Not long ago, I saw two very different cases of candidiasis, or candida overgrowth, in one week. Each case required a unique treatment.
Candida albicans, a yeast-like fungi, is normally present in the digestive system. But when it grows out of control within the digestive tract and elsewhere, it can cause gas, bloating, and vaginal yeast infections.
Some evidence suggests that candida is also associated with asthma and recurrent sinus infections. Whether excessive candida leads to other pervasive physical and mental symptoms–such as fatigue, memory problems, and depression–is a matter of debate.
Sharon, a thirty-year-old writer with continual vaginal yeast infections, had tried over-the-counter preparations and prescription anti-yeast medications, but these only kept the condition at bay for a month or two.
Diagnosis. Using the diagnostic principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), I felt Sharon’s pulse and examined her tongue. Her pulse was full and taut; the back of her tongue had a thick, yellowish-white, cheesy-looking coating. This indicated she had a yeast overgrowth, as well as excess fluids, phlegm, and heat in her intestines. In TCM, this latter condition is referred to as damp heat. Dampness includes edema, excess mucus, or watery accumulations in all or parts of the body; heat is a drying up of bodily fluids that can cause inflammations and swelling, as well as a dry mouth and cravings for cool beverages.
Because Sharon had gas and bloating with most of her meals, I assumed her intestinal microflora were out of balance, which probably contributed to the recurring vaginal yeast infections. I had her submit stool samples to a lab for analysis. Test results confirmed higher than normal levels of C. albicans.
The vagina’s warm, moist, and nutrient-rich environment helps yeast-like organisms flourish. Anything that disrupts the vagina’s normally acidic environment can make a woman vulnerable to infection, especially stress, some kinds of diets, hormonal fluctuations, antibiotics, and chemical irritants found in scented douches and personal deodorants.
Dietary changes. I suspected that Sharon’s chronic vaginal yeast infections stemmed primarily from diet. Sharon ate a lot of carbohydrates and few nonstarchy vegetables. Many patients understand that refined sugars contribute to a yeast problem, but they don’t know that avoiding carbohydrates is just as important–especially cereal grains. She also added more green leafy vegetables to her diet and cut her sugar intake, including fruit juices, dried fruit, and honey.
Herbal treatment. I also sent Sharon home with two herbal products. One was designed to treat the damp heat and the second to discourage the candida overgrowth in her intestine. The cleansing formula contained extracts of yellow dock (Rumex crispus), gentian (Gentiana lutea), and the Chinese herb coptis (Coptis chinensis). She took three capsules with each meal.
Other candida-killing herbs include black walnut hull (Juglans nigra), pau d’arco (Tabebuia spp.), fennel seed (Foeniculum vulgare), and rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis). I had my pharmacy grind a combination of these dried herbs and put the powder in size “00” capsules. She took four capsules, three times daily with meals.
Sharon experienced complete relief of her symptoms within two weeks. She continued the herbal treatment for about a month and stayed with the dietary changes for several months. She was able to add whole grains back into her diet gradually; however, I recommended she limit starchy and high-sugar foods on a permanent basis.
Christopher Hobbs’s case studies are gleaned from his thirty years of studying and practicing herbalism. Hobbs, a fourth- generation botanist and herbalist, is an Herbs for Health editorial adviser and licensed acupuncturist. He is the author of St. John’s Wort: The Mood Enhancing Herb (Botanica Press, 1997), Stress and Natural Healing (Botanica Press, 1997), and many other books.
“Case studies from an herbalist’s notebook” are not intended to replace the advice of your health-care provider.