This blog is a bit of a deluge... into our latest project... and our digestive system. A wee bit up close and personal, a wee bit biomedical, and a wee bit complementary/alternative.
THE BATTLE BETWEEN YEAST AND BACTERIA
To start off with... our digestive system is a teaming city of bacteria, which is a good thing because the main industry in the bacterial town is helping us digest our food. The bacterial also functions as our first line of defense against the ever prevalent and ever invading yeast (Candida).
However, it is often the case that the bacteria in our guts is unable to compete with the onslaught of yeast. At that point, the "big guns" come in and our immune system must take over the role of fighting off the yeast. Unfortunately, this can be quite exhausting for our immunal armies, and our immune systems' defenses weaken in other areas leaving us susceptible to other infections, colds, and allergies. A chronic low level yeast infection also leaves the bacteria in our gut struggling for survival and digestion is also hampered.
Brad and I have both had a few battles with yeasts this spring. We always win, but that doesn't mean the war is over.
Perhaps you are a bit surprised that we would have such issues with yeast? We are healthy, exercise-friendly, organic-vegetarian type people! However, in modern society yeast is given a helping hand in the battle with bacteria... antibiotics and antibacterial products are clearly pro-yeast. In my case, my battle with yeast likely arose after my appendicitis (a week on 5 different IV antibiotics would certainly do the trick).
The other MAJOR factor favoring yeast supremacy is that modern diets favor foods that feed yeast rather than foods that feed bacteria. As any good bread baker knows, yeast like to eat sugar, white flour, fruits, potatoes, etc. Well, bacteria like to eat fibre, usually found in whole grains and vegetables (seen that prebiotic advertising on your hippy brown bread?)
So, despite our rather healthy diet, we still succumb to a good size portion of white grains, sugars and fruits, when compared to our brown grains and vegetables. (Seriously, 100 years ago people hardly had access to the sugars and fruits that we do today. They would have eaten mostly whole grains, and grown a lot of their own veg).
Anyways, since this is such a very long post, I've decided to add a few intermissions. Here is Nikolai playing football (soccer) in the back garden (yard).
So, how do you know if your yeast is winning the war for control of your gut? Well, if you participate in Western medicine, and Western culture, then it is quite likely that the yeasts are winning. There are a number of online quizzes that you can take, but basically any niggling health issues (or simply having two X-chromosomes) is enough to suggest that you have a yeast overgrowth. There's also a fabled SPIT TEST as one means of testing how yeast-y you are; however, there's no real evidence that morning mucus is related to yeast.
There are all sorts of tests for Candida that you could get through your doctor. But if you don't have obvious signs of a yeast outbreak, then they will probably be reluctant to help you out as these tests are not completely reliable either. Regardless, after a spring full of small niggling health problems (coughs, colds, congestion, skin issues, etc.) we decided that a full on Detox Diet was in order.
In general, the goal of any Detox Diet is to avoid things that are hard for your body (and liver) to break down. Basically avoid caffeine, alcohol, and most of those items on a food label that you can barely read (dexto-hydra-what?)
Balancing Blood Sugar Levels
People generally decide to Detox (or diet) because they feel they are putting on weight, suffering from continuously poor health or (probably the most pressing) they are feeling sluggish and tired through out the day. These are all related to having spikes in blood sugar levels. Drink a glass of juice (check it out, juice generally contains as many glucose calories as Coke per ml), eat some white pasta, or have a cookie and your blood sugar levels will peak about 20 minutes later. This causes your body to rush in with some insulin to bring those levels back down... resulting in dramatically lower blood sugar levels. Insulin causes sugars to be stored as fat, and leaves you feeling sluggish.
Next intermission, Nikolai and Brad playing football at Castletown House in Celbridge.
There are many, many, many variations on a anti-candida diet. They vary based on how strict they are... but the way I see it, if you want to be on the diet for a few months, then choose a more lenient diet (include milk, fruit, etc). If you want to be on the diet for only two weeks, then eat nothing but meat and green vegetables. Here's what we've taken out of our diet... and we have a goal of being pretty well behaved (may cheat once for Nikolai's birthday cake) for one month, then follow up with a more lenient diet for a second month.
All sugars, honey, maple syrup.
All preservatives and additives
All alcoholic beverages
Caffeine (even decaf teas and coffee)
Malted products (grain turned into sugar)
Milk (other than butter, yogurt and cottage cheese)
Peanuts and Pistachios (mold containing nuts)
Anything with Vinegar
So, do you want to know how our battle (diet) is going?
The first three days we craved, CRAVED sugar. We don't even really eat that much sugar generally, but the cravings and headaches were very persistent.
Day 4 was our honeymoon day. The diet the cravings were gone, and we were actually starting to enjoy the diet! Both of us noticed distinctly better energy levels, and our mood seem to stabilize (I usually have dramatic mid-afternoon slumps).
However, by day 6, we both started to show signs of the fabled "yeast die off" or Herxheimer Reactions (for those more biochemically based).
A Herxheimer Reaction is what happens when a large number of toxins is released into the body by dying bacteria or yeast. This is classically found with antibiotic treatments, but is also seen when a Candida diet starts to work. The effects can be diminished by reducing the rate at which the cells die, allowing the body time to remove the excess toxins.
My symptoms are mild, I have bit of acne and some issues with hypotension (low blood pressure). However, Brad is suffering from some pretty major gut issues, along with headache, chills, the works. Since he had to give a talk this morning, I sent him off to work with a teaspoon of honey. Totally not diet friendly, but it stopped the dramatic yeast die off, and allowed his body to catch up. Not surprisingly, he felt much better within the hour (I let him suffer for 2 days before offering up the obvious form of relief!)
Last intermission... a purposeful bike accident.
Phew, this is quite the post... but if you made it to the end, then I need to acknowledge the quasi-medicinal side of our battle with yeast.
The medical community recognizes massive yeast out breaks, in the form of oral thrush, skin infections, and yeast infection. They also recognize that people with immune-deficiencies can suffer from whole body yeast infections. What isn't recognized, is the fact that general people could be fighting low-level yeast infections all the time. This is because there is no legitimate way to diagnose low level infections, and because the symptoms are non-existent (a weak immune system, allergies, and digestive issues can have so many different causes).
However, if you are feeling a bit blah around the edges, why not try a detox? I would have expected my battle with yeast to be harder fought then Brad's, because I had way more health issues and yeast issues this spring. However, given the strength of Brad's Herxheimer Reaction, he clearly had quite a yeast overgrowth without many symptoms.
So, why not donate a few weeks this summer to a household dietary cleanses? It certainly can't harm you, and the results may even surprise you!