We asked nutritionists what they thought of the Candida Diet
The majority of humans have a system that is awash with Candida. The fungus lives in your gut, in your blood, in your eyes, mouth, and genitals. In normal levels it presents no problems – you don’t even know it’s there. When there is an overgrowth of Candida however, it may present you with some symptoms. This could take the form of oral thrush, genital thrush, a UTI perhaps, or dandruff. In fact, an overgrowth of Candida can simply present as making you feel bloated and sluggish, but then again so can a slap up meal, and it’s not normally something we give too much thought to. Rather, it is the thrush, and UTIs, that we notice, and for which we are much more likely to seek out medical treatment.
With 50 per cent of women of childbearing age having had thrush at least once in their lives, and 40 per cent of women contracting thrush on a recurring basis, it is no wonder that alleged miracle cures abound and the internet is awash with advice such as coating tampons in yoghurt and swallowing teaspoons of coconut oil.
But of the cures that are lauded as being the thing that will stop you never contracting thrush ever again, which are the most legitimate? Can we trust any of them? Or is thrush just a fact of life that women will have to deal with at some point?
One particular piece of advice circulating seems to be that you can prevent thrush with a certain diet. The diet, marketing as the Candida diet, claims to ‘eliminate your Candida’ in 60 days, by getting rid of sugar, and including probiotics, after starting with a strict and restrictive ‘cleanse’ for three to seven days ‘to clear out as many toxins as possible’.
But is there any real truth behind this? Faith Toogood, a dietitian who works with Make Your Switch to help women switch to a healthier lifestyle, is skeptical of the benefits of a specific ‘candida diet’. “There isn’t any research on the Candida diet itself,” she says, “so as such there are no specific dietary guidelines for people suffering from thrush. For me, as a dietician, the most important thing is actually not to rely on diet to cure something.”
Faith adds that there is no evidence that, for example, eating too much sugar causes thrush, so eliminating sugar from your diet may make little difference. As thrush can be caused by a huge number of different things and health conditions, including cancer and HIV, she believes it is more important to head to your GP and get a diagnosis, rather than leaping to diet as a cure.
“If you look at the Candida diet, it tells you to cut carbs, yeast, use probiotics, and do a ‘candida cleanse’,” Faith says. “For me, the issue with this is that all of these kind of things involve restricting foods. This can lead to deficiencies in nutrients, which, if you have thrush caused by health issues, decreasing some nutrients could be quite damaging. The bottom line is that there isn’t enough research to suggest dietary changes can reduce infection.”
According to Faith, rather than focussing on a specific diet marketed to cure thrush, those that do find themselves getting thrush on a regular basis should not only seek advice from their GP, but it might also be worth focussing on a diet that improves gut health and boosts immune functions. “Look at natural live yoghurt, have a fibre rich diet that is sufficient in antioxidants. It should have probiotics and prebiotics and be low in sugar and processed foods, but we all eat too much of those in any case. With probiotics, they are generally safe, but if your immune system is weak you do have to be careful with these, so you should see your GP to make sure they’re safe.”
Faith emphasises that prebiotics can potentially be as useful as probiotics when it comes to gut health. Prebiotics are the carbohydrates that your gut bacteria feed on. However, our stomach acid can kill probiotics before they reach the gut, but prebiotics can help because they reach the gut, thus improving general gut flora. “Although the link between diet and thrush hasn’t been proven, it won’t harm anyone to have a decent diet focussing on the immune system and gut health,” says Faith. “But avoid massively restricting certain foods.”
Sophie Medline, a freelance dietitian, and lecturer in nutrition and dietetics at King’s College London, has her doubts about the benefits of a specific diet being used to cure thrush. “We all live alongside yeast in our bodies and on our skin at all times. It is part of the normal symbiotic relationship between microbes and humans,” she says. “Unless you are plagued by yeast infections, there is no need to worry about the population of Candida in your body. They’re supposed to live there.”
Sophie adds that the only time that Candida can become a problem is when there is a disruption to your health that allows the popular of yeast to take over. Examples of this include when your immune system is compromised by an underlying disease, when scented soaps affect the pH of your vagina, and when you have raised blood sugars indicative of an underlying problem such as diabetes.
Her biggest concern with the Candida diet specifically centres around claims about reducing blood sugars for the yeast to feed on. “The Candida diet promotes healthy eating and a low sugar diet,” she says. “You can see that this would help some people by improving their energy levels and general well-being. It could also reduce blood sugars which may prevent yeast infections – but only in predisposed individuals whose blood sugars are high because of an underlying condition.”
If someone is getting recurrent thrush, she says, they should see their GP to rule out any underlying reason for this, before trying to self-medicate with diet. In terms of probiotics, she adds that while there is some evidence that probiotics may help balance the populations of microbes in our body, there isn’t proof of this with regards to yeast infections. Like Faith, she is also skeptical of the ‘cleanse’ aspect of the diet. “There is no evidence that Candida has any ‘toxic byproducts’,” she says. “And unless you have recurrent infections there is no need to worry about the population of yeast in the body. You should never cut out any food groups unnecessarily or without individualised advice on how to ensure your diet is still balanced.”
Dietitians, then, aren’t all that convinced by the claims of the Candida diet, and both stress the importance of not changing your diet or following any ‘cleanse’ without first consulting a doctor. However, others do believe that the Candida diet works – or at least it worked for them. Pollyanna Hale is a weight loss coach, personal trainer, and nutritionist, and thinks that some people could see positive results from the Candida diet.
“You can have a gut only Candida infection and not get thrush,” she says. “So regularly feeling bloated with a distended stomach would be a sign that Candida might be the culprit. Brain fog and sugar cravings are two other common symptoms, as well as skin and nail fungal infections.”
Pollyanna believes following the Candida diet could help relieve symptoms and clear infection. “The Candida diet cuts out sugar, yeast, fermented and mouldy foods, and foods that have a tendency to contain low levels of moulds, such as some nuts, which help Candida thrive. It also encourages natural anti-fungals such as garlic and coconut,” she explains. But not everyone will need to follow the diet as strictly as others. “The more severe or stubborn the infection, the more rigid you will need to be with what you eat and drink, until the infection is cleared,” she adds.
However, like Faith and Sophie, she does voice her concern at the extreme cleanse part of the diet, as advertised. “An aggressive reset won’t be necessary for everyone,” she says. “It’s basically just eating lots of vegetables and a little fat and protein to ‘flush out’ your gut and cut off the Candida’s food supplies to help stop it growing.” However, this sort of extreme eating (or abstaining) can be difficult to stick to, she notes, and says the Candida dying off can cause “unpleasant and flu-like symptoms”. She does add that anyone wanting to do the cleanse part of their diet should first seek a doctor’s advice. “It’s quite an extreme way of eating even if it is only for three days, and not everybody is suitable to follow such a protocol,” she says.
The general consensus seems to be, then, that the Candida diet won’t necessarily cure your recurring thrush, and doesn’t seem to be substantiated by much scientific fact. However, eating a healthy diet will obviously do no harm to anyone, so if following some of the tips given on the Candida diet’s website makes you feel better in yourself, then do so. That being said, recurrent thrush can often be a symptom of an underlying condition, so if you do get thrush regularly then you should visit your GP for testing before attempting to prevent thrush from recurring by changing your eating habits.