A listener writes: “I have recurrent problems with candida or yeast. I have seen articles stating that I should eat less sugar and avoid foods that contain yeast, such as bread. How accurate is this advice?”
I’m so glad you asked! There is a confusing mix of true and false information about candida diet and nutrition. Let’s sort fact from fiction.
Candida albicans is a type of yeast that is commonly found both on and in the human body, where it generally causes no problems. Certain conditions, however, can lead to an overgrowth of this benign organism.The resulting infection is known as candidiasis.
An overgrowth can affect mouth and throat, in which case it is commonly referred to as thrush. Very rarely, it can spread via the blood to internal organs. But by far the most common location for candidiasis is the vagina.
What Causes Yeast Infections?
Antibiotic use can set the stage for yeast overgrowth by killing off beneficial bacteria that would normally hold candida populations in check. High estrogen levels can also be a risk factor, which is why yeast infections are more common when you are pregnant or taking hormones. People with a suppressed immune system can also be more susceptible to yeast overgrowth, as are those with diabetes.
But apart from these more obvious risk factors, some women just seem to suffer from more than their share of these uncomfortable infections. It’s natural to wonder whether diet and nutrition could possibly play a role. And, as this listener discovered, you’ll find lots of advice on the Internet for Anti-Yeast or Anti-Candida diets.
The most common advice is to limit sugar and carbohydrates, avoid yeast-containing foods, and to increase your intake of probiotic foods. Let’s take these one by one.
Does a high-carb diet cause yeast infections?
As I mentioned before, people with diabetes are at higher risk for yeast infections—especially if their diabetes is poorly controlled. This might suggest that high blood sugar levels encourage yeast growth—but this hasn’t been proven. Yeast organisms are generally not in your bloodstream, so it’s not as if having extra sugar in your blood provides more food for the yeast and causes them to proliferate.
If there is a link between sugar consumption and yeast growth, it’s more likely due to the way that diet affects the chemical composition of your urine. One study found that cutting down on the consumption of both sugar and artificial sweeteners reduced the frequency of yeast infections in women prone to them.
Many so-called candida diets also recommend eliminating starches as well. I was unable to find any research showing that cutting out pasta, bread, crackers, and other things made with white flour affects the frequency or severity of yeast infections. That said, there are a lot of other benefits to limiting your consumption of both added sugars and refined flour.
The Quick and Dirty: Even though the evidence linking refined carbs to yeast overgrowth is limited, there doesn’t seem to be any downside to following this advice.
Will avoiding yeast help prevent yeast infections?
Probably not. Again, this doesn’t appear to have been studied in controlled trials and maybe that’s because it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. The type of yeast that lives on your skin and sometimes causes infections is Candida albicans. The type of yeast used to bake bread and brew beer is called Saccharomyces cerevisiae, and it only rarely causes infections. If anything, having some S. cerevisiae around may help keep your C. albicans population in check.
People with an allergy to yeast or mold, which can readily be confirmed with allergy testing, should absolutely avoid foods made with yeast. However, yeast infections are not caused by yeast allergy.
The Quick and Dirty: Foods and beverages containing yeast are unlikely a factor in candidiasis or yeast infections.
Can probiotic foods prevent yeast infections?
There is some research showing that eating yogurt can reduce the proliferation of Candida in both the mouth and the vagina—and this seems logical. The beneficial bacteria in yogurt and other fermented foods may help keep the candida population in check. Probiotic supplementation during or after antibiotic use may also help reduce the risk of antibiotic-related yeast infections.
Probiotic foods are a great addition to a healthy diet and may help prevent yeast infections.
Although probiotics or probiotic foods may help prevent yeast infections, they are usually not sufficient to treat one that’s already underway. Fortunately, there are anti-fungal medications (both topical and systemic) that are effective. And at least one study found that combining one of these antifungal therapies with a probiotic supplement can work even better.
The Quick and Dirty: Probiotic foods are a great addition to a healthy diet and may help prevent yeast infections.
Do We All Suffer from Candida?
Yeast infections are pretty hard to miss. The symptoms are fairly obvious, pretty unambiguous, and usually uncomfortable enough to get your attention. However, there are some practitioners who blame yeast intolerance or hypersensitivity for a long list of vague symptoms, ranging from headaches to fatigue to muscle pain to depression. Some even claim that the vast majority of the population is suffering from undiagnosed yeast overgrowth. There is little evidence to support this theory.
It’s possible that some of those symptoms might improve on an “anti-candida” diet but this probably has more to do with reducing your consumption of refined carbohydrates and other processed foods than it does with your candida counts.
So, in summary, if you suffer from frequent yeast infections, check with a doctor to rule out any underlying causes such as diabetes or immune dysfunction. After that, reducing your consumption of added sugars and increasing your intake of yogurt and other probiotic foods might help and can’t hurt. In fact, it’s a good strategy for improving your overall nutrition.
Image of candida diet journal © Shutterstock
Michael Lacour, Thomas Zunder, The pathogenetic significance of intestinal Candida colonization--a systematic review from an interdisciplinary and environmental medical point of view Int J of Hygiene and Environmental Health. 2012
M Weig , E Werner, M Frosch, H Kasper, Limited effect of refined carbohydrate dietary supplementation on colonization of the gastrointestinal tract of healthy subjects by Candida albicans American J Clin Nutrition. 1999
Haihong Hu, Daniel J Merenstein, Impact of eating probiotic yogurt on colonization by Candida species of the oral and vaginal mucosa in HIV-infected and HIV-uninfected women Mycopathologica. 2013
R C R Martinez , S A Franceschini, , Improved treatment of vulvovaginal candidiasis with fluconazole plus probiotic Lactobacillus rhamnosus GR-1 and Lactobacillus reuteri RC-14 Letters in Applied Microbiology. 2009