…that’s what my Doctor told me when I last saw her for a small rash that intensely itched on my thigh. She diagnosed it as “Candida,” said that there are trillions of unfriendly and friendly yeasts all over us, and prescribed a topical anti-fungal cream with steroids. “Do you do a lot of yoga?” she asked. Apparently, all that sweating in a crowded room is ideal for the unfriendly buggers to wreak havoc. I applied the cream 3 times a day for a whopping 4 weeks, and while the symptoms definitely subsided, after my treatment was done, they came back—except this time with vengeance…and this time not due to yeast at all, but a bacterial infection. To make a long story short, I battled back and forth with anti-fungals and antibiotics, yet couldn’t totally rid my skin of this nuisance, no matter what the Doctor ordered. It got me to thinking about yeasts…
Candida refers to a genus of yeast, both friendly and unfriendly, and Candida Albicans is the one that most commonly causes infection (obviously, unfriendly), especially in immune-compromised individuals. There are 2 things about yeast I find particularly interesting:
- First, yeast and bacteria tend to keep each other in check. Yeast often overgrows in times when bacteria are low (like when you take antibiotics for example) and bacteria proliferate when the opposite is true.This is why many women go from vaginal yeast infection to urinary tract infection (and why I went from a rash caused by yeast to one caused by bacteria);
- Second, the “friendly” and “unfriendly” micro-organisms also keep each other in check. For example, the friendly yeast Saccharomyces Boulardii (found naturally in the raw forms of sauerkraut, kombucha, kefir, and kimchee) has been shown in many animal studies to help fight Candida Albicans at least on the skin. Mainstream science is becoming aware of this, which is why (friendly) probiotics are being included in prescription regimens for all sorts of conditions now.
Thus, even when your immune system has failed at fighting off an overgrowth, there are still two ways in which nature has allowed for the balance to keep hold. Even so, especially with the overuse of antibiotics and the reality of poor diets, many are failing to be saved by these checks and become victim to infection. What happens then?
Western practitioners for the most part refer to yeast infections very differently than the holistic community. Mainstream Doctors usually diagnose a yeast infection very scientifically, either with a positive lab result to a “swab” or upon seeing a rash they recognize to be due to this yeast. The naturopaths see “candida” as much more than this (and much more prevalent than this), and when in overgrowth use it to describe an array of symptoms that may include brain fog, chronic fatigue, bad breath, intense abdominal pain, bloating, acne break-outs, indigestion, chronic sinus congestion, hair loss, itching, and joint pain. Any one of these symptoms alone may be manageable (like when I had an itchy leg), but imagine having all these symptoms at once…
A dear friend of mine was recently (finally) diagnosed by a naturopathic doctor with candida overgrowth, and at the time was experiencing these symptoms in extreme. She had been to western doctor after doctor, each diagnosing her with something different. Nothing worked. She was on drug after different drug, including several bouts of strong antibiotics, yet her symptoms got worse. She began to feel alienated by the standard Western medical community, because most didn’t take her symptoms seriously, all her tests and swabs came back negative, and some even insinuated that this was a psychological matter and not really “real.” She had to take weeks of work. She was weak for 6 months with no answer.
Eventually she began to seek care in the alternative medical community, where she quite quickly was diagnosed with candida overgrowth. They treated her with immune-boosting herbs, acupuncture, strong and natural probiotics (friendly bacteria), and asked her to strictly remove all sugars from her diet so as to “starve” the yeast within. Though her previous practitioners gawked at the idea that this was caused by candida, and that removing sugars would help solve the issue, this treatment worked for her. YES, it took much time and painstaking effort, but her pain stopped, her skin stopped itching, and the rest of her symptoms began to dissipate. Three months since making these changes, she still battles to keep the “balance” in check, but she is significantly better. Many of her current care-givers encourage her to hold on to her behaviors—yeast overgrowth can take almost a year to totally normalize apparently.
When I think back on her treatment, I think it’s disappointing that Western and Eastern medicine can’t agree on this. If the alternative thinkers are right, not only was her sickness REAL and SERIOUS, but because it was caused by an overgrowth of candida in her entire body, the repeated bouts of antibiotics she was given probably caused her to get significantly worse! Similarly, if the eastern thinkers are right, then what could she possibly have that would cause all these terrible symptoms to go away with immune-boosters and a sugar-free diet? And what can we do to better diagnose this?
Inspired by her story, I took the “culture” home from my kombucha in our commercial kitchen and did a little experiment. I let it sit on my thigh for a few hours last night. This morning I awoke with no rash and no itching. It appears that at least for me, I didn’t need several months of anti-fungals/biotics. I just needed my Health-Ade :)
I write this post because I don’t want anyone else to suffer these awful nonspecific symptoms like my friend did for so long. If you experience feelings like those mentioned above, consider seeing caretakers from both sides of the coin. After all, evidently there is a yeast among us…and apparently we don’t know a lot about her.
Daina Slekys, MS, MPH is a Nutritionist and co-founder of Health-Ade kombucha, in Los Angeles, CA. EMAIL Daina your health questions and she’ll be happy to help! firstname.lastname@example.org
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