Did you know that there is more bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract than there are cells in the whole of the human body? Quite a staggering statistic and one that certainly highlights the importance of making sure that there is a healthy balance between the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria that populate this area of the body.
Candida, is a yeast that is normally a harmless part of the intestinal flora. However symptoms can arise when an overgrowth of this fungus occurs. Candida can break down the wall of the intestine and penetrate the blood stream which releases toxins into the body and can potentially cause issues around the whole body – from leaky gut to depression.
What is Candida?
The term Candida usually refers to the species known as Candida albicans. This is a single-celled yeast that, in the majority of cases, is a harmless part of our intestinal flora. Candida albicans is present in approximately 80% of the human population and symptoms can arise when a overgrowth of this fungus occurs.
Candida is somewhat of an enigma when it comes to a diagnosis because it affects each person differently and often in a different area of the body. For this reason it is often a condition that is misdiagnosed which can lead on to further problems.
Common forms of Candida
Those at risk of Candida
Candida overgrowth occurs when the normal immune system defences are weakened by illness or poor diet. For example, diets that are high in refined carbohydrates and sugars and low in essential micro-nutrients.
Stress is considered a further contributory factor, in particular chronic stress which is known to negatively impact the immune system. In addition, chronic stress is frequently accompanied by poor diet and this, combined with inadequate good bacteria, provides Candida with the ideal environment to thrive.
Factors that can contribute to Candida overgrowth include:
Common signs and symptoms of Candida overgrowth:
Candida has also been quite heavily linked to the development of autoimmune diseases such as Rheumatoid arthritis, Ulcerative colitis, Lupus etc.
Clearly not everyone is troubled by Candida overgrowth; and prevention is possible by maintaining good general health and a strong immune system, and also reducing stress where possible and eating a healthy diet high in fibre in order to encourage the growth of good bacteria.
Adequate stomach acid is also important. Low levels of hydrochloric acid are frequently discovered in people who frequently and repeatedly suffer from Candida and other bacterial infections. Correcting low levels of hydrochloric acid, if present, is an important part of any programme to reduce the risk of reoccurrence.
Maintaining the balance
As with digestive health in general, the key to keeping Candida albicans in the ‘minority’ is maintaining a healthy balance of friendly bacteria. The consumption of fermented foods, including plain natural yoghurt, kefir, sauerkraut and kombucha will assist in maintaining a healthier digestive tract. Eating foods rich in prebiotic fibres is also important – vegetables including onions, leeks, chicory, Jerusalem artichokes and dark leafy greens.
The problem with Candida overgrowth is that often when the treatment stops the infection reoccurs because the underlying causes – that is imbalanced gut flora and need for immune support – have not been addressed.
Candida is part of the normal gut flora so it may not be possible to remove it; the aim is to reduce any overgrowth and rebalance the gut flora.
Caprylic Acid – natural dietary fatty acid which assists in the maintenance of a normal intestinal micro-flora. Studies have indicated that dietary caprylic acid helps to inhibit the growth of Candida albicans and other opportunistic fungi in both the small and large intestines. Coconut oil contains caprylic acid. Choose Extra Virgin Organic coconut oil. For cases of oral thrush it can be allowed to melt in the mouth and then swilled around and spat out. Eat some as well – coconut oil is nice added to smoothies or stirred into porridge once cooked.
Garlic – One of the best known foods associated with having anti-fungal properties with research that dates back to 1936 – including that garlic can help with the removal of pathogens such as Candia. It should be consumed fresh, raw or as a good-quality supplement.
Oregano – A herb, which has been shown to possess a broad spectrum of anti-microbial activity, used to inhibit the growth various food-spoiling fungi and yeast organisms, as well as demonstrating additional anti-fungal activity against non-pathogenic yeast.
Grapefruit Seed Extract – Often referred to as citricidal, has a long history as a cleansing agent. Research supports its use in combating a variety of common infectious agents, evidencing antibacterial activity against a number of gram-positive and negative organisms.
Green Tea Extract – Green tea is a natural source of catechins, considered to provide anti-microbial properties against oral, intestinal and food-borne bacteria. Research points to Green tea as a source of anti-fungal activity against candida species.
Onions, bay, thyme, cloves, and cinnamon have also demonstrated anti-fungal properties.
We have all been there: eaten too much, drank too much and done practically no exercise over Christmas.
Hopefully you took some of my pre-Christmas tips on board and managed the excess of food and drink better than other years.
Over the past week you will have seen numerous articles in the media about "detoxing your body" and how to "cleanse" your system to repair the damage of the Christmas madness.
"Detox" and "juice diets" seem to becoming more and more common with the list of suggested benefits almost limitless. Sadly, however, the health benefits of "doing a detox" are exaggerated and not supported by science.
For example, the rapid weight loss often reported as one of the main benefits occurs largely from a loss of water weight and carbohydrate stores, but importantly, almost no body fat is lost. The reality is that this new "weight loss" is usually replaced within a couple of days of returning to regular eating.
Despite the benefits of detox diets being exaggerated, a short-term detox is unlikely to do you any harm, so, if you feel better for doing it, there is no reason to stop.
The reality is that "detox" and "cleanse" diets are just that: short-term approaches.
When setting new targets this January aim to do something that is sustainable for you. We have all heard the statistics about how people fall off their "diet" and are back to bad habits by the end of January, and that is exactly what you want to avoid.
Instead, think about it as lifestyle choices rather than a diet, so let's look at a sensible and sustainable approach to your health goals this new year.
THE DOWNSIDE OF CHRISTMAS
What have you done to yourself? Besides the increase in body fat, there are other potential health implications of over-consumption of alcohol, processed foods, pies, cakes and other unhealthy treats. Look at this list: energy fluctuations, fatigue, moodiness, reduced metabolic rate, increased stress hormones, increased triglyceride (fats in blood) levels, increased insulin resistance and increased VLDL cholesterol levels (bad cholesterol).
Additionally, if you haven't been exercising, the enzymes in muscles that burn fats as a source of energy are lowered, which means you are more likely to store body fat.
If you have partied particularly hard this Christmas, you may have also done some damage to your liver. Drinking excessively results in inflammatory responses and production of molecules known as free radicals, which results in liver cell damage causing a sort of scarring.
It doesn't stop there, in relation to excessive food intake something called "fatty liver" can occur if your Christmas binge has lasted weeks rather than days.
Fatty liver can occur when we eat to excess and compound this with excess alcohol intake -- the liver struggles to process fats efficiently and instead stores them as fat in the liver.
Thankfully, your liver can repair itself with the right approach and many of the other adverse health effects can also be put right with sustained healthy eating and regular exercise.
WHERE TO START -- YOUR MINDSET!
Good nutrition can only be accomplished by consistently applying the right dietary habits.
The most important aspects in approaching your dietary "reset" is to be doing it for the right reasons and being consistent.
Doing something as a token gesture as a short-term attempt of being healthy will offer little benefit to you in the long-term. Make a plan to make the process of eating healthy easier and set some realistic targets.
Simple targets like drinking green tea twice per day, eating three portions of green vegetables per day, not eating late in the evening and so forth can work well. Other practical suggestions include designing a food shopping list specific to you, buying a healthy recipe book, and setting some weekly exercise targets.
RESETTING YOUR DIETARY HABITS
What should you do to "fix" or "reset" your diet anytime you feel like you have gone off track? Below are some basic principles you can use to get back on:
CUTTING BACK ON YOUR CARBS
Over the past few weeks, you are likely to have consumed huge amounts of carbohydrate foods, both good and bad.
In the absence of regular exercise, this will mean that your carbohydrate stores (glycogen) will be saturated, which is partly responsible for a state of insulin resistance that predisposes you to then store energy as fat.
In order to restore insulin sensitivity by reducing these energy stores, you can deplete them by a combination of moderate-to-high intensity exercise and a reduction in your intake of carbohydrates.
Aim to consume more foods with lower carbohydrate content such as fresh berries, leafy green vegetables, nuts and seeds.
Once you are happy with your progress and feel you are achieving your body composition and fitness goals, you can re-introduce some slow-digesting carbohydrate foods on intense training days.
TAKING A HOLISTIC APPROACH
If you are looking to really get back on track then devise a clear plan based around your personal nutritional needs. Basing your food choices around minimally processed, whole and natural foods will go a long way to making you feel and look better.
Your mind: Do you eat oily fish? It has repeatedly been shown to benefit the brain in terms of mood and function, so aim to consume some oily fish three times per week. If you struggle to eat oily fish, then it is worth considering taking an omega-3 oil supplement.
Your gut: With the increasing evidence regarding the health benefits of probiotics including better immune function and reduced incidence of respiratory illness and gastrointestinal infections, a course of probiotics may be a worthwhile strategy for two weeks in order to re-establish the healthy bacteria population in your gut.
Your general health: Every time that you put something in your mouth, it has the potential to have a positive or negative impact on your body. Aim for these responses to be predominantly positive by eating the right foods.
Sleep: Get back into a regular sleep pattern, ie start going to bed and getting up at the same time each day. More and more research is showing the benefits of sufficient sleep like improved immune function, reduced stress hormones, better mood and better appetite control.
Your approach and mindset to your post-Christmas nutrition is as important as the foods you decide to eat.
Set realistic goals that you can stick to in the long-term rather than trying to do extreme short-term fads that offer limited healthy benefits.
Eating foods that are nutrient- and fibre-rich like fresh vegetables and fruits must always be at the core of each of your meals. If you make predominantly good food choices, you never need to try the short-term approach because your body will be in a constant cycle of "detox" and repair.
Given the right tools, our bodies are extremely capable of removing toxins, fighting off infections and sustaining good health, so what we need to do is limit the amount of damage we do by eating processed foods and support it by eating the right foods that provide benefits in the long-term.