Candida albicans is a common type of yeast that lives naturally on human skin, as well as in the mouth, bowel and vagina. Under normal circumstances, this micro-organism is harmless. It is usually kept under control by protective bacteria in the body, but if these bacteria are destroyed – by prolonged use of some antibiotics, for example – Candida albicans cells can multiply out of control. The benign yeast then changes into an invasive fungus, resulting in candidiasis (also known as ‘thrush’), an infection of the skin and mucous membranes of the body. Typically, candidiasis occurs in the mouth and vagina and on the skin, and is characterized by sore white patches.
According to some naturopaths, candidiasis can damage the intestines and interfere with the absorption of nutrients from a person’s diet. They believe that this causes a wide range of health problems, including chronic fatigue, depression, bloating, diarrhoea, flatulence, aches in the muscles and joints, and skin rashes. However, most doctors now dispute this.
Anti-candidiasis diets usually recommend avoiding refined carbohydrates and all foods that contain sugar, as well as foods containing yeast, mould or fungus, such as bread, mushrooms, grapes, wine, beer, yeast extracts and mould-ripened cheeses. Intake of high-carbohydrate vegetables such as potatoes, corn, carrots and parsnip should be limited because they contain fast-releasing sugars; the increase in available sugar may support yeast growth. Milk and milk products may need to be avoided because they contain sugar in the form of lactose.
Orthodox doctors maintain that there is little scientific proof that a yeast-exclusion diet is of any more benefit than a healthy, balanced diet. Some nutritional therapists also take issue with the idea of giving up yeast, arguing that yeast in itself (or fermented foods such as vinegar and soya sauce) cannot encourage the growth of Candida albicans.
Foods that are believed to have antifungal properties, such as olive oil, garlic and onions, are usually recommended as part of a balanced diet. Yoghurt that has been made with ‘live’ cultures has proved to be an effective cure for yeast infections, and some health experts recommend eating a pot a day to help re-establish normal microflora in the intestines. A supplement of caprylic acid, an anti-fungal agent derived from coconut, may also be recommended. Candidiasis sufferers should consult a qualified nutritionist before embarking on an anti-candidiasis diet.