COMMON SENSE HEALTH
Maureen McDonnell, RN
I know what you’re thinking: why am I asking such a question? No one wants to talk or think about yeast! But I’m not just referring to vaginal yeast infections or the “fungus among us” in our toenails, I’m talking about the overgrowth of yeast that can take place throughout our bodies and cause or contribute to symptoms such as fatigue, bloating, poor digestion, headaches, foggy thinking, poor concentration, mood swings, irritable bowel syndrome, weakened immunity, and depression.
For the most part, yeast is considered a natural part of human flora and they live in harmony with our bodies. However, when we experience unfavorable conditions and the normal defenses of our immune system are not functioning properly, these opportunistic organisms tend to “overgrow” or proliferate, and that is when they can cause problems.
It’s true that yeast organisms (also called Candida) can and do cause uncomfortable vaginal infections and fungal toes, but they can also be a culprit in a whole host of symptoms and chronic ailments. In these modern times with our high stress level, hormone imbalances, overuse of antibiotics, and excessive consumption of sugar-laden and processed food, yeast overgrowth is a concern of many in the natural or integrative health community.
I chose to write about this subject because, during my 33 years as an RN and health educator, I’ve seen hundreds of people (including children) improve when a yeast overgrowth problem was identified and properly treated.
What is Yeast? Yeast is a family of very small single-cell organisms that have co-evolved with humans. Candida Albicans is the name of one of 70 different species of yeast When a person is in good health it grows actively in the human bowel and is considered part of the normal bowel flora. It also is present in the mouth, throat, intestines and urinary track in small amounts.
What causes an overgrowth? The most common culprit is antibiotics. These don’t just kill the bad bacteria that are causing the infection. Antibiotics also “knock out” friendly organisms (with names like acidophilus and bifidus) that have the role of keeping yeast and other nasty organisms in check. So when these good guys are gone, yeast—well, they start having a party and grow wild.
Why would an overgrowth of yeast cause a problem? When left unchecked, yeast can change from a fungal form to a form that has long root-like components that are able to pierce the walls of the digestive tract. You may have heard this referred to as “leaky gut” or gut permeability1. When this occurs, it allows undigested food and other allergens to enter blood circulation causing an immune response2. The damage to the gut wall often results in poor absorption of nutrients (vitamins and minerals.)
Yeast also creates waste products called Acetaldehyde. Believe it or not, this is the same chemical that causes many of the toxic effects from alcohol. I’ve worked with patients over the years with high yeast levels (especially children) and they can actually appear as if they’ve been drinking (they giggle inappropriately and seem to be in a fog). As a matter of fact, the most common statement I’ve heard from people I’ve helped get their yeast under control is, “I feel like a fog has been lifted.”
Yeast can also slip through weakened spots in the gut lining and migrate to different areas of the body, causing a systemic problem—which weakens the immune system even further.
Where did this notion of yeast overgrowth causing chronic health problems come from?
Most physicians recognize and treat the serious and life-threatening form of yeast overgrowth (such as those that accompany the final stages of AIDS), but many are hesitant to acknowledge that yeast overgrowth can also cause or contribute to less serious, chronic health problems.
In the 1970s, Orion Truss, MD, a graduate of Cornell Medical School, Chief of Cardiology and Assistant Chief of Medicine at the US Air Force Hospital, and an Instructor in Medicine at Cornell, suggested that yeast may be more than a cause of serious life-threatening issues and/or acute problems (Thrush and vaginal infections); he wrote in a series of published articles and in his book, The Missing Diagnosis, that it could also cause, or make worse many chronic health problems.
After reading and learning all he could about Dr. Truss’s work, Billy Crook , MD, a physician from Tennessee, began applying some of these principles. Patients with this problem were started on yeast-free diets, and prescribed Mystatin or other antifungals. He was astounded to see scores of his patients improve. Dr. Billy Crook (who was one of the sweetest southern gentleman you’d ever want to meet) went on to write the book many of us have heard about or read, called The Yeast Connection.
In 1985 Dr. Crook and Dr. Truss established The International Health Foundation to increase credibility for these theories and practices, and to help thousands who identified with this condition get the help they needed. Unfortunately, both of these medical pioneers have passed away. However, Dr. Joseph Mercola, MD, was fascinated with their work and still discusses it on his website and daily newsletter that is read by hundreds of thousands of people worldwide. [ mercola.com ]
Obviously there are many medical conditions that can cause people to experience the symptoms listed below, so that working with a qualified physician to identify and treat the underlying conditions is wise. However, if you have a history of overusing antibiotics, excessive sugar cravings, multiple courses of cortisone, or chronic stress—and after exhaustive testing your doctor is still left scratching his or her head as to why you might have symptoms—you may want to consider investigating candida as a culprit. Should this be the case, a yeast-free diet combined with proper nutrient support and natural and or pharmaceutical anti-fungals can prove quite helpful.
Common Symptoms often associated with yeast overgrowth:
> Difficulty concentrating
> Feeling of being “spaced out”
> Extreme sensitivity to tobacco smoke and chemical fumes
> Cravings for sweets
> Chronic vaginitis or chronic prostatitis
> Anal itching
> Frequent bladder infections
> Burning on urination
> Arthritis, joint pain
> Fibromyalgia muscle aches
> Bad breath
> Migraine headaches
> Eczema and other skin rashes
> Athlete’s foot and or Jock Itch
Common Causes of Yeast Overgrowth
>Repeated doses of broad-spectrum Antibiotics (remember a high percentage of antibiotics we receive indirectly—through those given to livestock via their feed)
> Diets rich in carbohydrates (yeasty breads, alcoholic beverages)
> Birth control pills: the theory here (and it is only a theory) is that continual unnatural stimulation of hormonal system leads to imbalances in GI tract
What is a yeast-free Diet?
This is not an extensive list, but rather a short overview to give you a general idea of what dietary changes are necessary on a yeast-free diet. There are plenty of foods that are allowed on a yeast-free diet such as organic vegetables, grass fed organic beef, chicken, fish, turkey, eggs, some fruit and some nuts. Filtered water and lots of it (6-8 glasses per day) is encouraged.
Some foods to avoid on a yeast free diet are: Any food high in sugar (> 4 gms per serving). Moldy foods like leftovers. Fruits that have a moldy skin or are difficult to peel, like grapes, berries, and cantelope. No dried fruit. Avoid any fruit juices and only drink vegetable juices that are fresh made.
Dr, Renee Tocco, the founder of the organization Hope for Autism and a chiropractor in Charleston, suggests these meal ideas.
> Omelet—Egg, cheese, vegetables, natural breakfast meat
> Cottage Cheese and sliced tomatoes
> Rice or hemp protein powder smoothies made with unsweetened coconut milk
> Lunch and Dinner:
> Roll natural lunch meat, veggies and cheese into a large piece of romaine lettuce and dip into natural dressings.
> Hamburger or turkey burger without the bun
> Sauteed meat and veggies stir-fry
The Good News About Yeast:
When you work to control yeast, your symptoms will subside, the fog will lift, and your vitality will return. This involves working with a practitioner who has extensive experience with Candida, making the above dietary changes, being certain to have good daily bowel movements, taking probiotics (friendly bacteria such as Acidophilus and Bifidus), using herbs and other natural and anti-fungal pharmaceuticals.
Maureen McDonnell has been a registered nurse for 33 years (in the fields of: childbirth education, labor and delivery, clinical nutrition, and pediatrics.) She provides private health consultations at her office in Weaverville, NC and can be reached via email for an appointment (MauraHealth@aol.com). Maureen is the former national coordinator of the Defeat Autism Now! Conferences and is the co-founder of children’s green health expos: Saving Our Kids, Healing Our Planet. Her published articles on autism and general health can be found at www.SOKHOP.com. In addition to writing a monthly column Common Sense Approaches to Women’s Health for WNC Woman Magazine, she is the owner of Nutritionist’s Choice multi vitamin: www. NutritionistsChoice.com. Maureen, and her husband H. Hanson have five grandkids and feel blessed to be living in the beautiful mountains of WNC.
The Missing Diagnosis, Orion Truss, MD
The Yeast Connection, William Crook, MD
1.Ventura MT, “Intestinal permeability in patients with adverse reactions to food.” Dig Liver Dis 2006 Oct; 38(10): 732-6
2.Brandtzaeg PE, “Current understanding of gastrointestinal immunoregulation and its relation to food allergy” Ann N Y Acad Sci; 964:13-45, 2002 May