For the past two years, I have been experiencing rashes, severe sugar cravings, extreme irritability and depression. I have been to dermatologists, traditional doctors, health intuitives, naturopaths, etc. I have received conflicting information from just about everyone. I tend to lean toward the advice of the naturopath that candidiasis may be the culprit. I have taken many antibiotics over the years, taken birth control, worked in an extremely stressful profession and existed on a diet almost entirely of refined sugars and carbohydrates until recently. I feel that all of these symptoms could be alleviated if I could get past the sugar/carbohydrate cravings. I am surrounded by sweets at my place of work and find it nearly impossible to control the urge.
—K., Appleton, Wisconsin
Stansbury responds: I would be more convinced that your symptoms were due to candida if you had some compelling evidence, such as vaginal yeast, bowel symptoms, itching of the ears, throat, or rectum, or actual lab confirmation such as a stool analysis or elevated antibodies to candida. Nonetheless, a history of antibiotic and oral contraceptive use, coupled with sugar/carbohydrate cravings and skin rashes is indeed suspicious. Other possibilities would be that your refined sugar and carbohydrate diet has simply not covered the nutritional bases for you and left you vitamin and mineral deficient. Mineral deficiencies, particularly chromium and magnesium, can promote sugar cravings. B-vitamin deficiencies can lead to all of the symptoms you mentioned and are also used up with stress and birth control pills. Try a high-dose multi B vitamin, a calcium/magnesium supplement and a chromium supplement. A well-rounded multivitamin and mineral supplement wouldn’t hurt either. Supplementing these nutrients and eating better could do wonders. I know the eating better part is easier said than done, so plan on thinking long and hard about what it will take to succeed. Your letter indicates to me that this is the real problem. Many of my patients with such demoralizing sugar cravings find that eating more protein, especially in the morning, diminishes sugar cravings. Can you fill up on an excellent high-protein breakfast, even if it means getting up earlier, to reduce the temptation of the office sweets? Can you prepare a soymilk, almond milk or other high-protein smoothie at work? Can you set a new trend at work and start bringing in fruits, nuts, deli platters, etc.? Surely there are other coworkers who would support healthier snacks at work. Can you go for a walk at breaks to avoid spending time around the temptations? Until the protein and the supplements start to reduce your cravings, keep yourself well supplied with more innocent sweets: fresh fruits, a sweet tea such as mint or licorice, apples with almond butter, sweet vegetables such as carrots or red pepper slices, or nut-and-raisin mixes. Crowding out the sweets with these whole foods should also greatly improve your nutrient intake and help your skin and your mental and emotional health.
Willard responds: These symptoms do sound like they could be related to candida. Candida albicans (or common yeast) is present in most people. A small, harmless amount in the gastrointestinal tract is of no concern. It becomes a problem when it multiplies, creating extensive colonies. At my clinic, we have noticed a large increase in the number of yeast infections over the last several years. In the late 1970s and early ‘80s we saw few cases. By the late ‘90s it was one of the most common problems we saw at our clinic. The good news is that you don’t need to take a lot of expensive supplements, as the most important factor to keep candida under control is diet. The candida diet excludes dairy, flour, sweets, tropical fruit, processed food, grapes, fermented foods and mushrooms (some medicinal mushrooms are okay). Very strict compliance to this diet is necessary. Liver function is important to watch in the battle against yeast. A sluggish liver will definitely increase yeast growth. Conversely, a yeast growth will often cause a sluggish liver. This will often result in all kinds of skin problems, such as rashes or eczema. This is because the liver cannot process the oils needed to lubricate the skin properly. Stress can also increase the yeast rather rapidly. It takes three to nine months to reduce the yeast to a level that causes no problems. After the yeast is under control, I usually ask patients to do a two-week cleansing detoxification diet one to four times a year (depending on diet and stress level) to keep the yeast in check. The most important supplements to help lower yeast levels are homeopathic candida, digestive enzymes, vitamin C, beta-carotene, zinc, and acidophilus-like (probiotic) organisms. Homeopathic candida at a 30X potency (5 to 10 drops three times daily) will kill the yeast while changing the ecological environment where the yeast lives, so it can’t reproduce. Digestive enzymes (1 to 3 capsules with each meal, depending on meal size) make sure you’re digesting food instead of creating a fermenting food mass that will support the yeast colony. The beta-carotene (20,000 IU twice daily) and vitamin C (1,000 mg twice daily) help build up the immune system. Also take 15 mg of zinc twice daily and 2,000 mg of essential fatty acids twice daily. I don’t suggest adding the acidophilus-like organisms (1,000 mg twice daily) until after at least six weeks of weakening the yeast. Too hasty a use can often cause an “ecological battle” that is not very comfortable. The most important thing is to maintain a good ecological balance of organisms in the body. It is important to follow both the diet and the supplement program. Being lax on either one can cause a four- to eight-fold increase in time it will take to rid the body of the problem.
Terry Willard is a clinical herbalist, president of the Canadian Association of Herbal Practitioners, and founder of the Wild Rose College of Natural Healing in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He is the author of eight books and a CD-ROM, Interactive Herbal.
Jill Stansbury has been a naturopathic physician for more than ten years, with a private practice in Battleground, Washington. She is the chair of the Botanical Medicine Department at the National College of Naturopathic Medicine in Portland, Oregon, and the author of many books including Herbs for Health and Healing (Publication International, 1997).
The information offered in “Q & A” is not intended to be a substitute for advice from your health-care provider.