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

Yeast-promoting foods

  • Alcohol

  • Dairy

  • Fruit (including fresh, dried, and juice)

  • Sugar and all sugar substitutes, including sugar alcohols and artificial sweeteners; stevia can be a good transitional sweetener for some people

  • Vinegar and vinegar-containing foods (except apple cider vinegar)

Sources: Ann Louise Gittleman, PhD, CNS; Carolyn Dean,MD, ND.

According to numerous studies, probiotics such as Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacteria spp make it harder for yeast to grow in your gut. “If you populate the gut with beneficial bacteria, there's no room for the yeast to grow,” says Gittleman. For at least three to six weeks, take between 2 billion and 10 billion colony-forming units (CFUs) twice a day. “Start slowly and move up to your tolerance, because when yeast die off, you can feel worse before feeling better,” says Gittleman.

Stave growth with garlic

A proven antifungal and potent yeast inhibitor, garlic kills off unhealthy bacteria in the body. But it artfully leaves the “good guys” alone — unlike stronger antifungals such as oregano oil, which can strip the body of beneficial bacteria, as well as bad bacteria, according to Carolyn Dean, MD, ND, coauthor of the landmark book The Yeast Connection and Women's Health (Square One, 2003). Cooking garlic, however, compromises antimicrobial activity, according to recent research. Crush or chop a couple fresh, raw cloves and blend into salad dressing. Or supplement with allicin, the active constituent of garlic, following label instructions.

Women's scores: If you score 9 or higher, your health problems are probably linked to yeast overgrowth. If you score 12 or higher, your health problems are almost certainly connected to yeast.

For more about candidiasis and other conditions, go to deliciouslivingmag.com/health/conditions.

Take coconut compounds

Caprylic acid, a naturally occurring fatty acid in coconuts, can be an effective antifungal compound in fighting intestinal candida. Dean recommends the liquid form, especially in a blend with psyllium seeds and bentonite clay, widely available at natural products stores. “The combination creates a broom that sweeps itself through the intestines, brushing out the yeast,” Dean says. Mix 1 tablespoon bentonite clay with 1 tablespoon liquid caprylic acid in 2 ounces of water. Quickly add 1 tablespoon of psyllium seeds, shake two to three times and swallow immediately (before the psyllium begins to gel). Then, follow with 8-10 ounces of water. You can also eat coconut or drink coconut water to help fight overgrowth.

Drink pau d'arco

Gittleman recommends taheebo (Tabebuia impetiginosa), a South American rainforest herb, commonly known as pau d'arco, proven to have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effects. Pau d'arco's antifungal properties prevent yeast from turning into invasive fungi. Drink two to three brewed cups daily, or take pau d'arco in capsule or extract form, following the instructions on the supplement.

Get glutamine

Intestinal cells use the amino acid L-glutamine, found naturally in cabbage, as a fuel source to help them repair and remain healthy. “People with a lot of yeast will get inflammation that makes their intestinal cells less healthy,” says Anderson. “The cells then don't absorb nutrients well, which eventually makes people feel bad.” To heal the gastrointestinal tract, eat ½-¾ cups of raw cabbage (such as in coleslaw) or stir-fried cabbage, or drink ¼-½ cup of freshly squeezed cabbage juice once or twice a day for four to six weeks. If cabbage makes you queasy, mix 3,000-4,000 mg of L-glutamine powder into water and down once or twice a day.

Quiz: Yeast evaluation

Add up your total points to figure out whether your health problems are linked to yeast overgrowth.

1 Have you ever taken repeated or prolonged courses of antibiotics? »4 points
2 Have you been bothered by recurrent vaginal, prostate, or urinary-tract infections? »3 points
3 Do you feel “sick all over,” yet the cause has not been found? »2 points
4 Are you bothered by hormone-related disturbances, including PMS, menstrual irregularities, sexual dysfunction, sugar cravings, low body temperature, or fatigue? »2 points
5 Are you unusually sensitive to tobacco smoke, perfumes and colognes, and chemical odors? »2 points
6 Are you bothered by memory or concentration problems? Do you sometimes feel spaced out or in a brain fog? »2 points
7 Have you taken a prolonged course of prednisone or other steroids, or have you taken birth control pills for longer than three years? »2 points
8 Do you suffer from constipation, diarrhea, bloating, or abdominal pain? »1 point
9 Does your skin itch, tingle, or burn; or is it unusually dry; or are you bothered by rashes? »1 point
10 Do some foods disagree with you or trigger your symptoms? » 1 point
  TOTAL  

Women's scores: If you score 9 or higher, your health problems are probably linked to yeast overgrowth. If you score 12 or higher, your health problems are almost certainly connected to yeast.

Men's scores: If you score 7 or higher, your health problems are likely linked to yeast. A score of 10 or higher indicates that your health problems are almost certainly connected to yeast.

Source: The Gut Flush Plan (Avery, 2008) by Ann Louise Gittleman, PhD, CNS.