Gluten sensitivity/gluten intolerance (not to be confused with Celiac Disease) is an immensely popular buzz phrase right now. There is a great deal of controversy around whether or not it is a truly legitimate condition, and many speculate that going gluten free is a trend that will quickly pass for those who voluntarily chose it as a lifestyle. For people who are dealing with very real symptoms, it is a very real problem. In some instances, though, it is misdiagnosed either by the individual or a health care provider.
Gluten sensitivity has many of the same symptoms as a condition called Candida, or Candidiasis, which is caused by an overgrowth of a naturally occurring yeast (Candida albicans) in the body. Left untreated, Candida can lead to major health issues down the line.
I'm not saying this to start a panic, and I'm not trying to alarm anyone. The purpose of this article is to provide information. If you or someone you know is living with the symptoms below, we strongly encourage consultation with a health care professional for proper diagnosis and treatment. If you have Candidiasis, going gluten free may not be an effective enough solution.
Gluten Sensitivity and Candidiasis share many of the same chronic symptoms, including:
- Mood swings
- Depression/anxiety, especially after eating
- Digestive distress (gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea)
- Mental fogginess
- ADD/ADHD behaviors
- Muscle/joint aches and pains
Candida can lead to the following if untreated:
- Adult-onset allergies to foods and airborn irritants. Left unchecked, the number of allergies can continue to grow to the point that some individuals essentially become shut-ins.
- Chronic yeast infections
- Menstrual complications
- Chronic infections (cold, flu, tonsillitis, bronchitis, ear ache) due to weakened immune system
- Athlete's foot
- Rough bumps on the sides of arms
- Jock itch
These are only partial lists. One of the reasons that Candida is often misdiagnosed is because it has so many symptoms (and so many shared symptoms with gluten sensitivity), and individuals do not always present with the same cluster of issues. If not properly treated, Candidiasis can linger for life, especially in individuals who frequently consume eggs, meats, and milk treated with antibiotics, or women on oral contraceptives.
Causes of Candida
Candida albicans is a naturally occurring yeast in our bodies. Diets heavy in refined flours and sugars trigger yeast growth and its related symptoms, which is one of the reasons that Candida is often misdiagnosed as gluten sensitivity. Corticosteriods, chemotherapy drugs, and prolonged or frequent broad spectrum antibiotic use kill the bacteria that keep candida albicans in check, allowing for the yeast to flourish. Additionally, individuals with long-term illnesses, excessive amounts of stress, and those who smoke, drink, or have inadequate exercise and diet programs, are vulnerable to Candida outbreaks.
Treatment of Candidiasis
Anti-yeast treatments and a modified diet help reduce the proliferation of Candida albicans in the body. Once the yeast levels are regulated, it is necessary to repair the damage done. Adding nutritional supplements, and acupuncture and/or naturopathy are also effective in treatment.
Candidiasis in Traditional Chinese Medicine
Traditional Chinese Medicine, or TCM, defines 6 Yang organs in the body. When one of the Yang organs is over or under-stimulated, it affects balance with Yin, and overall health. The Triple Burner is one of the Yang organs. The Upper Burner is the heart and lungs; Middle Burner regulates spleen and stomach; Lower Burner comprises the liver, intestines, bladder, and kidney. The spleen processes the foods we ingest into Chi and Blood, which nourish everything in the body. When Candidiasis affects the Spleen, it can spread and create Damp Heat in the Lower Burner and Heat and Fire in the Upper Burner, leading to a variety of the symptoms listed above.
Acupuncture needles placed along the body's meridians regulate the Spleen, which can help clear waste, toxins, and phlegm from the body. Once the body is cleansed, it must be tonified to repair damage and restore balance.
While acupuncture and other forms of Traditional Chinese Medicine are highly effective in treating Candida, it requires more than one session. It took time for the body to get broken to the point people experience symptoms, and it takes time for the body to heal to the point symptoms are relieved.
The Candida Diet
Foods to Avoid
Highly processed and refined foods
Foods high in sugar (including honey, agave, syrup, and molasses
Aged cheeses, especially blue cheese
Sweetened beverages - coffee, tea, energy drinks, fruit juice
Processed meats - bacon, packaged deli meat, sausages
Condiments/Dressings/Sauces - ketchup, tomato sauce, pickles containing sugar; vinegar based salad dressings (unless apple cider vinegar)
Free-range chicken and eggs
Nuts and seeds
Yogurt and kefir
Fermented foods (kimchi, pickles, sauerkraut)
Unsweetened coffee and tea (caffeine aggravates Candidiasis in some individuals)
Leafy greens - collards, mustard, spinach, kale, endive, Swiss chard
Fish - mackerel, shellfish, sardines, halibut, wild Alaskan salmon
Non-glutinous grains such as buckwheat, millet, amaranth, and quinoa
Butter and oils - olive, coconut, sesame, flax, sunflower
Radish, especially Daikon
Turnips (makes a great mash in lieu of potatoes; so does cauliflower)
Self-diagnosis is often mis-diagnosis. You may have noticed that your body responds negatively to certain foods, and positively when you limit those foods from your diet. That's a great first step. The next step is to carefully examine how effective dietary restrictions have been. Did they reduce or eliminate all of your symptoms? Do you have new symptoms that didn't appear before? Be mindful of your body, and thoughtful in how you treat it. Consult a health care provider if you suspect that you may be living with Candidiasis, or if eliminating gluten from your diet has not alleviated the symptoms often ascribed to gluten sensitivity.