the beneficial bugs as well and can therefore cause diarrhoea. Olive leaf extract also has fairly powerful anticoagulant effects, so should be used with extreme caution and with professional help if you take any sort of anticoagulant drug including aspirin and especially warfarin.
Biotin slows down the reproduction of Candida albicans and can therefore help.
Goldenseal and Oregon grape (which have very similar active constituents) are powerful anti-pathogenic agents that are absorbed, and can therefore help in cases in which Candida albicans has spread into places (such as the sinuses and even the blood) where non-absorbed agents can’t get to.
Candida albicans is often not the only parasite present; others include protozoa such as Giardia and worms. In such cases, agents such as wormseed, black walnut and clove oil can help.
L-glutamine (usually in the form of powder) is useful for two reasons. One is that L-glutamine is a major fuel for the immune system. The other is that it is needed for regeneration of the intestinal walls.
Finally, such fibres as oat bran, apple pectin and psyllium husk can help by absorbing the toxins released by Candida albicans as it dies; such fibres also simply sweep out Candida albicans with them as they are expelled in the normal manner.