For many years I suffered from severe bloating after meals, and the problem continued even when I stopped eating wheat, and later, dairy products. I finally acknowledged that I had a problem with yeast overgrowth and embarked on a full, restrictive anti-Candida diet, complete with numerous supplements. Although I generally felt well when following the diet, as soon as I began eating ‘normally’ again, the Candida symptoms returned.
My experience prompted me to write my college project on the subject of Candida, and its homeopathic and naturopathic treatment. In the six years since completing the project I have treated a large number of people exhibiting the symptoms of Candida, and I have seen some common themes emerging. Consequently there are certain homeopathic remedies which I find myself using time and again with which I have obtained some good results. More recently I have introduced some new methods of supporting those suffering from Candida overgrowth with homeopathic remedies.
Symptoms of Candida overgrowth
Candida is the popular term used for an overgrowth of the yeast, Candida albicans.
This yeast is normally present in a healthy person in small amounts and, if kept in balance, it doesn’t cause a problem. Numerous factors can upset this balance (see below). When the balance is altered, Candida overgrowth may result which can cause symptoms of disease. Candida prefers the warm moist conditions found in the intestines and mucous membranes of the body, and is most common in the ascending colon, mouth, oesophagus and vaginal tract.
There is no accurate data on the number of Candida sufferers – many individuals may not realise their symptoms are a consequence of Candida. Women are thought to suffer more commonly than men, although I haven’t found this to be the case in practice.
The term Candida is often used inter-changeably with thrush, indicating an oral or genital fungal infection, often with soreness, itching and/or discharge. There can be Candida overgrowth but no evidence of thrush, but other symptoms will be evident. I would consider thrush to be just one symptom of Candida overgrowth.
The most common indications of the presence of Candida are:
- Fungal infections – thrush, athlete’s foot, or fungal problems of the skin or nails
- Digestive problems – lethargy and bloating after eating; excessive wind; food cravings, particularly sugar, carbohydrates, yeasty food and alcohol; a worsening of symptoms after eating yeasty or sugary foods
- Environmental sensitivity – food allergies and intolerances; hay-fever and increased sensitivity to smells and chemicals
- Mental symptoms – foggy brain, depression, lethargy, fatigue and mood-swings
- Menstrual problems –irregular menstrual cycle; bleeding or excessive discharge between periods and pre-menstrual tension
- Joint pain and arthritis – swollen, painful joints; muscle aching, tingling, numbness or burning
- Ear, nose and throat symptoms – sinusitis, post-nasal drip, itching in nose or ears
- Aggravation from damp weather, sugar, bread, drinking alcohol, exposure to chemicals, petrol fumes, perfume.
Assessing the presence of Candida
As homeopaths we treat the totality of symptoms and not the disease; so whether the symptoms are a result of an under-active thyroid or Candida, the most appropriate remedy will be prescribed for the individual. However, an awareness of the symptoms that indicate Candida can be useful when considering nutritional advice or organ support remedies. It is also common for patients to believe that their symptoms are caused by Candida overgrowth as, although GPs are often dismissive of it, there is frequent mention of it in the media and a wealth of information on the internet, resulting in self-diagnosis in many cases. My understanding is that, in the UK, Candida overgrowth is not a recognised illness by the medical profession and therefore cannot be offered as a diagnosis.
Numerous tests are available to test for Candida, but as it is naturally occurring, they are not always accurate. A clinical questionnaire is considered to be one of the best methods of establishing the presence of Candida. It can also be beneficial to refer a patient for allergy testing to ascertain if there is a maintaining cause such as toxicity or a deficiency of a particular vitamin or mineral.
Particular areas to cover if there is a suspicion of Candida:
- Medication – history of using antibiotics, steroids, HRT, contraceptive pill, Mirena coil
- Endocrine imbalance – history of pregnancy, menstrual problems, including bleeding between periods, PMT, hypothyroid symptoms, blood sugar imbalance (weakness, emptiness, dizziness, sweating or nausea alleviated by eating)
- Digestive complaints – lethargy or bloating after eating, excessive wind and flatulence, food cravings, (particularly sugar, carbohydrates, alcohol), diarrhoea or constipation, worsening of symptoms after eating yeasty or sugary foods
- Fungal infections – history of athlete’s foot, fungal infection of the nails or skin (a yellowing of the nail bed or surrounding skin); oral or genital thrush; vaginal discharge or irritation; rectal itching
- Mental symptoms – mental symptoms of Candida should not be used as the sole guiding factor; however, they commonly include depression; poor coordination and balance; forgetfulness; fatigue and lethargy; mood swings (particularly PMT); diminished libido; sleepiness in the morning
- Musculo-skeletal symptoms – include unexplained joint pain or swelling of joint and muscle aches, tingling, numbness or burning
- Ear, nose and throat symptoms – may include post-nasal drip or persistent itching in nose or ears
- Environmental sensitivity – may include allergies or intolerances to a number of foods; hayfever and other allergies (especially if they appeared in adulthood); sensitivity to perfume, chemicals, petrol fumes, tobacco smoke
- Aggravation in damp weather
- Aggravation from eating sugar, bread and other yeasty food
- Aggravation from drinking alcohol
- Aggravation from exposure to chemicals.
What causes Candida?
There is unlikely to be any single cause of Candida, however the most common ones (or a combination of them) are:
- repeated prescriptions of antibiotics
- exposure to chemicals and toxic metals
- use of hormone-mimicking drugs and creams including the oral contraceptive pill, HRT and progesterone creams
- the presence of parasites in the gut
- excessive stress
- excess sugar consumption
- severe emotional trauma or separation from a parent
It is common for sufferers of chronic conditions such as Multiple Sclerosis, Diabetes and Hypothyroid to have clear symptoms indicating Candida overgrowth. What is less clear is whether the Candida overgrowth contributed to their condition. Case-taking often reveals that the symptoms of Candida were present before the symptoms of the chronic disease, so it is possible that in some cases, chronic disease is the next stage of systemic Candida.
NOTE: The symptoms of Candida can look very much like those of parasites, with bloating and itching around the anus and genital area. If in any doubt it may be beneficial to encourage patients to take a course of herbal anti-parasitics.
Sugar addiction can certainly be a maintaining cause in cases of Candida. It is worth noting that those who claim not to have a ‘sweet tooth’ may get their sugar from alcohol (see Case 1). This is often the case with men, who may eat little sugar but crave alcohol.
After finishing college I began treating a number of people presenting with clear evidence of Candida overgrowth and some themes seemed to emerge. In a short space of time I saw four new female patients, all of whom were seeking treatment for Candida. Two had been adopted in the first year of their life, one had been abandoned by her mother when she was four and the other had been in and out of care for her first few years. I started getting good results from remedies which helped patients to deal with the issues around separation, such as Nat Mur, Carcinosin, Lac humanum and Lac caninum. This prompted me to review all my Candida cases at the time, and of 28 patients there were 17 (60%) who had either suffered the death of a family-member at a young age, were adopted or abandoned or are now estranged from one or both parents after a poor relationship with them in childhood. How significant this is as a cause of Candida is impossible to say, but those patients who are no longer showing symptoms of Candida report that they have come to terms with issues from their childhood.
Originally I drew up a treatment plan which included following an anti-Candida diet and using a wide range of supplements. However, I now find many of the supplements unnecessary. I often give a digestive support alongside the remedy best indicated for the presenting complaint.
Many naturopathic texts on Candida overgrowth refer to ‘die off’. This occurs when a rigorous diet and supplementation programme is followed; the excess Candida dies and then has to be excreted from the body. Commonly this results in a worsening of symptoms as the body is unable to excrete the dead yeast sufficiently quickly.
Many patients suffering from severe Candida are in a state of low vitality both physically and emotionally and in my view expecting them to suffer a worsening of symptoms is not reasonable. For this reason, at the first appointment, I ensure that the bowels are working effectively so that any die off can be efficiently removed, but I do not impose a rigorous diet.