Candida: Your Gut Could Be Telling You Something

What if I told you that chronic fatigue, frequent headaches, weight gain, poor digestion, yeast infections, junk food cravings and even depression may all be connected to the overgrowth of an opportunistic fungus in your body? Got your attention yet? It’s true- symptoms like these can frequently be explained by the presence of Candida, a fungus found in the digestive tract. While normally kept in check, certain conditions can allow unhealthy strains of this yeasty substance to multiply out of control, wreaking havoc on our bodies.

Normally, healthy Candida lives in harmony with a variety of other bacteria and actually performs some important digestive functions. But when something upsets the ratio of good- to- bad bacteria in the body, bad or unhealthy Candida can grow out of control. Illness, a poor diet and recent antibiotic use can all contribute to the problem. Once a build-up of unhealthy Candida is present, the body begins to react negatively, leaving us to feel sluggish and even a little depressed.

Think of it this way: If your gut (stomach) is unhappy, you are unhappy-literally! Did you know that the gut stores much of our body’s Serotonin, a neurotransmitter that contributes to feelings of well-being? That’s right-while some Serotonin is synthesized and housed in the brain, it is also found in your gut. So, it’s not surprising that our sense of well-being and happiness may depend in part on what’s happening in the digestive tract.

What can be done to stop the growth of unhealthy Candida?

The following are some other very basic steps that can increase energy and have you on the road to feeling well again. Note that consistency is important for good results:
  1. Although we can’t completely prevent illness and the occasional need to use antibiotics, we can control the food we eat. Eat a healthy diet high in lean protein. Beans, nuts, baked chicken, baked fish and turkey are all great sources. On the other hand, diets high in refined carbohydrates like bread, pasta, pizza, cereal, sugary drinks and sweet snacks can lead to a build up of Candida. Reducing or eliminating these sugar laden foods is one of the most important steps to take and can have the greatest impact on how we feel, both emotionally and physically.

  2. Talk to your doctor, psychiatrist or health coach about adding a probiotic supplement to your daily regimen. This is particularly relevant if you are currently or have recently taken an antibiotic since they tend to kill all of the bacteria in your body-both healthy and unhealthy! Adding a probiotic supplement can help to rebuild healthy bacteria levels faster.

  3. Yogurt is another great source of probiotics. It’s natural, inexpensive and does not require you to swallow a pill. Keep in mind that plain yogurt is best! Stay away from sweetened or flavored yogurt since sugar feeds and encourages the growth of Candida.

  4. Stay well hydrated. Water is essential for a healthy digestive system and has the added benefit of reducing cravings and easing feelings of fatigue.

  5. Find a healthy way to manage stress. Therapies that emphasize mindfulness and acceptance of self are helpful in reducing anxiety. Remember-when the body is under stress the digestive system does not function properly.

The connection between bacteria in our gut and the way we feel is further proof that good nutrition is vital to our well being. More than ever, that “feeling in your gut” should not be ignored but rather responded to by improving the way we nourish our bodies. It seems our tummies are smarter than we once thought!

Nutrition and Mental Health: The Sugar Connection

Summer has arrived and many of us are ready to kick back and fire up the grill. Juicy burgers, summer salads, corn on the cob and yummy deserts alike have inched their way back into our diets. While these foods are OK in moderation, it seems once we realize that the unrealistic practice of “swimsuit readiness training” isn’t working, we give up and fall into a pattern of gorging ourselves. After all, what better way to reduce stress and anxiety or reward ourselves for a week well worked, right?

But could it be that the food we eat is actually creating anxiety and negatively impacting our state of mind? Most of us recognize that eating good quality food will likely result in improved physical health. We know that the right combination of fruits and vegetables can provide our bodies with essential nutrients. Conversely, we are well aware that eating too much sugar can cause weight gain (and even diabetes) and that foods high in saturated fat can lead to heart disease. But while the relationship between our physical health and the food that we eat is widely accepted, what about the connection between nutrition and mental health?

It’s true. The kind of food we eat can affect our mental health. One way to understand this is to think about the last time you skipped a meal or ate something laden with sugar. It’s likely that within a short time, you felt grumpy, fatigued or even a little anxious. What happens when you finally eat a healthy meal again? If you’re like most, your mood improves rather quickly. This is no coincidence!

So, what is it about food that has the power to make or break the way we feel? Frequently, the answer is: glucose. Otherwise known as sugar, glucose is one of the three sources of fuel that our bodies use to function and is most preferred by the brain. In fact, all carbohydrates (fruits, vegetables, bread, cereal, chips, juice, soda, "junk food") eventually break down into glucose. But it’s very important that our bodies maintain steady/healthy levels, otherwise we experience roller-coaster highs and lows. When unhealthy eating patterns continue long term, the negative feelings that result will become the norm and not simply a brief and fleeting event. Before you know it, you could find yourself feeling depressed much of the time!

So, how does it all work?

Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) occurs when we don’t eat enough,don't eat balanced meals or when our carbohydrate/sugar consumption occurs with little or no protein intake, which then causes our brains to react in negative ways.Think of it like this: the brain needs glucose to function and will panic if it doesn’t get it. This panic causes adrenaline to be released which will then signal the “fight or flight” response, causing irritability and even anxiety. This “fight or flight” response prompts the body to break down muscle mass and convert it to glucose for the brain. While the brain does actually get the needed glucose, the body often produces more than it needs which ultimately gets stored as fat. Now the body is left with reduced muscle mass (necessary for burning calories) and increased fat. Quite the opposite of what one might think, considering the fact that glucose intake was too low in the first place. Aside from being exhausting, hypoglycemia often results in moodiness.

On the other hand, Hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) can be just as harmful. It can seem counter-intuitive because when we eat foods high in sugar, we often feel good. The rise of glucose in our bloodstream results in the release of serotonin which stimulates a feeling of well-being. The problem is that this feeling only lasts about 30 minutes before we need to eat more sugar to achieve the same feeling. In comparison to the well-being we experience while on the sugar high, a lack of sugar can feel depressing and it’s easy to get caught up in a pattern of eating more and more sugar just to feel better. Essentially, sugar ends up being used as a band-aid to treat the sadness associated with a “sugar crash”.

How can a balanced state be achieved? Below are some simple steps you can take to avoid the “sugar crash”:
  • Never skip a meal-this is perhaps the most important rule to remember.

  • Add protein to every meal and snack that you eat. Protein takes longer to break down and therefore lasts longer as a source of energy.

  • Eat shortly after waking up and try to eat a healthy snack every 3 hours for the rest of the day.

  • Remember-what you eat is as important as when you eat. In addition to protein, it’s important to stick with carbohydrates that are slow burning. These are considered "complex” as opposed to "simple" and will provide you with a more balanced source of energy. This includes things like whole grain (not white) bread as well as fruits and vegetables. Also-avoid drinking excessive amounts of fruit juice since each glass contains high amounts of sugar.

Finally, meals are often the central purpose around which friends and families gather. It can be easy to get carried away in all of the joy and excitement of a celebration.
Remember to think about what you put into your mouth and consider how the food will make you feel in an hour or two. With a little practice and some intentional thought, you can begin to eat in a way that leaves you feeling more balanced and be less susceptible to the negative effects of the “sugar roller coaster”.

Resolve to Succeed: A Big Picture Approach

It’s February and if you’re like many, you’re probably wondering what happened to that New Year’s resolution. While most had good intentions of joining a gym, losing weight or even quitting smoking, the majority of us never made it out of the gate! Instead, we simply embrace the guilt and vow to do better next year.

So, why do we experience so much difficulty when it comes to sticking with our resolutions? It varies, but perhaps one answer is that our goals are just too unrealistic and are often based on what we see others achieve. You know the scenarios; a reality show contestant loses 10 pounds in a week or learns to dance like a professional in six months. This kind of radical transformation may appear to be the norm but the truth is-it’s not. Change is difficult and rarely accomplished with quick fixes. The reality is that we’re better off taking small steps that can lead to long term success.

It may help to re-frame the way we think about the changes we wish to make. Instead of looking outward at what everyone else is doing, try spending some time being quiet and become mindful of your wants and desires. At first, this process can seem strange and maybe even a bit difficult- because stillness and quiet have a tendency to bring up thoughts and emotions that were once masked with noise. But when we get “real” with ourselves we can begin to ask questions like:

  • Am I happy with the way my life is going?
  • What parts of myself have I been ignoring, neglecting or denying?
  • What do I need to let go of? What behaviors are no longer working for me?
  • What would my life be like if I weren’t comparing it with someone else’s expectations?
  • What makes my heart “sing”?

Slow down and be realistic:

Instead of working toward a quick solution, perhaps it would help to think of the big picture. For example: let’s suppose you want to lose 50 pounds. It’s tempting to focus on losing all of the weight up front. You’ll likely make some good decisions along the way; maybe you’ll skip dessert or purchase a new pair of running shoes. Perhaps you forgo your morning latte and head to the gym after work. These are all great decisions that demonstrate a desire to work toward the big picture. But are these steps consistent?
What if instead, you focused you energy on just a few things? In other words, instead of attempting “random acts of wellness” try focusing you energy on having dessert two times per week instead of the usual five. You could even commit to getting to the gym 3 times each week instead of whenever the mood hits you.

The point is that it’s easy to get overwhelmed when we try to do it all at once. Why not focus your energy on just a few specific actions that can be accomplished today? Over the long haul, these changes will make a difference. Shorter term goals, when done consistently, will add up to long term success.

It’s all in the timing:

Once you decide on some short-terms goals that work for you, you’ll need to determine whether it makes sense to set a specific time-frame. It’s important at this point to give thought to your personal situation. Forget what you saw some celebrity do on television! What is appropriate for that person may not be for you. You may find that some goals work well with a pre-determined time-frame, while others do not. For example, if your goal is to regularly attend a recovery support group, it probably makes sense to determine a date or specific day of the week that you’ll go. However, if your goal is to get a job it probably doesn’t make sense to commit to a time- frame, since there are many factors outside of your control. It’s probably more realistic to set a deadline around writing a resume because you can control the likelihood that you’ll complete it. However you decide to handle the issue, just be careful not to fall into the “immediate gratification” trap. “I need to lose 20 pounds by the end of the month” is just not realistic!

Goals are challenging! But improving overall wellness can and should be done by taking small steps that add up to “big picture” changes. Mindful perseverance can be the best way to reach long term goals. Be patient with yourself. Change is not instantaneous, but once accomplished it can be extremely rewarding.