Candida is a yeast organism that lives in our gut, along with all our other gut bacteria. Usually in healthy people, it is a commensal organism, causing no symptoms of candida, or issues.
While there are no conventional medical trials looking at candida overgrowth in the gut causing a constellation of symptoms of candida, many patients have reported huge improvements in symptoms after being treated with a safe and healthy dietary approach, which cuts out all refined and processed foods, simple sugars and starches.
Candida Symptoms Reported By Patients
Patients treated for symptoms of ‘Candida’ often report a similar constellation of symptoms: systemic symptoms of fatigue and “brain fog”, Gastrointestinal symptoms of constipation/diarrhea, bloating, food ‘sensitivities’ and an absence of an underlying general medical condition to explain their symptoms, as well as improvement in symptoms with the elimination of sugar from the diet.
Symptoms of ‘Candida’ can also be explained through western medical science, however, by the effects of the neurohormones that regulate metabolism, satiety, blood sugar and mood. By understanding concepts of glycemic index, glycemic load, leptin pathways, insulin regulation, cortisol release and serotonin pathways we can explain through science the so-called Candida phenomenon.
No matter what way you choose to understand it, the treatment is the same whether you use western science or blame the problem on Candida. . Modern medicine often can become obsessed with the scientific approach and lose sight of the importance of making people feel better and become healthier, and undervalues the potential of using foods as medicine and of using mind-body techniques such as yoga, to achieve balance within the body.
The Glycemic Index
We will start by a short explanation of the glycemic index. The glycemic index is a well-established way of classifying foods based on their potential to raise blood glucose (blood sugar). High glycemic index diets are typically composed of foods that produce a large rise in blood sugar after a meal and cause large amounts of insulin (the hormone the body produces to lower blood sugar) to get released.
This causes oxidative stress in the body (i.e. pro-inflammatory) and promotes creation of new fat cells. Then, a few hours after a big meal of high GI foods, low blood sugar causes hunger again. [Andrea Cignarella , Rodolfo Paoletti and Andrea Poli. The emerging link between nutrition, inflammation and atherosclerosis. Expert Review of Cardiovascular Therapy. 4.3 (May 2006): p385.] Interestingly, these high glycemic index foods are also the same foods that are supposed to ‘feed candida’ and lead to the cravings attributed to too much Candida in the gut telling our brains to eat these foods.
How The Hormone Leptin Affects Candida
Now, lets throw the leptin regulatory pathways in to the mix to add to the Candida story. Leptin is the neurohormone that regulates appetite, weight and satiety (the feeling of feeling ‘satisfied’ from food) Without leptin hormone, the body has no ability to regulate appetite as well as metabolism and obesity results. Genetic leptin deficiency is rare luckily, but very common is leptin resistance.
As we acquire more fat cells (or adipose cells) the body cells lose their ability to respond to leptin. It is a viscous circle because the more weight gained, the less ability the body has to control appetite and metabolism and that leads to even more weight gain!
In other words, when we eat a high glycemic index diet, we develop cravings as the result of the roller coaster ride our blood glucose goes on, and these ‘quick sugar foods’ get turned into fat, which leads to leptin resistance and more fat cells. Now, with leptin resistance, our body loses the ability to feel satisfied or satiated after a meal, leading to us eating more and also leading to us wanting to reach for those unhealthy foods that will satisfy the increasingly difficult to control and unfulfilled cravings.
Cortisol And Candia
Now throw cortisol into the mix. Cortisol is the stress hormone of the body. Humans were designed to secrete this hormone in times of acute stress (i.e. chased by a saber-toothed tiger). However, in our modern life, there is little acute stress but widespread chronic stress, from our daily lives that consist of sedentary work for at least 8-10 hours a day, poor diet and not enough exercise.
Now, cortisol is being secreted every day under these chronic stress conditions and that cortisol is wreaking havoc on the body. Cortisol causes fat cells to be retained, especially around the middle of the body more so than the arms and legs. It also causes the body to crave sugars, and high glycemic index foods.
Serotonin, Appetite And Cravings
Finally, add the effect of serotonin pathways on appetite and cravings. Serotonin is the body’s ‘happy hormone.’ People who suffer from depression have lower serotonin levels than non-depressed people. Certain foods also increase serotonin levels—mainly carbohydrates but also chocolate. This is why when we are in an emotional slump; often these are the foods that are craved.
So what can you do???
In addition to following an anti-inflammatory and mostly low-glycemic load diet, (Please refer to my post on anti-inflammatory diet–it’s easy to get started!)
It is important to combat the chronic stress and decrease the level of stress hormones in the body by taking the body out of chronic sympathetic nervous system overdrive (the body’s fight or flight mode) and back into the parasympathetic nervous system, the body’s ‘rest and digest’ mode.
Again, you combat the stress response by changing the diet and adding in balanced exercise and stress reduction (Yoga is the perfect way to do both!). Having a balanced life is critical to weight management and maintaining good energy levels–when your life is out of balance, your weight will be too and you will suffer from chronic fatigue and low mood. Regular exercise and relaxation practices are crucial to keeping our serotonin levels up especially in our busy modern lives.
Many times people live such busy lives that they may not even realize they are stressed until they go away for a vacation and feel a deep ‘tiredness’ after they finally let go and relax for the first time in a long while. Finding a mind-body practice you enjoy is an important part of restoring the balance. Yoga, Tai Chi and dance are some examples of mind-body practices. These do not need to be done in a fancy studio–all of those three can also be done at home–as formally or informally, as you like! The key is to DO IT nearly every day, for 30-60 minutes.
Also, many of the hormones involved in hunger and satiety are generated by the diet (by an unhealthy high glycemic index diet!). Following the classic “Candida” diet will start to combat these hormones and restore balance within the body.
Glycemic index is a measure of how fast the food raises the blood sugar after it is eaten. White bread and glucose cause the fastest and most dramatic rises in blood sugar (or blood glucose) levels, so one of them is typically assigned a value of 100, the highest index possible. All other foods are then assigned proportionately lower values, based on how they affect blood sugar in comparison.
Glycemic load takes the concept of glycemic index a step farther. It takes into account not only for how rapidly a food’s carbohydrates are converted to sugar but also the relative amounts of carbohydrate the food contains. Glycemic load is a more accurate way of measuring a foods effect on the blood sugar release than the Glycemic Index
In general, foods with a low glycemic index tend to have a low glycemic load too. However, some foods with a high glycemic index may have a low glycemic load (and can therefore still be considered ‘healthy carbs and not inflammatory). For example, the carbohydrates in watermelon are rapidly converted to sugar, so the water- melon glycemic index is high, at 72. However, because watermelon is primarily made up of water and is relatively low in calories, its glycemic load is relatively low, at a value of 4. A good rule of thumb for these ‘exception’ foods (i.e. that have a low glycemic load even though their glycemic index may be high) is that these foods are usually low calorie items such as fruits and sweeter veggies (not processed snack foods for example, which have high glycemic loads and glycemic indexes!)
Using glycemic load to guide dietary choices has been found to have several benefits. High-load foods lead to blood sugar lows and then general fatigue, a very common problem in North America. When people start to eat a low glycemic load diet, they find their appetite decreases, their food cravings go away and they have more energy than they ever thought possible before changing their diets. They don’t get the extreme sugar lows that stimulate food cravings, overeating, fatigue and decreased immune function. Diets of primarily high glycemic load foods have been associated with an increased risk of obesity and type II diabetes.
Rakel and Rindfleisch. Inflammation: Nutritional, Botanical, and Mind-body Influences. Southern Medical Journal. Volume 98, Number 3, March 2005 303-310
Leptin. Weight management is a complex subject and involves many factors. One of the most important ways the body regulates weight is through the production of a neurohormone called leptin
Without this hormone, the body has no ability to regulate appetite as well as metabolism and obesity results. Genetic leptin deficiency is rare luckily, but very common is leptin resistance. As we acquire more fat cells (or adipose cells) the body cells lose their ability to respond to leptin. It is a viscous circle because the more weight gained, the less ability the body has to control appetite and metabolism and that leads to even more weight gain!