A listener writes:

“I have recurrent problems with candida or yeast. I have seen articles stating that I should eat less sugar and avoid foods that contain yeast, such as bread. How accurate is this advice?”

I’m so glad you asked! There is a confusing mix of true and false information about candida diet and nutrition. Let’s sort fact from fiction.

We talk a lot about the microbiome: the microbes that live in and on our bodies.  Although most of the microbes in the microbiome are bacteria, a small number are actually fungi or yeast and these are sometimes referred to as the mycobiome. 

Candida albicans is a type of yeast that is very commonly found both on and in the human body, where it generally causes no problems. Certain conditions, however, can lead to an overgrowth of this benign organism. The resulting infection is known as candidiasis.

An overgrowth can affect the mouth and throat, in which case it is commonly referred to as thrush. This condition occurs most often in people with suppressed immune systems, such as premature babies, those living with HIV or AIDS, cancer patients, and others being treated with immune-suppressing drugs,

Very rarely, it can spread via the blood to internal organs--and this can be quite serious.

But by far the most common location for candidiasis is the vagina.

What are the symptoms of Candida overgrowth?

Candidiasis of the oral cavity results in a very characteristic white coating on the inside of the mouth and may be accompanied by redness and irritation. Candidiasis in the vagina causes a very characteristic discharge and localized itching.

But candida overgrowth in the intestines generally has no symptoms whatsoever. Studies have found no link between Candida counts in the gut and chronic fatigue, headaches, or any of the other symptoms sometimes attributed to Candida.

Also, a word to the wise: breath tests are not a valid way to diagnose Candida overgrowth. These diagnoses are confirmed by taking a fecal sample or swabbing of the affected tissue and testing it for yeast.

What causes yeast infections?

Antibiotic use can set the stage for yeast overgrowth by killing off beneficial bacteria that would normally hold candida populations in check. High estrogen levels can also be a risk factor, which is why yeast infections are more common when you are pregnant or taking hormones. People with a suppressed immune system can also be more susceptible to yeast overgrowth, as are those with diabetes.

But apart from these more obvious risk factors, some women just seem to suffer from more than their share of these uncomfortable infections. It’s natural to wonder whether diet and nutrition could possibly play a role. And, as this listener discovered, you’ll find lots of...

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