Is Yeast Ruining Your Health?
Suffering from chronic illness? Candida - or yeast - could be the problem.
Kristin Giese had resigned herself to never being healthy again. For two years, the 24-year-old publicist suffered from dizziness, increased allergies, exhaustion, recurrent yeast infections, and feeling as if her body and mind were out of focus. Numerous physicians had been unable to diagnose a specific illness and had even suggested psychological counseling. Finally, a friend with similar problems referred her to a Chicago-area medical center offering traditional and holistic healing. There, she was diagnosed with an overgrowth of Candida albicans yeast — and finally got relief from her symptoms.
Candida is a fungus normally found on the body’s inner membranes, including the intestinal tract. In most people, the yeast coexists peacefully with bacteria and other microorganisms in the body. But some people experience an overgrowth of yeast, often caused by repeated or lengthy use of antibiotics. These drugs kill both targeted and friendly bacteria. Without bacteria to keep its growth in check, Candida multiplies rapidly. Potential resulting health problems include asthma, fatigue, headache, depression, muscle aches, digestive problems, frequent yeast infections, sugar cravings, and food sensitivities. The multifactorial treatment usually involves diet modification.
The following interview with Dr. William G. Crook took place in 2001. At that time, Dr. Crook had practiced medicine in Jackson, Tennessee for almost 40 years and had written fourteen books. He had compiled most of the manuscript for The Yeast Connection and Women’s Health (Professional Books) before he died in October of 2002. Dr. Crook was a warm and gracious man who dedicated his life to helping others restore and maintain good health. His work continues today through his written words.
LW: Why is Candida a problem for so many people?
Dr. Crook: Many individuals with a yeast-related disorder have a history of repeated or prolonged courses of broad-spectrum antibiotics during infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and antibiotic use has been on the rise. Diets high in sugar and other simple carbohydrates provide a rich environment for yeast overgrowth. Birth control pills can also cause yeasts to multiply, making women more prone to this problem.
LW: Why is a Candida overgrowth detrimental to health?
Dr. Crook: Candida produces a toxin that, under normal conditions, causes no health problems. But if friendly bacteria in the intestinal tract are knocked out by antibiotics, Candida multiplies 200 times or more. The toxin then acts as an immunosuppressant, making the individual susceptible to illness.
In addition, Candida affects the intestinal tract’s lining, allowing allergens to leak through the gut into the body. The resulting food and environmental allergies add to the Candida symptoms. Many people become allergic to yeasts themselves.
LW: How widespread are yeast-related illnesses?
Dr. Crook: It’s impossible to give an exact number of people who have experienced yeast-related infections because the medical community has not yet fully accepted that a Candida overgrowth can cause so many different problems.
LW: It’s not uncommon to wait years for a diagnosis of Candida. Why does the medical community remain skeptical about this illness?
Dr. Crook: Some physicians pay more attention to lab tests than to what their patients are saying. Because reliable lab tests have only recently become available, many physicians may not be aware of them.
Clinical observations of a particular therapy’s effectiveness often precede, by many years, a scientific explanation of why the treatment works. In the case of Candida, hundreds of physicians have treated patients with medications and dietary changes and noted improvement. Symptoms caused by Candida are often associated with other illnesses, such as allergies, immune system irregularities, and food intolerances. A patient needs to be screened for these ailments before a definitive diagnosis can be made.
LW: How is Candida overgrowth diagnosed?
Dr. Crook: Until recently, there haven’t been reliable diagnostic laboratory tests available for Candida. However, the Candida immune complex test carried out by the AAL Reference Laboratory and stool tests by the Great Smokies Laboratory have been shown to be useful. Other physicians take a detailed medical history, followed by a one-month trial of anti-fungal medication and diet.
LW: What role does diet play?
Dr. Crook: Like all yeasts, Candida thrives in a carbohydrate-rich environment. The cornerstone of the Candida diet is removing as much sugar as possible. This includes candies, soft drinks, cakes, cookies, sweets of all kinds — not only those that contain cane sugar, but also corn syrup and beet sugar and honey. Yeast itself is present in many foods, including breads, bagels, pastries, crackers and other leavened foods. Fermented and aged products — such as alcohol, cheeses, commercially prepared juices, dried fruits, condiments, sauces, and mushrooms — contain yeast and should be avoided as much as possible.
LW: What is the connection between Candida, allergies, and asthma?
Dr. Crook: A “leaky gut” allows allergens to pass through the digestive tract into the body. Wheat, milk, other food proteins and environmental toxins can then cause allergic symptoms, including asthma.
LW: How is Candida treated?
Dr. Crook: Treatment and recovery may be as simple as a course of anti-fungal medication and diet therapy. Other people may find that they also have food or chemical sensitivities, thyroid problems, or mold allergies that complicate treatment.
Nystatin is usually the first prescription drug used because it is very effective in treating any intestinal yeast. Other prescription medications used to treat more systemic yeast problems include the azole drugs Diflucan, Sporanox, and Nizoral. Another effective and safe systemic medication is Lamisil.
Other treatments include probiotics to help heal a leaky gut and promote the growth of beneficial bacteria; caprylic acid, a short-chain fatty acid that works against fungus; and a variety of herbal preparations to heal the intestines, improve the immune system, and decrease yeast overgrowth.
This article was featured in the Winter 2004 issue of Gluten Free and More Magazine.