The Candida sugar detox (aka. the anti-candida diet) is definitely not new, but it has been popping up on my news feed for quite some time. Apparently it became super big in the ‘90s after it was first introduced by Dr. William Crook’s 1986 book, The Yeast Connection. With such a long legacy, I figured there surely was something there. I thought it would be best to take a good look.
What is Candida?
As gross as it sounds, candida is a type of yeast. Ladies, have you ever had a yeast infection? Yep. That’s candida. It’s also the culprit of thrush (aka. oropharyngeal candidiasis), which I can imagine is also not fun times. These organisms are naturally part of our gastrointestinal tract, but certain hormonal imbalances or immunodeficiency (in the case of something like AIDS, for example) can cause the organism to opportunistically grow. That’s when it becomes bad news bears.
What Does Candida Overgrowth Do?
This is a contested area that we aren’t totally sure about based on current research (see more on that below). However, naturopaths, holistic nutritionists and various online “expert” sites claim any or all of the following symptoms are linked to a candida overgrowth.
Acid reflux, bloating, flatulence, nausea, diarrhea, constipation, stomach cramps, indigestion, burping after meals, Mucus in stool, hemorrhoids, itching anus, acne, cysts, hives, night sweats, psoriasis, eczema, dermatitis, fungal infections of the nails & skin, athlete’s foot, body odor, Thrush (white coating on tongue), swollen lower lip, halitosis, metallic taste in mouth, bad breath, canker sores, bleeding gums, cracked tongue, persistent cough, mucus in throat, sore throat, sinus congestion, chronic post-nasal drip, flu-like symptoms, hay fever symptoms, sinusitis, asthma, eye pain, itchy eyes, sensitivity to light, blurred vision, bags under eyes, ringing in the ears, ear infections, recurring yeast infections, recurring UTI’s (urinary tract infections), cystitis (inflammation of the bladder), PMS & menstrual irregularities, fungal rash, frequent colds and flu, allergies, sensitivities to food, fragrances and chemicals, inability to lose weight, water retention, weight loss, headaches, heart palpitations, chronic body pain and/or joint pains, muscle aches and stiffness.
Yikes, that sugar is a generous sized list…feel free to take a second to catch you breath there.
The truth is, if you go to Google and type in Candida + [insert ANY symptom you have], you’ll probably find hundreds of articles confirming that, yes! Your symptom is indeed linked to Candida and yes! A candida sugar detox diet is the key to recovery. It’s the same with diets like Gluten Free. Everyone thinks that every malady must be linked to that one single problem.
This certainly doesn’t mean that any of those symptoms are illegitimate. It just means that it’s easy to immediately assume your problem is candida and stop asking other pertinent questions and that may possibly become a really huge problem. Let’s ask more questions then.
What Causes Candida Overgrowth?
There are a lot of theories on why or how candida grows and populates. According to various “expert” blogs and holistic nutritionists on the web, candida hypersensitivity (that’s the term Dr. Crook has coined) is caused by a diet rich in sugar, being on the birth control pill, mercury tooth fillings, diabetes, mold and yeast containing products (aka. beer, or cheese), antibiotics, and chlorine and fluoride from tap water. I can’t vouch for all of those claims, but research has linked vaginal candida infections (aka. yeast infections) to uncontrolled diabetes, antibiotic use, and high-estrogen oral contraceptives. That’s just specific to yeast infections, though. Unfortunately, to my knowledge, there are no high quality human studies examining the cause and effect relationship of diabetes, antibiotics, oral contraceptives on generalized “candida hypersensitivity”.
How is Candida Overgrowth detected?
Naturopaths suggest that candida can be detected using a “spittle test”. That’s a cute name for gracefully spitting into a cup of water and observing it every 20 minutes for 1 hour. Apparently, they deem it to be positive for Candida if they see “strings” coming down from the top, cloudy saliva at the bottom of the glass and opaque specks of saliva suspended in the water. Sounds… scientific?
Other “experts” suggest an Anti-Candida Antibodies test to look for elevated immunoglobins like IgG, IgA, and IgM antibodies but these tests are notorious for creating false positives and negatives. Research suggests that it’s almost impossible to diagnose candida overgrowth through lab tests looking at immune response since candida can downregulate the immune system and create an “immunologic tolerance”.
In the traditional health care system, your physician can assess if you have thrush or a yeast infection by assessing your symptoms or history in addition to taking a sample for analysis, such as a smear test, stool sample or even an endoscopic biopsy. Unfortunately, a fungal culture will not always be indicative of an infection since candida is normally found in our bodies. In other words, objective symptoms may be the best evidence that we really have.
PROPOSED CANDIDA TREATMENTS
Candida Sugar Detox
So what are we to do about this potential candida overgrowth in our gut? According to anti-candida diet supporters, sugar “feeds” yeast, so removing sugar from the diet will help to “starve” yeast off of its favourite food.
There are various iterations of this candida sugar detox diet so let’s look at each broad category of the anti-candida diet very briefly, keeping in mind that even these are totally adapted depending on who you speak to.
Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD)
The Specific Carbohydrate Diet is could be counted as a take on a candida sugar detox, but it’s not a low-carbohydrate diet. It allows monosaccharides (simple sugars), proteins, fats, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and a high ratio of amylose (linear chain carbohydrates) to amylopectin (branch chain carbohydrates). Interestingly, complex carbs (the kind we normally associate with good health because they’re higher in fibre) are not allowed. The theory is that complex carbs supposedly feeds harmful bacteria in our gut, whereas simple sugars are readily absorbed through the intestinal wall. Foods are introduced in stages on this diet, beginning with the most easily digested foods. Interestingly, there have been some very early studies that have shown some potential promise for the Specific Carbohydrate Diet on symptoms of IBS and pediatric Crohns. Unfortunately, the evidence is still somewhat conflicting and inconclusive, and the researchers themselves acknowledge that further research is needed to confirm these associations.
Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS)
The Gut and Psychology Syndrome diet is a Candida sugar detox based on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet and also introduces foods in stages. Stage 1 is very restrictive and only allows room temperature water, homemade stocks/soups, and ginger tea. So you’re basically starving yourself. Awesome. Moving on to stage two, organic raw egg yolks, meat, vegetable stews and probiotic foods like yogurt get introduced. Sounds… um…not so fun. At this point, I haven’t found any research studies supporting the use of GAPS. And if that doesn’t set off enough red flags, just note that the author of this diet believes that vaccines may cause diabetes and celiac disease … among other interesting things. OK. Next.
If you thought that GAPS diet sucked, just wait until you read this. Quite simply, the full blown anti-candida diet is an extremely low sugar diet. It’s the mother of all Candida Sugar Detox diets. You aren’t allowed to eat any foods deemed high in sugar – natural or otherwise. That means honey, maple syrup, soft drinks, wheat, rye, oats, rice, corn, spelt, carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, peas, parsnips, all fruit (and the list goes on) are to be excluded.
Now, we all know soft drinks are probably not great for us, but we also know that moderation is key to living a healthy lifestyle. And while I am not against a recommendation to limit soft drinks, lumping them into a category of DO NOT EAT FOODS along with fruits and other wholesome whole grains just does-not-make-sense.
To vilify sugar is not going to help – in fact, my concern is that such a strict imposition will only lead to a massive sugar OD (I’ve written about sugar binges here). Plus, a lot of these off-limit foods on your Candida sugar detox pack amazing antioxidants, fibre, phytochemicals, vitamins and minerals. So even if the anti-candida diet was helping you “starve off” Candida (and more on that below), we would also be starving ourselves of important nutrients and pleasure.
Does it a Candida Sugar Detox or Anti- Candida Diet Work?
Well, the research isn’t clear. In a human study on healthy adults, 110g of refined carbohydrates (aka. sugar) were added to subjects diets but they found it had “limited influence on Candida colonization”. In another 24-week randomized intervention, groups that were fed a low sugar, low yeast diet did not report better outcomes pertaining to quality of life and chronic fatigue than the group assigned to the general healthy eating dietary intervention. This is not to say that sugar isn’t food for yeast, but that the relationship of carbohydrate intake in our bodies cannot simply be reduced to “yeast eats sugar so sugar causes or enhances the growth of a bad gut bacteria”.
If that wasn’t reason enough not to go NO-carb, research suggests that Candida bacteria may eat more than just sugar. It may be able to live solely off long-chain fatty acids such as beef tallow and soybean oil, so if you’re loading up on fats to compensate for the low carb diet, you may be doing more harm than good.
Other Anti-Candida Diet Restrictions
If your life wasn’t going to be miserable enough without carbs, a lot of anti-candida diet supporters also restrict coffee, pork, vinegar (oh, but of course, unfiltered apple cider is okay), beans, black and green teas, mushrooms, cashews, peanuts, pistachios, dairy, and all fish except wild salmon and sardines.
Their rationale for avoiding vinegar is because they claim it’s fermented by yeast, but in reality, vinegar is made by a bacterium (acetobacte) that produces acetic acid from alcohol. Pork is not allowed due to retroviruses and beans are too hard to digest. Caffeine stresses the immune system and the nuts apparently contain a high amount of mold. Does any of this sound suspect to you? To my knowledge there’s not any high quality peer reviewed studies to confirm any of these theories.
Another element of the anti-candida diet is taking probiotics. Probiotics are recommended so that the gut microflora may be repopulated with good bacteria and in turn, help boost immunity. We have been talking about the benefits of probiotics on our gut flora for quite some time, discussing the implications for everything from immunity to mental health, but do they actually work for candida?
A large literature review looked at the evidence of probiotics for vaginal yeast infections and found the findings contradictory and inconclusive. While some studies found a small decrease in candida infection reoccurrence with probiotics, others found no changes at all.
A systematic review of the literature concluded that while the research looked promising (ie. that probiotics may help), there wasn’t enough high quality evidence for or against the use of probiotics for yeast infections.
A recent 2014 meta analysis of randomized control trials (RCTs) on the use of probiotics for yeast infections found improvements in infection cure rate regardless of whether they were used alone, with antibiotics, or administered orally or intravaginally. Still, they also called for more and larger, better designed RCTs.
And finally, a more recent RCT gave women with yeast infections a probiotic supplement or a placebo, and found that even 6 weeks after being on probiotics, the women taking the supplement had more balanced microflora.
While we definitely still need more research before we can strongly suggest that everyone needs to invest big dollars into daily supplements, probiotics do seem to have some gut-health benefits. The good news is you don’t need to get probiotics from a pill! There are probiotics in a wide range of fermented foods like kimchi, kombucha, sour cream, sauerkraut, miso, yogurt, and pickles and I’ve rounded up a bunch of recipes for getting your daily fix here.
Anti-fungal medications have been used with success by medical professionals in the treatment and prevention of at-risk groups for systemic candidiasis. Having said that, there was a 32-week randomized, double-blind cross-over study that reported no difference between treatment and placebo groups when given nystatin (an antifungal) to women with proposed candida hypersensitivity.
Alternatively, a lot of natural practitioners recommend coconut oil as their anti-fungal of choice because the oil naturally contains decanoic and dodecanoic acid, which may have antifungal properties. In a mice study, coconut oil showed promise at reducing candida overgrowth in the gut but when extrapolated to the amount required in a normal human diet, you would have to consume 3 1/2 tablespoons/day. That’s an extra 410 calories right there! Clearly further research is obviously needed in this area, but at least we have an option that doesn’t require a restrictive Candida Sugar Detox.
Who Recommends The Anti-Candida Diet
There are opinions on the Candida sugar detox or the Anti-Candida diet from every corner of the web – some more credible than others. Lisa Richards at the Candidadiet.com does not have any qualifications listed on her website, nor can any information be found on the author when doing a Google search. There is also Linda Allen at yeastinfectionnomore.com. She is a certified nutritionist, an independent medical researcher and a natural health consultant. There is also Eric Bakker, a Naturopathic Doctor at www.Candidacrusher.com. Eric’s website is the most transparent of the three mentioned, but like the others, is filled with marketing ploys to get you to buy their products to supposedly cure candida. That’s where I want you to be extra weary. It’s one thing to recommend a bogus diet (whatever the research may say), but it’s another to use it as a way to sell non-evidence based products.
I’m not going to tell you whether or not candida hypersensitivity is real or not, or whether a Candida sugar detox will cure it all. Why? Because I am waiting for the high quality evidence to tell ME those answers, and so far, I haven’t seen anything super clear.
What I can say at this point are the following take-aways that I feel strongly are rooted in high quality research.
- If you suspect you may be suffering from candida overgrowth, consult your doctor to discuss your symptoms and options. Do not rely on internet “expert” blogs (not even mine!) to tell you what your symptoms mean, or what you should do about them.
- Probiotics can benefit our gut flora regardless of whether or not you have candida overgrowth. Enjoy yogurt, miso, sauerkraut, and kimchi as part of your regular diet.
- Carbohydrates are sources of fibre which helps lower cholesterol, weight management, and bowel function – don’t cut out carbs completely from your diet.
- Be wary of snake-oil salesman. If a diet website has something to sell – always be wary!
Have you had any experience on the candida diet? Have you tried a candida sugar detox? I would love to hear your opinions and experiences in the comments below! Don’t forget to share with friends on social media if you feel this article will be helpful!
Research contribution by RD2B Shane Kwong
Abbey Sharp is a Registered Dietitian, an avid food writer and blogger, a cookbook author and the founder of Abbey’s Kitchen Inc.