Candida is a naturally occurring organism found in our digestive systems. When it's in balance with all the other good bugs found in our system, everything is A-Okay. But when candida gets the upper hand in our digestive systems it can wreak havoc, not only in our gut, but it can also make its way outside our intestinal barrier and into our joints and organs and it can even get into our blood and past the blood-brain barrier when it's really out of control. You are most likely familiar with candida as the yeast responsible for infections of the mouth (thrush), vagina, skin (athlete's foot) and other mucosal membranes.

Candida is a fungus that actually helps our bodies to absorb nutrients and digest our food. But when it becomes too prevalent in our systems it can damage the cells in the lining of our intestines, releasing toxins into our systems and potentially causing a condition called leaky gut syndrome. Leaky gut syndrome is suspected in all sorts of issues from food allergies to joint pain to various digestive issues.

When the candida grows out of control in our systems, we refer to it as “systemic candida” or “candida overgrowth syndrome.”

Sugar feeds candida. When we consume too many sugary foods (or foods that quickly break down into sugar — hello white carbs!) we are creating an environment that candida loves to multiply in. When we don't consume foods that support the good bugs in our system (things like fermented foods and leafy greens), we give candida a free ticket to take over the neighborhood. In short, when we suspect a candida issue, the first line of defense (and offense) is to cut back on sugar and simple carbs and to amp up the ferments and leafy greens.

What are some symptoms regularly associated with candida overgrowth?

  • Feeling unreasonably tired all the time
  • Cravings for sweets and starchy foods
  • Itchy skin, especially on feet or in skin folds
  • White coated tongue
  • Brain fog or fuzzy thinking
  • Hormone imbalance
  • Joint pain
  • Chronic sinus and allergy issues
  • Digestive problems (especially gas and bloating)
  • Prone to infections, colds and viruses
  • Recurring yeast infections or thrush
  • Irritation and/or anxiety

I'll be the first to tell you that these things can be found in symptom lists for a myriad health conditions, so it's hard to conclude that you have a candida issue simply by ticking off things from this list. What might be more telling is whether you fit the pattern for what generally can cause systemic candida overgrowth over time. Here are some commonalities among folks who have been found to have this condition:

  • A diet high in sugar, refined carbs and/or alcohol (candida's favorite foods);
  • Heavy antibiotic use at any point during your life (either a lot of antibiotics at once or broad spectrum use over a long period of time at any point during your life);
  • Heavy steroid use (things like prednisone) at any point during your life (either a heavy dosing during a specific period or a lesser dose, but over a longer period of time);
  • Consistent birth control pill usage;
  • Cancer treatments that break down some of the body's natural defenses to yeast overgrowth (i.e. chemotherapy and radiation. As a side note, candida overgrowth was actually one of the worst parts of my mother's cancer treatment when she suffered from lung cancer);
  • A diet low in green, leafy veggies, fermented foods and probiotics

It would be so much easier if there was a reliable diagnostic test that your doctor could order to determine whether candida is a systemic issue for you, but the tests currently available don't provide enough reliable evidence to catch it in its early or moderate stages. In order for the tests that are available to come back positive, the load of candida in your system has to be pretty high. And the tests that check for candida in your stool really don't tell you whether you've got a candida issue hiding somewhere else. In my personal experience, I was able to clear candida from my digestive system, but it was still congregating around other areas of my body. It took for me to visit a kinesiologist who performed strength testing to determine where the yeast was hiding and a plan for how to decimate it. But not everyone is comfortable with using alternative medicine to determine if they have a systemic condition that many medical doctors still don't diagnose (primarily because clinical tests and studies aren't available to give them conclusive methods to test and diagnose concretely).

So what should a person do if they suspect candida might be an issue? My advice is this: Do a Sugar or Candida Detox! The way your body reacts to the detox and how you feel after a few weeks will be some of the best testing you can do to determine whether you've got a yeast issue. And the best part is that this sort of testing is also part of an effective solution.

We're starting the Beacon Sugar Detox on January 4th. This detox has two levels — a simple sugar detox and a more rigorous candida detox. The candida detox is designed to cut sugar and simple carbs (candida's faves!) drastically and it also suggests a few things you can do to “amp up” your detox.

If you'd like to join the Sugar Detox, you can click here to sign up! This Sugar Detox will be an online program using a Facebook Group. We'll provide food lists, a general program guide and a moderated online community for support. Hope to see you in the group!