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Do you have digestive disorders? Read the signs and symptoms here.
The Path of Yeast Resistance:
Why Maintaining a healthy Bacterial Balance is the Key to Overcoming Annoying Yeast Infections
Experts estimate that three of four women are afflicted with yeast infections at least once during their lives, and half of all women endure them on a recurrent basis. The solution to yeast overgrowth, however, does not have to be complicated. Small revisions in lifestyle, supplements and diet can increase your body's ability to resist this condition.
When we talk about yeast overgrowth, whether it be a systemic yeast issue leading to diaper rash or athlete's foot, or a digestive tract issue causing ailments such as thrush, what we are referring to is an imbalance of our body's healthy flora or beneficial bacteria. Whether we'd like to believe it or not, our bodies play host to trillions of microscopic bacteria and other microbes. The majority of these live in the digestive tract, but they are found in all orifices, from the sinus to the belly button. Yeast thrive in the alkaline portions of our digestive system, and they are present in just about everyone. In a healthy body they live in small numbers, typically in the small intestine, but are also found in our mucous membranes. One of these microscopic yeast organisms is called Candida albicans, and it has gained notoriety as of late. In a healthy digestive system, Candida lives in a ratio of approximately one Candida cell for every million bacteria. When the number of yeast cells grows out of the 1:1,000,000 ratio, a person is said to have a flora or yeast imbalance.
Your body's immune system and the beneficial bacteria that live in your intestinal tract are designed to keep Candida and other pathogens harmlessly in check. There are two main types of beneficial bacteria or probiotics found in our digestive system: Lactobacillus is the primary probiotic of the small intestine, and Bifidobacterium is the primary probiotic in the large intestine. The more we have of these probiotics, the less space and food is available for harmful bacteria and yeast.
Due to many factors, yeast can proliferate and cause health issues. Many times the problem can be traced back to the things we put in our body or expose ourselves to, including a stressful lifestyle. Some of the common causes of flora imbalance are repeated antibiotic use, birth control pills and cortisone drugs, and the overconsumption of sugar and refined carbohydrates. Many women experience a flora imbalance during PMS or pregnancy due to fluctuations in hormone levels.
According to Trent Nichols, MD, an internist, nutritionist and gastroenterologist who practices at the Center for Nutrition and Digestive Disorders in Hanover, Pennsylvania, "There are lots of reasons people get Candida [overgrowth]: Antibiotic overuse can cause an imbalance of flora, flora dysbiosis, when you start getting a lot of pathological microorganisms. Also when your immunity is down or you have a viral infection you are more likely to have Candida [overgrowth]." It just makes sense that a round of antibiotics, which kills off beneficial bacteria in your digestive tract, can create an environment that allows Candida to thrive: With little or no bacteria to compete with, yeasts and fungi take the opportunity to reproduce and fill in the abandoned ecological niche.
Dr. Nichols, author of the book Optimal Digestive Health, points out, "The mercury from amalgam fillings is [also] suspect." It is believed that the presence of this heavy metal in dental fillings is lethal to the friendly bacteria that help keep Candida under control. So individuals with mercury fillings are encouraged to evaluate this risk. Dr. Nichols notes that hormone supplementation as well as the use of prednisone (a steroid) and other medications that suppress immunity can also increase your risk of developing a yeast infection.
When the fungal levels in our bodies increase, we may experience symptoms such as nail fungus, vaginal yeast overgrowth, itchy skin, gas, bloating, and sugar and carbohydrate cravings. Sufferers often describe a feeling of being worn out and fatigued. This is because when yeast overgrows in the body, it consumes the foods we eat for its own fuel and growth. As Candida overgrows, also it releases toxic substances that make you feel run down and can make your thoughts seem foggy. The multiplying colonies of yeast release acids that may render your internal environment more acidic. This increase in acidity often allows other harmful microorganisms to survive in the intestines, releasing more toxins and in turn compromising the body's health even further.
Candida also produces beta alanine, a compound that interferes with the kidneys' reabsorption of the amino acid taurine. Interference with taurine metabolism can lead to lowered levels of magnesium and potassium, crucial electrolytes that maintain circulation and blood pressure. Tampering with the taurine supply can also disrupt the liver's detoxification functions. The end result: your immunity drops, leaving you more vulnerable to secondary infections. You may also suffer vaginitis, gas and bloating, heartburn, decreased libido and a host of other problems associated with fungal invasion. Although a simple case of thrush in the mouth seems harmless, this same organism, if allowed to grow uncontrollably, can even threaten the life of someone with a compromised immune system.
Managing Your Microbial Populations
Most experts agree that diagnosing yeast overgrowth is best performed by a medical professional who can thoroughly analyze your medical history. A series of questions focusing on yeast-related problems is usually part of this process. Conventional doctors treat yeast infections with anti-fungal medicines such as Nizoral, Nystatin and Diflucan. According to Florida-based gastroenterologist Leonard Smith, "Allopathic medicine does a great job with anti-fungals on the seriously ill. However, when patients have low-grade recurrent Candida infections, they are treated with appropriate anti-fungal agents, but then they are offered nothing else to prevent recurrence." While these anti-fungal drugs can effectively kill the Candida organism, unless you alter the conditions that resulted in the overgrowth, the yeast will usually come right back. In addition, when you take these drugs, the body may eliminate them before they reach the colon, allowing Candida in the lower part of your digestive tract to survive.
Bring Back the Good Bacteria
The best way to boost your chances of avoiding yeast overgrowth is to alter your diet and use supplements that support your body in its anti-Candida efforts. Dr. Nichols notes that taking probiotic supplements, containing beneficial bacteria that maintain the health of the digestive tract, is crucial to helping the body rid itself of Candida. "Probiotics help restore optimal digestive health," he says. "One of the first things you need to do is bring back beneficial bacteria."
Eliminating sugar and foods with added sugar also helps your body fight back against yeast infections. Candida thrives on sugar and the immune system may be weakened when you consume too many simple carbohydrates. According to Jonathan Kalman, ND, who practices in San Diego, "A refined diet makes Candida worse. You have to be careful not to eat too many sweets."
Adds Dr. Nichols, "On an anti-Candida diet, you should stick to low-glycemic vegetables (vegetables low in sugar). Limit your fruits, use fewer sweeteners and fruit juices." Dr. Kalman also warns that when you are ìin an acute stage of Candida, you should avoid alcoholic beverages, cheeses, dried fruits and peanuts. Taking enzymes between meals can help break down Candida by attacking its cell walls. On an empty stomach right before bed, take a supplement that contains protease, cellulase, hemicellulase, lysozyme, amylase, lipase, invertase, malt diastase and lactase. Taking plant-based enzyme supplements before and after your meals supports your digestive system. These include protease, lipase, cellulase and amylase. If your stomach acid is low, your supplement should include hydrochloric acid (HCl).
Herbs that ease digestion such as marshmallow and ginger should also be taken with meals. Using a supplement containing fish, flax and borage oils with lipase (an enzyme that aids fat absorption) can boost the body's defenses against yeast and other invasions. Fish oil and other beneficial fats have been shown to help the body balance inflammation. To help the digestive tract regenerate, take L-glutamine with N-acetyl D-glucosamine (NAG) and gamma oryzanol once or twice a day between meals. Fiber supplements that combine flax, along with fructooligosaccharide (which provides nutrition for beneficial intestinal flora), also help the intestines repair themselves.
Yeast overgrowth is often a sign that your immune system needs help. Consequently, using a daily vitamin or whole food multinutrient product that supplies B vitamins and other micronutrients supports immunity. In addition, supplementary antioxidants, including vitamin C, vitamin A, zinc and selenium, also support immune function.