Many of my friends would likely say that I was one of the healthiest people they know. And based on appearances, I can see why. I love eating a plant filled diet. More often than not I cook without sugar, wheat and dairy. I don’t often drink, I don’t smoke, I love exercise, and I have spent the past 4 years of my life educating people about health, nutrition and developing all sorts of exciting products for the free-from market. But the truth is, unfortunately my health is no way near as good as appearances would have you believe, and this is due to my ongoing battle with a condition called Systemic Candida.
Candida Albicans are an opportunistic fungus/form of yeast that when allowed to grow out of control and cause many unwanted side effects. Candida Albicans are normally present in our gut flora, but in low numbers, they are kept in balance by the friendly bacteria. Many of us live with the wrong balance of this bacteria, yet are non the wiser. When these bacteria grow our of control they begin to weaken the intestinal wall and are able to enter the blood stream and cause havoc by secreting their toxic by products into your system. Once they begin to spread throughout the system the toxic waste causes damage to your organs and tissues.
Candida is not particularly well recognised, or truly understood by Western doctors. The symptoms can range from a one or two, to ten or more. It is hard to diagnose, and is often viewed as a series of symptoms that don’t lead to a specific diagnosis. After being met with blank stares by the NHS doctors, I persevered in my mission to find out what was making me feel so hideous. Thankfully after a discussion with a friend, she pointed me in the direction of a wonderful acupuncturist and nutritionist. After one consultation, I finally felt that someone understood! The symptoms I had been suffering from for a number of years were extreme lethargy, a continuous itchy, runny or blocked nose, waking in the night and having sneezing fits, recurrent thrush (that was making life miserable in more ways than one), cravings for carbs and sugar, weight gain, and brain fog.
I appreciate that these aren’t life threatening problems, however the symptoms and the impact they have had on my life are huge. By 7pm every night I was ready for bed, having thrush made any intimacy nigh impossible and spending my life with a sniffily nose and people forever thinking I had a cold was no fun. The brain fog made me forgetful and unable to organise my life (and still does!). I have lived with these symptoms for so long and had almost accepted them as normal, to find out that someone actually understood, had some answers and could finally help was such a huge relief.
The consultation consisted of a very detailed look through my heath from when I was young. What illnesses I had suffered from, how they had been treated, any medication, vaccinations, my periods, length of cycles, pregnancies, eating habits, toilet habits, a tongue and pulse check, the lot. After going through this I was even surprised at the sheer amount of antibiotics I had been fed in the past 4 years. It was something I hadn’t really considered before.
During my pregnancy with Macy I had suffered from a urinary tract infection, I did my best to keep it at bay as I had suffered from them before, and they were ultimately treated with a course of antibiotics, something which as I was pregnant I wanted to avoid. However during one of my routine check ups, it was realised and I was advised to take antibiotics or risk the chance of causing harm to my unborn child. Of course, thinking I had no other option, I took the antibiotics. Then I was routinely tested for carrying Streptococcus B, and was found to be carrying this too. Again I was advised to have intra venous antibiotics during labour to reduce the risk of this being passed onto my baby. Again, I agreed as who would want to risk harming their child? During labour I ended up having an episiotomy as Macy was facing the wrong way. This ended with the usual stitches, but a couple of weeks later, I was advised that this looked infected and the best bet, if I wanted to have any “normality” down there was again to take antibiotics. Being fearful of being left permanently scarred(!), I opted to take yet another dose. Funnily enough, the first lot of antibiotics didn’t seem to touch the infection, so another type was prescribed. Fast forwards a year or so, and again I was suffering from urinary infection that had developed into kidney infection. I had tried my best with cranberry tablets and plenty of water to keep it at bay, but sadly that had not worked. So another dose of antibiotics were prescribed. I had an severe adverse reaction to these, and again these were changed for another type. So in total, in less than 3 years that is 6 different courses of antibiotics. All of which were not followed with adequate doses of probiotics or fermented foods to re populate my digestive system with “friendly” bacteria.
So I am sure you all know how antibiotics work, but for the purposes of this post I will give a quick recap… Antibiotics work by eradicating the bacteria within your system. This includes the bacteria causing the illness, but also the friendly bacteria that help support your immune system and reside mainly in the digestive tract. They kill all the bacteria in your system, good and bad. This is great if you want to wipe out the nasty bacteria, but it’s lethal for the friendly stuff too. You see, the thing with killing off all the bacteria in your system is that it imbalances your body and how it functions. About 83% of the bodies immunity is located in the gut wall. Antibiotics basically destroy your own immune system. It takes 4 – 8 weeks for it to repopulate after having a dose of antibiotics, so this leaves plenty of time for the opportunistic, unfriendly bacteria to get hold and take over. Without the friendly stuff doing its best to keep you in balance, all sorts of things can happen in your system. This is unfortunately what happened to me. The wrong type of bacteria (candida albicans) got hold and took over my system, causing all my bizarre and seemingly unlinked symptoms.
Certain changes in your body can cause these types of bacteria to thrive (it doesn’t always have to be linked to antibiotic consumption); periods of stress, prescribed antibiotics or continuous low level consumption through non organic, hormone and antibiotic filled milk and meat, high sugar and carbohydrate diets, oral contraceptives, alcohol and recreational drugs.
Once the bacteria in your system are out of balance it needs to be bought back into balance as quickly as possible, as the candida will continue to weaken your immune system, and this puts you at risk of developing more severe illnesses. The worrying thing about candida is that is that it has been linked to all sorts of diseases and illnesses in adults and children. When your immune system is not able to function properly, all sorts of infections, illnesses and diseases that would normally be fended off, make their way into your system and wreak havoc. Studies are beginning to show links between a compromised gut wall and autism, cancer and other diseases.
Thankfully, there is something that can be done. It is possible to rebalance your system and live symptom free. It just takes dedication and the correct support of people in the know. I am hugely grateful for my wonderful acupuncturist Charles Buck. The ancient principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine are certainly helping me on my mission back to health. The use of Chinese herbs, acupuncture and other techniques are correcting the deficiencies I have. I have tried on several occasions to cure myself of candida through diet alone, this has eased my symptoms somewhat, but unfortunately not completely cured me. The speed in which my body is healing is definitely facilitated by my acupuncture sessions with Charles.
The easiest way I have found to understand candida is to imagine your body as a test tube. For Candida Albicans to thrive, the conditions need to be correct. Candida likes acidic, anaerobic, damp conditions. So diets high in sugar, carbohydrates, dairy, wheat, processed foods, and a lack of exercise provides the perfect conditions for them to thrive. Candida Albicans LOVE sugar in all its forms, they thrive on it, without it they cannot survive. If you were to change the conditions through diet, exercise, and specific supplements and anti-fungals, then you would be making it difficult for these bacteria to live. Given time the conditions in the test tube would change to more alkaline, aerobic, and less damp, making it an inhospitable environment for them to survive. In short you need to remove all types of sugar from your diet, including root vegetables, glutinous grains, dairy and wheat, and increase your intake of fermented foods (recipe up next week) and the amount of oxygen circulating your system through regular exercise. Green vegetables will become your new best friend and coconut oil, garlic and oregano oil will all play a vital role in fighting the nasty fungus.
Treating candida sounds quite simple, however in my experience I have found it remarkably difficult to overcome. I have stints of eating like a saint, then normally an even longer stint of eating a terrible diet. It is only in the past few months that I really feel I am getting somewhere with the battle, and it has taken a few wake up calls (the most recent being my 2nd miscarriage) to keep me on track to tackling it once and for all. To cure yourself of candida it takes dedication, perseverance and a whole lot of will power. They Candida/Body Ecology Diet is restrictive and it takes some imagination in the kitchen, but there are some amazing websites out there with all sorts of wonderful advice and recipes. It is also a bit of a minefield though as wherever you look the advice can differ slightly from one website to the next. My experience is that you need to listen to your body and begin to understand what triggers your symptoms. I have tried numerous different diets, my current one of choice that at the moment makes the most sense to me is The Body Ecology Diet, but thats not to say it won’t change again! I am going to stick with this one and see in a few months if it has had a vast improvement on my health.
I would also urge you to visit a naturopath/Chinese doctor/acupuncturist/herbalist to support you on your way. Often the body needs support to resume its normal, healthy routines. Diet alone cannot always do this. You may need to be prescribed supplements specific to your symptoms, after all we are all unique. We will have had our own path to Candidis, so one diet with specific supplements will not work for all. I spent 5 months on the “candida diet”, without the support of a naturopath or acupuncturist, which did help to ease my symptoms, however when I switched back to a “normal” diet, my symptoms came back with a vengeance. I think was is due to my system not being fully healed, as at the time I wasn’t committed to regular sessions of acupuncture or being professionally advised on the correct supplementation.
The unfortunate thing about candida, is that it is on the rise. Our lifestyles, the NHS and its desire to feed everyone antibiotics and regular medication, the so called “convenience foods”, regular drinking, chlorinated and fluoridated water, stress, consuming non organic meat and dairy, are all contributing to its rise. I only wish I had known what I know now. I would have taken so many more steps to stop this condition taking over my body. I would have looked for help sooner, found natural ways to heal my body without all the antibiotics I was advised to take. The need to treat certain conditions with antibiotics is no way near as desperate as some doctors would have you believe.
On a more positive note, there is a huge amount of research being done into the importance and the role of each of these different bacteria. Breastfed babies are found to have the perfect balance of bacteria in their gut (once the bacteria have had time to populate their sterile guts) and many experiments are being done with their faeces in how to harvest this bacteria. It all sounds a little gross, however if it can speed up the path to health, it has my full support! I have faith that in the near future there will be many more ways to repair the damaged lining of the digestive tract, but until then I remain on my quest to heal myself through acupuncture, diet and exercise.
I have only touched on the surface of this huge topic, I will continue to share recipes and any knowledge I can in future posts. As always, I would love to hear from you and help in any way I can. Leave me a comment and if you have any questions, I am more than happy to answer.