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Sugar Smarts

Candida Overgrowth, Brain Fog, and Other Symptoms of Too Much Sweet Stuff

Back around Halloween we explored the effects of sugar on the body. In light of our most recent holiday, New Years—a time when many of us resolve to shift our diets or eat more mindfully—we’re picking the conversation back up.

While eating foods high in refined sucrose can wreak havoc with our blood sugar levels and cause foginess, anxiety and headaches, it can also lead to an overgrowth of candida.

Candida is a fungus found in trace amounts in the mouth and intestines that breaks down food and absorbs nutrients. All good.

But, when overproduced, candida can cause a system imbalance. It breaks down our intenstinal wall, enters our bloodstream and floods our system with toxins. This candida overgrowth can cause depression, digestive troubles, and leaky gut syndrome. Not so good.

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Common symptoms of candida

  • Indigestion: bloating, constipation or diarrhea
  • General fatigue and feelings of being worn down
  • Chronic fatigue or fibromyalgia
  • Moodiness: irritability, anxiety or depression
  • Skin issues: eczema, psoriasis, hives, or rashes
  • Fungal infections like athlete’s foot or toenail fungus
  • Brain fog: anything from lack of focus and difficulty concentrating to ADD and ADHD
  • Strong sugar and refined carbohydrate cravings
  • UTIs or vaginal itching
  • Strong seasonal allergies or itchy ears
  • Autoimmune diseases: Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis, lupus, psoriasis, scleroderma or multiple sclerosis

What to do if you have it

Yeast feeds off sugar, so the first step is removing all sugars from your diet: Sweets, alcohol, flour, fruit, honey, maple syrup, dates, etc. Next, limit your intake of complex carbohydrates, like pasta and grains, as much as possible—no more than one cup a day.

With nothing to sustain it, the candida yeast will eventually die out. It’s a slow process that can take several months, so if you think you have candida overgrowth, see a functional medicine doctor for a blood or stool test to check your candida antibody levels and come up with a treatment plan.

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Maple sugar shack

The next step will be to heal the gut, a course that will likely mean taking probiotics on the regular (an excellent practice for everyone), avoiding inflammatory foods (like wheat, dairy, sugar, and booze), and limiting your intake of fermented foods, which provide fodder for both good and bad bacteria.

While candida overgrowth is an extreme example of what can happen to someone with a diet high in refined carbohydrates and sugar (heavy alcohol consumption, oral contraceptives, a high-stress life and a medical condition that requires taking antibiotics are other culprits), we may all experience spikes in our sugar intake and subsequent periods of bloating, fogginess, and mood swings. When that happens, look to your diet and see what can shift.

Photos: Candida yeast by Denni Bakardji