Fiona McMahon DPT, PT
You are what you eat. Trash in equals trash out. You can’t exercise yourself away from an unhealthy diet. These adages are often on my mind as I make my food choices because of the myriad of health professionals who have taken time to come to our practice to tell us how we can improve our own and our patients’ health by taking more time to look at what we are consuming in our diet. Lately many of these clinicians have been focusing on candida overgrowth and diet, which can contribute to pain and inflammation conditions.
What we eat can directly affect the bacterial and fungal make up of the gut, AKA the gut microbiome.The gut requires a certain level of good bacteria to help us digest what we eat. Over time a poor gut microbiome can affect how efficiently the gut works. The function of the gut goes beyond just digesting food, but also is vitally important for the production of neurotransmitters, which help to spread messages within the brain and throughout the whole body. The microbiome also plays an important role in our hormones, and immune system. When the microbiome of the gut is not balanced, it is called dysbiosis.
One of the most common culprits in gut microbiota dysbiosis is candida, (Yeast!). Candida is a naturally occurring inhabitant of the body and when it’s at appropriate levels, it doesn’t tend to be noticed, but anyone who has experienced a yeast infection knows that if this little guy is allowed to go unchecked, it can do a lot to make you miserable. Besides plaguing women with itching, burning vulvas, yeast overgrowth may cause many other ailments.
Science has pointed to the role candida can play in contributing to chronic and inflammatory conditions. In one study by Kumamoto in 2011, candida overgrowth was associated with delayed healing of inflammatory lesions and were associated with pro-inflammatory cytokines (chemicals) and increased incidence of inflammatory bowel disease like ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.
Yeast overgrowth can also affect the bladder along with over colonization of saccharomyces (another form of fungus). In fact yeast and saccharomyces was found to be higher in women during a flare of interstitial cystitis than when their symptoms were low.
Yeast is not the only organism that can get out of balance and affect our bodies in harmful ways. There are many other players that can get out of balance. Some signs of an altered gut microbiome is a history of allergies, eczema, or repeated fungal infection.
What to do?
It all seems pretty dire, right. How do you control who is colonizing your gut, when you barely have enough time to make it to the gym after work? There are a few simple steps you can start with.
Avoid antibiotics, unless your doctor thinks you need them.
The medical community has become a lot more aware of the dangers of over prescribing antibiotics from their perspective, but it is important to keep in mind that a powerful antibiotic can wipe out good bacteria and bad bacteria in one fell swoop. If the good guys in your gut are reduced, the bad bacteria have a better chance of taking over. Take antibiotics only when recommended. Keep in mind antibiotics will not help treat viruses like the flu, they can only treat bacterial infections.
Modify your diet
Increase your consumption of good fats (omega 3’s) to help reduce inflammation.
Food high in omega 3’s include flax and hemp seed/oils, fish (the fishier the fish, usually means more omega 3’s, for example herring is higher in omega 3 than a milder fish like snapper). Also reduce your consumption of processed foods which can increase inflammation levels and eliminate simple sugars and fried foods. If this is only minimally successful, try a gluten and dairy free diet.
If simple changes are not helping consider seeing a professional
Find a naturopath, functional or integrated MD, or nutritionist who can investigate more fully whether or not you have SIBO (Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth), candida overgrowth, or other gut microbiome disorder. Or perhaps you are lacking certain ingredients, vitamins or mineral. These professionals can tailor a diet and medication regimen to help return your gut microbiome to tip top shape.
Kamamoto C. Inflammation and gastrointestinal candida colonization. Cur Opin Microbiol. 2011;14(40): 386-391