Alt-Health: Fear of Yeast

yeastWhen I began reading about the health effects of yeast, i.e., candida albicans, it was with an impersonal eye. I was intending to track down the latest research and wrap up the facts in an entertaining manner, if such a thing is possible with yeast.

But as I continued, I found myself becoming emotionally involved. The problems that were caused by candida overgrowth seemed to speak to me personally: fatigue, digestive disorders, difficulty concentrating, mood swings … the lists went on and on. Autoimmune disorders, allergies, yeast infections, a craving for carbs — I became convinced that yeast organisms were responsible for every health problem I had and for some I never realized I had. They might be spreading through my body! I began perusing the many herbal remedies available online, seeing them as my best hope of survival.

Then I noticed something: It seemed that no matter how I worded my Google search for scientific facts on yeast and health, the first page invariably came up full of articles that sent me to online companies selling alternative remedies and herbal cleanse products. Common sense checked my panic and I decided to ferret out what medical science had to say about the candida phenomenon before I pulled out my credit card and started ordering.

Doctors recognize that candida overgrowth is behind such problems as thrush and vaginal yeast infections. They acknowledge that an overgrowth can be dangerous for those with HIV and compromised immune systems. However, they are skeptical of the fervor being stirred up over candida by the natural supplement market, and I can see their point. There are a lot of companies that stand to make money off of the media-fueled anxiety. It’s been done before — create a condition that doesn’t exist in order to sell products that will solve that problem. The goal is to create a demand for their product, and in this case, someone is twisting a few of the facts to suit their own purposes. A sample headline: “Candida overgrowth can be the root cause of literally hundreds of different problems in the body! An estimated 90 percent of the population has a problem with candida overgrowth, and doesn’t know it!!!”

This sounds incredibly alarming unless you know that fully 100% of us have yeast because it lives in everyone’s body. It’s a natural presence there, like the bacteria in our intestines. Freaking out over it is like panicking over the fact that we grow hair. The role that it plays in those long lists of ailments is speculative to a great extent. Candida overgrowth certainly exacerbates health problems, but is it actually causing the illnesses it accompanies?

In a healthy person, yeast levels stay in balance with the body’s operating system. When conditions arise that send that system out of balance, such as the use of antibiotics, damage to the immune system, stress or too much sugar, candida levels can get out of control. However, those yeast cells didn’t start multiplying all by themselves; their proliferation comes after the fact. Yes, an overgrowth of yeast is extremely unhealthy. But the only way to control candida in the long run is through diet and lifestyle changes. If you get rid of yeast with herbal flushes but don’t fix the underlying causes, it is just going to keep growing back. Of course, you’ll need more candida cleanse products. It keeps the market going.

So, here’s some practical, and affordable, advice for those of you who have this problem and want to take control.

1) Don’t feed the yeast. If you don’t feed it, it will starve and die off. Yeast loves sugar. Refined carbs are sugar. Fruit is loaded with sugar. Alcohol is sugar. Sucks, doesn’t it? Also off limits are bread and other yeasted foods, vinegar or mushrooms. These are often foods you crave the most, but here is an encouraging fact: Multiplying yeast is probably CAUSING your food cravings. Those organisms need to be fed. They clamor for food. You think you want sugar. You don’t. The yeast does. After the yeast dies, it will stop calling for sugar. I strongly suggest you go online and research the details of the candida diet to get the full picture.

2) Pau D’Arco is one of the cheapest and best remedies for candida overgrowth, but it’s not an herb to be taken lightly. Pregnant or nursing women should not use it. It may have interactions with other drugs you are taking. I suggest that before trying the tea or other products, you research the company that makes them. The herb market is largely unregulated and some product samples tested contain none of the herb’s active ingredient.

2) Are you taking oral contraceptives? If you get repeated yeast infections, stop. There are plenty of alternatives to birth control pills. See your gyn.

4) If you take antibiotics, take probiotics afterward to cut those albicans invaders off at the pass and get your intestinal flora back to normal. I have no idea why medical doctors don’t tell everyone this.

5) Take probiotics anyway. They make your GI tract a happier place to live.

6) Stop stressing over everything and do yoga or something. You’ll live longer.