Coping with Candida

A personal experience with a mysterious, tough-to-treat condition.

| September/October 2006

When I experienced my first major health issue at age 43, I found myself stumbling in the dark — I had candida, a disorder I’d never even heard of. Although my nurse practitioner diagnosed it and tried to treat it, I actually became worse over time. When I looked up my illness on a well-known holistic physician’s website, I read that he did not think such a disorder truly existed. Not being one to have health issues, and feeling as bad as I did, I knew my problems weren’t psychosomatic. My search for answers continued.

Putting the Pieces Together

I can’t even remember how I finally put the pieces together, because I was incoherent at the time — one of the common symptoms of the disorder is foggy-headedness. In addition, my symptoms included muscle weakness, fatigue and some vaginal irritation. My skin appeared gray, and the whites of my eyes disappeared under a red glaze. If I didn’t eat every two hours I became extremely weak and unable to think.

The first clue came from my yearly physical exam with my nurse practitioner, when she discovered I had a vaginal yeast infection. At the time, I had no noticeable symptoms. Though I took the prescribed drug (Diflucan, an antifungal), in the next several months I began to experience muscle weakness and foggy-headedness. Then one day I went for a bike ride and had a flat tire. Oddly, I found myself unable to either manipulate the tire or determine how to get home.

After the bike incident, I went to the health-food store to get help — the clerk told me about candida and how to treat it with herbs and diet. Because my symptoms had intensified, she surmised that the vaginal infection had spread to my intestines (or vice versa). This “diagnosis” of an overgrowth of Candida albicans, a yeast strain, in my intestines was later confirmed by a naturopath. It is difficult to know for sure where it originally started, but it might have been brought on by antibiotics I took for a tooth abscess early in the year and then become exacerbated by stress, lack of sleep, and a bit too much sugar, flour and wine.

Testing Treatment Options

The Diflucan my nurse practitioner prescribed knocked the candida out temporarily, but the yeast always came back in a few days. I took the medication several times over the course of about six months whenever my symptoms were strong, but I always ended up frustrated when the candida returned. Starting with the information from the store clerk, I began to learn how to undertake a cleanse. I cut out sugar and alcohol and took herbs the clerk recommended to kill off some of the yeast in my body, but I had no idea how long to continue my “treatment” or what foods to eat.

A friend suggested I see an Ayurvedic practitioner, who recommended taking soil-based microorganisms and probiotics, drinking kefir and eating a lot of vegetables. I improved but was not cured in three months, as she said I would be. I talked to a nutritionist and an acupuncturist and followed their advice. On a very restrictive diet free of sugar, alcohol, yeast, wheat and gluten, focused on lots of organic vegetables, I felt my digestion improve further. Doing yoga, getting massages and Reiki, and going to bed early every night helped my immune system keep the yeast under control.

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