• Jacqui Niehaus

Myth: “The way to treat Candida overgrowth is to starve the yeast by cutting sugar out of your diet"

Updated: 6 days ago



The most common advice I see given to women with Candida overgrowth is to cut all sugar (including most fruits and startchy vegetables) out of their diet. The general idea behind Candida diets is that in order to kill the Candida, you have to starve it. And if Candida feeds on certain forms of sugar and carbohydrates, then cutting carbohydrates out of your diet will do the trick.


However, Candida is part of our natural microflora. The idea we can ‘starve’ out Candida is completely nonsensical. The solution is less about targeting the overgrowth and more about supporting an environment in which yeast is kept in balance. As you'll see in this article, Candida overgrowth is really a symptom of an under-functioning metabolism. Eating in a way that supports optimal thyroid function, and hence raises metabolism should be the primary focus when it comes to treating Candida at the root cause.



Fungi thrive as body temperature drops


Research has found that higher body temperatures help diminish fungal pathogens [1]. Having a body temperature of 37°C/98.6°F is ideal for warding off fungi. A low metabolism, characterized by a low body temperature, puts us in a compromised state that allows for Candida to overgrow.


Many women today are struggling with sub-optimal thyroid function, which results in a lower body temperature. IgA, the immune antibodies which act as a barrier to keep pathogens, bacteria, and Candida from invading your cells, becomes deficient as thyroid levels decline.


A body temperature consistently below 36.6°C/97.8°F throughout the day can indicate low thyroid function and poor metabolism. The high prevalence of sub-optimal thyroid function in woman today is driven by many factors, including high stress lives, nutrient deficiencies, history of over-dieting and restricting calories, over-exercising and exposure to environmental endocrine disruptors.


What happens to candida when you cut sugar from your diet


As I've discussed in a previous post, restricting carbohydrates in your diet suppresses thyroid function by increasing cortisol levels, which blocks the conversion of thyroid hormone in the liver. And as we've seen, suppressed thyroid function creates an environment for Candida to proliferate.


Starving your Candida also makes it more aggressive.


In the 1940s a microbiologist called René Dubos showed that if you starve yeast cells, they become more aggressive and invasive by sending out pseudohyphae (long branches of growth) that sink into the intestinal wall looking for food. This is how it works its way up your digestive tract and becomes problematic. If Candida penetrates the intestinal wall and enters the bloodstream, it becomes increasingly more dangerous. This is supported by further research showing that Candida grows more in low-glucose environments [2], [3].



The link between estrogen dominance and candida overgrowth


There have been many studies that have looked at the effects of Candida on vaginal epithelial cells under the influence of estrogen [4]–[6]. What these studies have shown is that when estrogen is not present, cells have a natural immunity or resistance to candida. When estrogen was introduced, the candida proliferated aggressively and became invasive to the cells. One study, in particular, showed that introducing estrogen resulted in the candida being 8.6 times more invasive [4].


Those with low metabolism often have difficulty detoxing excess estrogen from the liver, putting them at an increased risk for Candida overgrowth.


Unregulated, excess Iron feeds pathogens like candida


Candida requires iron to sustain hyphal growth and proliferation [7]. Many of us have excess iron in our bodies due to factors such as fortified foods, multivitamins, birth control use, and deficiency in nutrients needed to regulate iron metabolism like copper and retinol.

High levels of stress on the body also interfere with the ability to recycle iron efficiently. Iron begins to accumulate in the tissue, creating a perfect environment for Candida to feed.


Research has shown that giving mice deferasirox, a drug that lowers iron levels, reduced the survival rate of Candida [8]. Some ways we can improve iron overload in our bodies include getting adequate copper, reducing stress, and going for blood donations.


Conclusion


Candida is part of our natural microflora. The idea we can ‘starve’ out Candida is completely nonsensical.


Most of the time it causes no issues, but it’s possible for overgrowths and infections to happen. Symptoms of overgrowth include oral or vaginal thrush, as well as skin and nail infections.


There are a lot of aggressive approaches out there to try and treat a Candida overgrowth, but most of them do very little to address the root cause, which is likely an under-functioning metabolism and therefore under-working immune system. So, the Candida tends to come back with a vengeance.


Instead of chasing symptoms, I promote supporting the entire system – improving metabolic function with adequate fuel, nutrients and lowering stress. When we give the body what it needs, it knows how to find balance.


I have seen many people amazed at how their recurring Candida overgrowth symptoms dwindle into non-existence when they start focusing on supporting a thriving metabolism, instead of trying to starve out or aggressively attack the Candida.


Tips for Candida Overgrowth

  1. Improve your thyroid health and metabolism Focus on eating to support blood sugar balance, balance macro-nutrients, address micro-nutrient deficiencies, improve gut health, get enough calories, and lower stress.

  2. Improve immune function Increase IgA production by increasing the nutrient density of your diet. Vitamin A in particular has been shown to exert a positive impact on the precursors for IgA-producing cells.

  3. Address estrogen dominance Support estrogen detoxification by eating a daily raw carrot salad, limit exposure to phyto- and xeno- estrogens, support optimal progesterone production by making sure you are ovulating monthly.

  4. Reduce iron overload Ensure adequate intake of copper and retinol, reduce stress, avoid iron -fortified foods, donate blood

  5. Use gentle anti-fungals Some gentle anti-fungals that can help relieve symptoms in the short term include flowers of sulfur, garlic, and oregano. It is also helpful to include a binder to help clear any ‘die-off’ produced, such as activated charcoal.


Please note: This is not medical advice. Please speak to your doctor about any suspected Candida overgrowths.



[1] A. Bergman and A. Casadevall, “Mammalian endothermy optimally restricts fungi and metabolic costs,” mBio, vol. 1, no. 5, 2010, doi: 10.1128/mBio.00212-10.

[2] G. A. Land, W. C. McDonald, R. L. Stjernholm, and L. Friedman, “Factors affecting filamentation in Candida albicans: changes in respiratory activity of Candida albicans during filamentation,” Infection and Immunity, vol. 12, no. 1, 1975, doi: 10.1128/iai.12.1.119-127.1975.

[3] V. Vidotto, G. Accattatis, Q. Zhang, G. Campanini, and S. Aoki, “Glucose influence on germ tube production in Candida albicans,” Mycopathologia, vol. 133, no. 3, 1996, doi: 10.1007/BF02373021.

[4] G. Cheng, K. M. Yeater, and L. L. Hoyer, “Cellular and molecular biology of Candida albicans estrogen response,” Eukaryotic Cell, vol. 5, no. 1, 2006, doi: 10.1128/EC.5.1.180-191.2006.

[5] P. L. Fidel, J. Cutright, and C. Steele, “Effects of reproductive hormones on experimental vaginal candidiasis,” Infection and Immunity, vol. 68, no. 2, 2000, doi: 10.1128/IAI.68.2.651-657.2000.

[6] Y. He et al., “Effects of oestrogen on vulvovaginal candidosis,” Mycoses, vol. 65, no. 1. 2022. doi: 10.1111/myc.13385.

[7] W. Tarry, M. Fisher, S. Shen, and M. Mawhinney, “Candida albicans: The estrogen target for vaginal colonization,” Journal of Surgical Research, vol. 129, no. 2, 2005, doi: 10.1016/j.jss.2005.05.019.

[8] G. Luo, T. Wang, J. Zhang, P. Zhang, and Y. Lu, “Candida albicans requires iron to sustain hyphal growth,” Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications, vol. 561, 2021, doi: 10.1016/j.bbrc.2021.05.039.

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