Is Gut Candida Overgrowth Actually Real, and Do Candida Diets Work?
As much as I don’t reeeeaaaallllly want to, we need to talk about the ‘candida’ diagnosis that so many alternative health practitioners seem to think we all have.
I recently posted a graphic that used candida as an example of something that apple cider vinegar won’t cure.
The graphic got a ton of blowback, especially about the ‘candida’ reference. Turns out, a lot of people believe in candida as an alternative diagnosis. Yet more people believe that I was talking about vaginal or oral candida, otherwise known as ‘thrush.’ I was not.
What is candida?
Candida albicans is a yeast that’s normally present in our body. That’s right: we ALL have candida!
This yeast lives mostly in the GI tract, and it is generally outnumbered by the good bacteria in our microbiome. Candida doesn’t usually bother us, and it’s not something to worry about for most healthy people.
Some charlatans will try to convince you that you have candida in your blood, which, if you are walking around living your life, I can assure you that you DO NOT have. Candida auris in the blood is a life-threatening situation that requires hospitalization and serious treatment.
It is possible to have an overgrowth of candida in the mouth, vagina, and gut. Some of the causes are:
A compromised immune system
Candida overgrowth in the mouth or vagina causes what we commonly know as thrush, or a yeast infection, as I mentioned above.
But how about in the gut?
We know that SIBO – small intestine bacterial overgrowth – is a thing. So what about SIFO?
It does exist. Small intestine fungal (candida albicans) overgrowth has been shown to affect mostly immunocompromised individuals, not 90% of us – something that Goop quack doctor Amy Myers claims.
An overgrowth of fungus in the gut may exacerbate symptoms of crohns disease and colitis, and it’s interesting to note that people with those conditions are more likely to have an overgrowth of candida in their intestines. The same goes for people with ulcers.
It has not been shown that candida overgrowth CAUSES these conditions.
Most importantly, diet doesn’t cure serious candida overgrowth, antibiotics do.
This doesn’t stop some serious grifting around gut candida.
If you spend one minute online searching ‘candida diet,’ (which is a rabbit hole I actually don’t recommend you go down), the apparent symptoms of candida overgrowth include the following: fatigue, ‘brain fog,’ headaches, acne, cancer, bloating, dandruff, sugar cravings, eczema, ADHD, mood swings, ‘autoimmune diseases connected to leaky gut,’ and mercury overload.
It’s like an alternative medicine Disneyland.
The candida diet scam
Social media is full of ‘candida protocols’ and ‘candida diets’ to supposedly help you ‘get rid of your candida naturally.’ These posts use fear tactics and false claims to push the idea that we ALL have some sort of dangerous candida overgrowth and get you to buy what they’re selling.
This is how nutrition quacks operate: they take a kernel of truth, in this case being candida overgrowth in the gut being a real diagnosis.
Then, they twist that truth into something that fits their agenda: that being, that we all have this diagnosis, that it’s dangerous, and that they have a ‘cure’ to sell us.
There’s no easy way to test for candida overgrowth in the gut – it’s a matter of taking an aspirate of fluid from the small intestine – so these people take advantage of that fact by giving you all the vague ‘symptoms’ they can think of, and linking them to this condition that you don’t have.
After you’re convinced that you do have this horrible scary ‘problem,’ the quack gives you a ‘candida diet’ or the more official-sounding ‘candida protocol’ to follow, in order to get rid of your nonexistent candida.
And you might feel ‘better’ afterwards, because
1. the placebo effect is real and/or
2. the diet is generally one that eliminates all ultra-processed foods (and the commonly-maligned dairy, gluten, and sugar.)
See how these things work?
What is a candida diet protocol?
On Instagram, I found a perfect example of a ‘candida protocol’ that’s full of recommendations that make no sense…but then again, that’s the norm in these sorts of posts.
The only good thing about this post is that it’s going to allow me to demonstrate to you what the common claims are about candida, and what these people – this one says she’s a ‘certified holistic practitioner,’ which I assure you is a credential that doesn’t actually exist – are recommending. It’s wild.
Below is her complete post (minus her name, unfortunately). My comments are in bold.
It is possible to get rid of Candida naturally! Nope. You need medication such as antifungals and antibiotics to resolve a true candida overgrowth.
If you follow certain nutritional guidelines, you can hit the reset button on your gut health and other systems that have been affected by Candida. The nebulous ‘other systems.’ Which ‘other systems’? She probably can’t identify them, so she just doesn’t bother. Also, you can’t ‘reset’ anything in your body. We aren’t computers.
The first step is to stop feeding the Candida, which loves sugar. Sugar signals the Candida to grow and multiply, so removing its sustenance will prevent it from spreading further. Other foods to avoid include grains, dairy, starchy foods, as well as alcohol. Sigh, the classic ‘avoid dairy, grains, and sugar.’ None of these cause candida overgrowth.
Candida feeds on carbohydrates, but eating a normal diet that contains fruit and some desserts isn’t going to give you overgrowth of anything. FYI: fruit is also cut from many candida diets.
Grains, dairy, ‘starchy foods,’ and alcohol are also not linked to candida overgrowth in the gut or anywhere else. It’s easy to tell people that foods with yeast in them such as bread and beer cause yeast infections, but that has never been proven.
Foods that support Candida removal also benefit your immune system! Organic meats and vegetables are your friends here, as residual pesticides and antibiotics can actually cause Candida to thrive. Untrue. What is it about pesticides (which FYI: are also used in organic farming) and cattle antibiotics actually causes yeast to grow? She gives no explanation, probably because she doesn’t have one.
Once you begin the detox process, it’s important to give the dying Candida organisms somewhere to go. This is a complete fallacy. Our bodies get rid of every waste product on its own. We don’t need to facilitate it. And ‘dying candida organisms’ are not a thing.
The best way to do this is to support drainage of the liver and kidneys. Milk thistle and burdock are very helpful in this step. Let me guess: she sells these supplements. Also, there is no evidence for what she’s suggesting they be used for. Shocker.
Regular intestinal detox of the bowels is crucial here. You may want to consider supplements that have bioactive carbons for the Candida to bond to and be removed from the body. No thanks. This is all garbage science. Not even that: it’s actually made up.
Finally, it’s a good idea to include a probiotic supplement into your daily routine. This to take up the space that the Candida has vacated, rather than leaving it open for unwanted bad bacterias to settle into. Candida doesn’t take up a space like a guest takes up a chair at your dinner table. Your body doesn’t work like that. This is made up. But I’ll bet she sells probiotics.
Fully healing from Candida can take anywhere from 3 months to even a year. It’s important to be consistent with your nutrition detox process to allow your body to heal completely. Meaning: buy what she’s selling for the long-term, so you can simultaneously cure your mythological condition AND keep her in business.
Does the candida diet work?
This is what kills me about alternative medicine: if candida was a real problem in healthy people, we would be treating it. It wouldn’t be some ‘alternative’ diagnosis.
But the science and research around candida overgrowth in the gut hasn’t shown that it’s a prevalent issue. This is what matters.
Alternative medicine uses anecdotes as proof that a condition with nebulous symptoms and no way of testing for it, exists.
A lot of people in the world suffer from very real symptoms that won’t seem to resolve with conventional treatment, so I can understand why these people would turn to alternative providers.
I completely understand this, but it’s important to be aware of the tricks some people use to convince you to buy what they’re selling. No matter what you’re experiencing in terms of symptoms, I’m sure you don’t want to buy in to a scam.
A diet or ‘protocol’ that eliminates ultra-processed foods is likely to make you feel good overall, which is hardly proof that you had candida and are now ‘cured’ of it.
In short, candida overgrowth is real. But unlike what some nutrition charlatans want you to believe, you probably don’t have it.