You may think that yeast overgrowth is only a problem “down there.” But according to Ann Louise Gittleman, PhD, CNS, author of The Gut Flush Plan (Avery, 2008), yeast often multiplies in unhealthy numbers in the intestines. The resulting candidiasis — which affects men, as well as women — can be hard to spot because it shares symptoms with other health issues, such as irritable bowel syndrome and gluten intolerance. You might find yourself bouncing between doctors in an effort to find the true culprit of symptoms such as bloating, diarrhea, constipation, sinusitis, or headaches.

Yeast is not always a problem. “We carry hundreds of types of yeasts and fungi in good health,” says Gittleman. The most prolific is candida (Candida albicans), which prefers the gastrointestinal tract and the genital area. Normally, this microbe lives in balance with other gut flora, and is regulated by the immune system. “When its numbers grow because of antibiotic use or overconsumption of [refined] carbohydrates, as well as certain medications, such as birth control pills and steroids, then noninvasive yeast turns into an aggressive fungal form. That, I believe, is when the problems fly,” says Gittleman. The resulting fungus eats away at the lining of the intestines, allowing toxins and partially digested proteins to enter the bloodstream.

To assess your symptoms, take our “Yeast Evaluation Quiz,”. There's no silver bullet in solving candida overgrowth, but natural strategies can help you wage — and win — the war against yeast.

Cut out yeast-promoting foods

For a minimum of two to three weeks, eliminate foods that feed yeast and encourage its growth: sugar (including fresh and dried fruit), dairy, yeast, and starches (see “Yeast-Promoting Foods,” right). “Cut carbohydrates to 40-60 grams a day from every source, whether sugars or grains or fruit,” advises Gittleman. The simplest approach is to focus on eating lean proteins, vegetables, nuts, seeds, unprocessed oils, and water.

Don't expect change overnight. “If you've been battling yeast for a long time, it can take months before your system is less yeast friendly,” says Paul Anderson, ND, core faculty member in the School of Naturopathic Medicine at Bastyr University in Kenmore, Washington. “After you rebuild your system and you have a clean diet, you can often have starchy, sugary foods in moderation. It's the frequency in which you eat them that causes trouble.”

Take probiotics