What is 'candida overgrowth' or 'yeast syndrome' and can cutting out certain foods really help? Discover the truth behind this controversial diet.
The candida diet is often cited by practitioners of complementary and alternative medicine as a way to treat a supposed overgrowth of a naturally occurring, fungus-like organism in the gut called Candida albicans, also known as ‘yeast syndrome’.
Advocates of this theory claim that ‘yeast syndrome’ can cause a wide variety of common symptoms such as fatigue, poor digestion, headaches and poor memory.
To treat it, they recommend following a restrictive diet that cuts out foods thought to contribute to candida growth, often including sugar, white flour, cheese, caffeine, yeast-containing foods such as beer, wine, vinegar and bread, and sometimes starchy vegetables and fruit.
We asked nutritionist Kerry Torrens for her view…
Is Candida albicans really harmful to health?
Candida is a yeast-like fungus that forms part of the normal microflora of the human mouth, gut and the vagina – it’s something we all have and for most of us, it doesn’t cause a problem. There are over 20 candida species with Candida albicans being the most common. In a healthy person it causes no problems, however, because it is an opportunistic pathogen, if your immune defences are low or you have a pre-existing health condition, it may become problematic.
Is there any evidence to support the theory of candida overgrowth?
Candidiasis is the term given when the candida present in your system starts to become more prevalent in relation to the other organisms (your microflora) that naturally reside there. This can sometimes happen after long-term use of antibiotics, steroids and some birth control pills; or during pregnancy, if you are overweight, have an existing bacterial infection, or have a pre-existing health condition such as a compromised immune system, diabetes or psoriasis.
What are the benefits of the candida diet?
There are no clinical studies to support the effectiveness of this 'candida diet', although anecdotal reports suggest people may feel better. Whether these improvements have more to do with cutting out refined and processed foods, alcohol and sugars, rather than any specific impact on the levels of candida, is strongly debated.
Studies looking at the influence our diet has on our resident microflora are in their infancy, although an interesting connection has been reported between higher levels of candida and the recent consumption of carbohydrates.
In conjunction with the 'candida diet', complementary practitioners often suggest the use of probiotics (beneficial gut bacteria) and natural anti-fungal agents like garlic. Again, whether these actually have a direct impact on candida levels is debated.
Read more about the health benefits of probiotics.
What are the negative aspects of the candida diet?
Eliminating such a large number of foods leaves you at risk of an unbalanced and nutritionally inadequate diet. Apart from anecdotal reports, there remains no clear evidence that the candida diet has any clinical benefits.
You should consult your GP or a registered dietitian if you are considering making any significant changes to your diet.
What should I do if I’m concerned about some of the symptoms attributed to ‘candida overgrowth’?
If you have symptoms that are causing you concern, or you suspect you have a fungal infection, refer to your GP or health care practitioner.
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This article was last updated on 8 August 2018 by Kerry Torrens.
Kerry Torrens is a qualified Nutritionist (MBANT) with a post graduate diploma in Personalised Nutrition & Nutritional Therapy. She is a member of the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) and a member of the Guild of Food Writers. Over the last 15 years she has been a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food.
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