Candida Overgrowth (a.k.a. Candidiasis): Everything You Need to Know About the Candida Diet – 80 Twenty Nutrition

Candida Overgrowth (a.k.a. Candidiasis): Everything You Need to Know About the Candida Diet

Do you have stomach aches or brain fog? Maybe “candida overgrowth” is to blame. Naturopaths and nutritionists have put some of my clients on the “Candida Diet” but it’s still surrounded by controversy. There’s a lot of fogginess surrounding candida overgrowth  – many complementary and alternative health practitioners swear by anti-Candida diets, while others say that the research just isn’t up to snuff. Here’s my take on the research surrounding candida overgrowth and candida diets, so you can stop asking yourself, “Is Candida overgrowth a real health issue?” and “Could a candida diet help with my digestive issues?”

Should you be following the Candida Diet? Find out if candida overgrowth is something you should really be concerned about, via Christy Brissette of @80twentynutrition

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What is Candida?

Candida is a type of yeast that can cause infections in humans. While there are over 20 strains of Candida, the most common one is Candida albicans. It’s totally normal for Candida yeast to live in your body – it’s normally found on your skin, mouth and throat, mucus membranes, and gut. So, just having candida in your body doesn’t mean much.

Problems arise when there’s too much Candida, resulting in candidiasis (the official term for candida overgrowth). This, too, is pretty common – nearly 75% of all adult women have had yeast infections, which are a kind of candidiasis. Candidiasis can also occur in the mouth or throat, which is called thrush. Developing thrush is more common in people with compromised immune systems, such as those who have HIV or cancer.

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Most people aren’t on the Candida Diet to avoid yeast infections or thrush; their claim is that there’s another type of candida overgrowth that essentially takes over the gut, throwing the delicate balance of bacteria out of whack. The theory goes that this candida overgrowth makes you feel sick and fatigued – until you bring balance back to your gut microflora by following the Candida Diet.

Symptoms of this “chronic candidiasis” or candida overgrowth include fatigue, brain fog, digestive issues, sinus infections, joint pain, low mood, food allergies, recurring yeast infections, oral thrush, fungal infections on the nails, strong sugar cravings, irritability, difficulty concentrating, rashes, autoimmune diseases, bloating, constipation, diarrhea and a weak immune system. I think “chronic candidiasis” takes the cake for most widespread symptoms. Craving ice cream? Could be that nasty candida running amok in your digestive tract. Snapped at a customer service rep? Apologize and tell them candida made you do it.

What is the Candida Diet?

According to the official website of the “Anti-Candida Diet” (which is another term for the Candida Diet), the diet has three phases: the cleansing phase, with the strictest diet and detox drinks to flush out candida colonies, the actual diet, and the reintroduction phase, where you transition back into more flexible, balanced diet.

Should you be following the Candida Diet? Find out if candida overgrowth is something you should really be concerned about, via Christy Brissette of @80twentynutrition

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While on the Anti-Candida Diet, you’re looking at a low-sugar, lower-carb diet.

Here are the foods to eat on the Candida Diet:

  • Non-starchy vegetables
  • Gluten free grains
  • Meat (preferably organic)
  • Yogurt and kefir
  • Eggs
  • Cold-pressed coconut and olive oils
  • Low-mold nuts and seeds
  • Fermented foods for probiotics
  • Herbal teas

Here’s what you’d avoid on the Candida Diet:

  • High sugar fruits
  • Glutenous grains
  • Processed meats
  • Fish high in mercury (like tuna and swordfish)
  • Most dairy produces (other than fermented ones)
  • Higher-mold nuts and seeds (peanuts, walnuts, pecans, pistachios, cashews)
  • Sugars
  • Caffeine
  • Refined oils
  • Alcohol

image: Pexels

What does Research Say about the Candida Diet?

Unfortunately, there are no clinical trials looking at the effects of the Candida Diet. Most mainstream doctors and researchers recognize Candida overgrowth problems based on their specific locations in the body, such as thrush and yeast infections. These are currently the only clinically recognized Candida-related diseases. The subclinical (“unofficial”) Candida overgrowth issues that are recognized by many integrative and alternative health practitioners are less well-researched.

Research surrounding recognized Candida conditions certainly helps inform the claims about subclinical Candida that are more debatable. We know that most clinical Candida conditions occur when the microbiota is disturbed, commonly as a result of antibiotic use, immunosuppressant therapy, microbial infections, or immunocompromising diseases like HIV/AIDS. However, there’s no research showing that antibiotic use causes Candida growth to get out of balance in your colon andcauses indigestion. Antibiotic use does throw off the balance of other types of microorganisms in your digestive tract, which is why taking probiotics during and after antibiotic treatment is helpful.

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We know that Candida can produce carcinogenic acetaldehyde, a compound that is linked to cancer. This is a point that promoters of the Candida Diet like to highlight, but studies of this acetaldehyde production has focused on on effects on the surfaces in your mouth, which doesn’t exactly translate to acetaldehyde giving you a headache and making you nauseous.

We know that Candida yeasts thrive on carbohydrates (hence the sugar-cutting in the Anti-Candida Diet). But one study found that Candida didn’t grow significantly with long-term carbohydrate consumption, only with short term carbohydrate consumption. That means that the levels of candida did go up immediately after carbohydrate consumption, but when researchers looked at the big picture, they found that participants following a long-term high carbohydrate diet had no abnormal amount of candida in their guts. This gives some validity to the case for a lower carbohydrate diet to limit candida growth, but we’re still not sure if it helps in the long term!

image: Pixabay

Is Candida Overgrowth a Real Health Concern?

I have a few problems with the diagnosis of chronic candidiasis. First, the symptoms are so vague that there is really no identifiable pattern that couldn’t be explained by nearly any other gut issue. Second, there is no conclusive diagnostic test for “chronic candidiasis.” Candida is typically diagnosed by naturopaths using stool tests to look out for inflammation markers and levels of yeasts and bacterias, blood tests to look for antibodies that respond to inflammation, and urine tests to look for organic waste products. Since Candida is found in a normal, healthy gut, testing stool isn’t a reliable diagnostic measure – the stool test that you order from The Candida Diet’s website looks for antigens (which respond to any inflammation, not just candida) and an infection marker called “ELISA” (which tests for the presence of Candida albicans in feces). Blood tests that reveal elevated inflammatory markers aren’t diagnostic tools for this purpose either, since so many things can lead to inflammation.

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Some proponents of the candida overgrowth theory claim that Candida overgrowth can become such an issue  that it damages your intestinal wall and leaks out into your bloodstream. That’s simply not how fungal infections work. If you had Candida in your bloodstream, that would be an entirely different, severe condition called candidemia that has a 40% mortality rate; you’d likely be in a hospital bed, not just suffering from a case of indigestion or a foggy head. 

What’s more likely is the claim that Candida overgrowth leading to Leaky Gut Syndrome, which occurs when the lining of intestinal walls is damaged, causing inflammation and eliciting an immune response to respond to byproducts of gut bacteria and fungi being leaked out of the gut. Leaky Gut  Syndrome is another condition that’s largely unrecognized in the medical field, yet there is a growing body of research supporting its existence. What isn’t well-researched or conclusive, though, is whether or not Candida overgrowth is responsible for a leaky gut.

The symptoms of leaky gut and Inflammatory Bowel Syndrome (IBS) are often talked about in tandem, since they both relate to the inflammatory damage of intestinal wal. The last study to look at the correlation between Candida overgrowth and IBS symptoms was performed in 1992 and found no correlative evidence (though there are doubts about the quality of the methods used in this study). All in all, you’re much more likely to suffer from a leaky gut as a result of Candida overgrowth than you are to have Candida albicans floating through your blood, but there’s plenty more research to be done.

Furthermore, a study in mice found that those who were fed food that contained Candida albicans for 14 days showed no signs of organ infection with Candida, and Nystatin, an antifungal often prescribed for chronic candidiasis showed no more reduction of symptoms than a placebo. If consuming the bacteria itself doesn’t raise Candida levels, and the prescribed antifungals don’t really work, the Anti-Candida regimen starts to seem more questionable.

Honestly, there’s fairly strong evidence against the existence of chronic candidiasis. But if that’s the case, why are so many people finding success after “treating” it? Well, Candida interacts with other yeasts and bacteria in many infectious conditions, which could influence gut microorganisms. In that case, the overall gut microbiota would be evolving under conditions of poor gut health, not necessarily just Candida taking over. If Candida is out of control, it’s unlikely that the millions of other microbial organisms in your gut are just laying low to let one species take over. It seems to me that Candida is taking most of the blame for gastrointestinal upset, when fingers should be pointed at many more aspects of the gut flora and overall gut health.

image: Pexels

As for the promise of feeling way better after switching to the Anti-Candida Diet? Well, if you’re cutting out junk food, refined grains, all sugars, alcohol, and caffeine, and replacing them with vegetables, high quality protein sources, healthy fats, probiotics, and lots of water – my guess is that you’d feel better, whether the diet is ridding your body of Candida or not.

The Final Word on Candida Overgrowth and the Candida Diet

Candida overgrowth, or candidiasis, is definitely a real health issue. You can also be assured that Candida lives in your gut, there’s no debate about that. What is debatable is whether or not candidiasis extends past clinically recognized yeast infections, oral thrush, and life-threatening candidemia to cause headaches, brain fog, and general fatigue by taking over and crowding out other bacteria your gut. Here’s what I’ll say: it’s not likely.

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The gut microbiota is a complicated balancing act that may get thrown out of balance at times, but isn’t necessarily taken over by one single strain of bacteria. And it definitely doesn’t get to the point where you have fungi spilling out into your bloodstream, unless you’re seriously ill.

If you feel better after switching to the Anti-Candida diet, I’d chalk it up to the fact that you’re eating real foods that are minimally processed and cutting out a lot of junk from your diet, not necessarily that you’re flushing out throngs of Candida.

Have you ever tried the Candida Diet? What results did you see? Let me know in the comments below!

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  1. So interesting! I usually have my clients avoid gluten free grains as well but this is spot on! I find a lot of my clients have a bigger issue with yeast than gluten!

    1. Hi Kelli, thanks so much for reading! You’re right, gluten gets a bad rap when it could be yeast or other allergies. I just wrote a piece for Washington Post about that very topic (coming soon!)

  2. Great post. One of the best assessments of this issue that I’ve read in fact. I was told I had candida overgrowth and went on the diet as well as an anti fungal. My symptoms didn’t improve. Months later I found out my extreme fatigue was actually due to iron deficiency anemia. I began treatment for that and symptoms resolved. I think health professionals can sometimes miss the obvious when they are looking at these symptoms and that’s unfortunate because often the science is lacking or contractictory.

    1. Thanks so much for sharing your experience, Cheryl. I totally agree that without ruling out other causes for fatigue or not feeling well, the “candida overgrowth” explanation could be a problem. Glad to hear you figured out you had anemia and you’re feeling better.

      And thank you for the kind words about the article 🙂

  3. mandyenright says:

    This is so helpful. I’ve had a lot of clients and friends coming to me lately who was tested by “holistic health practitioners” and told they now have to pay a lot of money to go on their program to help rid the candida. While I don’t doubt the existence of candida, I think there is a lot more research to be done on the best dietary approach towards this. But yes, cutting out the junk is a great place to start.

  4. Interesting perspective. So what about those people who already eat a diet full of whole foods, nothing processed, no junk but don’t feel any better until they start anti fungal medication?