What Is the Candida Diet and Is It Safe?

Can dieting help women prevent, or at least mitigate, the effects of candida yeast infections?

An online search reveals that there’s no shortage of anti-candida diets. You’ll find plenty of candida cleanse and candida diet listings offering diets to prevent or treat yeast infections. Many of these diets also claim to relieve a wide range of symptoms related to gut health.

[Read: Top Pharmacist-Recommended Women’s Health Medicines]

What Is Candida?

Candida is a naturally occurring type of yeast found in the body. It typically lives in places like the mouth, throat, gut and genitals. There are hundreds of species of candida yeasts. The most common is Candida albicans.

The presence of candida in the body is normal. However, sometimes candida can grow out of control, which can cause infections. The most common type of yeast infection is vulvovaginal candidiasis, says Dr. Paul Nyirjesy, a gynecologist and the co-director of the Jefferson Vulvovaginal Health Center in Philadelphia. Nyirjesy has been a consultant on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines on sexually transmitted infections treatment since 2005.

About three in four women have at least one yeast infection in their lifetime, and around 6% of women get recurrent yeast infections, defined as three or more episodes a year, he says. Men can get yeast infections too, which can lead to symptoms such as a burning sensation, itching or redness on the penis.

Men who are uncircumcised or have diabetes are more prone to getting such infections. Men can develop a yeast infection after having sexual intercourse with a partner who has a vaginal yeast infection. For both women and men, yeast infections can typically be treated with antifungal medications that are available over the counter.

Vulvovaginal candidiasis infections are also known as vaginal candidiasis infections, Nyirjesy says. This type of infection is common.

A vaginal candida yeast infection can cause an array of symptoms, including:

— A white, thick and odorless discharge.

— Burning and redness.

— Pain or burning during urination.

— Pain during sex.

The CDC notes that about 20% of women normally have candida in the vagina without having any symptoms. In normal amounts, candida is a gut flora — the collection of microorganisms, mostly bacteria, found in our intestines. This collection is also known as the gut microbiome.

Every person has a microbiome, a collection of more than 100 trillion microbes that live on and in our body, primarily in the large intestine, and having a diverse microbiome is important for overall health.

[See: Foods That Cause Bloating.]

What Is the Candida Diet?

Because yeast infections are so common, numerous anti-candida diets have bloomed in response. The most popular is the candida diet, which subscribes to the notion that sugar feeds so-called candida overgrowth, usually in the gut, leading to a range of problems that extend beyond one’s intestines.

These symptoms include:

Digestive issues.

— Food allergies.

Mild depression.

Sinus infections.

Lisa Richards is a certified nutrition coach and a proponent of the candida diet. She created the Ultimate Candida Diet and advocates the belief that candida in the gut can cause such wide-ranging symptoms.

In describing the diet online, she states: “By improving your gut health and restoring the balance of the bacteria and yeast that live inside your body, you can get relief from candida symptoms like bloating, indigestion, yeast infections, fatigue, nausea, diarrhea and gas.”

“The candida diet is a low-sugar, anti-inflammatory diet designed to reduce the colonization of candida in the gut and lower the incidence of yeast infections and other symptoms,” she expanded in response to a question via email. It’s also a gluten-free diet.

[See: How to Prevent Pelvic Floor Problems.]

Candida Diet Food List

The candida diet eating regimen includes:

Nonstarchy vegetables, such as zucchini and broccoli.

— Some low-sugar fruits like berries (while avoiding high-sugar fruits like bananas, grapes and mangoes).

— Gluten-free grains like quinoa (avoiding grains that contain gluten including wheat, barley, rye and spelt).

Lean proteins. Eggs and the white meat of chicken and turkey are the preferred choices, though some red meat, like well-cooked beef, is allowed.

— Only some dairy products like ghee and butter fit in the diet; no cheese or milk.

Fermented foods, which contain probiotics — like yogurt (that doesn’t have a lot of sugar) and kefir — are two other sources of dairy that get the green light.

— In addition, followers of the diet are encouraged to avoid alcohol and minimize caffeine consumption.

Does the Candida Diet Work?

Despite healthy elements of the candida diet, like reducing sugar intake, there’s no evidence to back up the diet’s claim that it can reduce yeast infections, says Nyirjesy.

Based on scientific research, it’s not clear whether dietary changes of any kind can prevent or treat yeast infections in most women, Nyirjesy says. “In women who are diabetic, where the glucose is out of control, it does increase their risk of having yeast infections, and their dietary changes may make a difference,” he says.

While dietary changes may help with the management of diabetes, Nyirjesy says that doesn’t apply to individuals whose blood sugar is in a normal, healthy range. “For most women with yeast infections (who don’t have diabetes) there’s no evidence that dietary changes make a bit of a difference,” he says.

Lack of Scientific Evidence

In addition to a lack of scientific evidence suggesting the candida diet can shield women from yeast infections, some registered dietitians say that the diet’s restrictive nature could be worse for gut health when, compared with eating a wider variety of foods, and may therefore undermine one’s overall health.

Richards contends that reducing sugar intake can also help control candida growth in the gut. “There is evidence that candida colonization in the gut forms a ‘reservoir’ that allows patients to be repeatedly re-infected with vaginal yeast infections,” she says, citing 2001 research published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases. “There has been a lack of research conducted into the candida diet because there is little money to be made out of it,” she adds.

Nyirjesy disagrees with Richards’ assessment regarding whether there’s solid evidence that the candida diet can help prevent yeast infections. “There’s never been any high-quality evidence that diet helps (prevent yeast infections),” he says. “I’ve seen countless women with recurrent yeast infections who have tried the diet over the years and thought it was a waste of time.

Heidi Silver, a research professor of medicine and director of the Vanderbilt Diet, Body Composition and Metabolism Core at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, says there’s a lack of research that directly tests or supports the candida diet, despite decades of people following it. There’s a dearth of studies to support that an anti-candida diet specifically is what’s needed to bolster gut health or reduce yeast infections.

“This was a very popular fad diet as far back as 35 years ago. So it’s been around for quite a while,” Silver says. “It’s not a new concept.” But despite all the time that’s passed, “there really isn’t a scientific evidence base to make any conclusions about the anti-Candida diet.”

There’s no evidence to support the efficacy of the candida diet when it comes to preventing or mitigating yeast infections, agrees Dr. Erin Higgins,an obstetrician-gynecologist with Cleveland Clinic. “Additionally, this (diet) could lead to disordered eating, abnormal eating behaviors and/or eating disorders, like anorexia and bulimia,” Higgins says. “Such lifestyle/dietary changes should only be made under the guidance of a medical professional.”

If your goal is to boost the health of your gut, limiting the types of foods you eat is not a good approach, adds Lisa Jones, a registered dietitian based in Philadelphia. “If you want to improve your gut health, you should not restrict the variety of food you eat,” she says. “Foods that are good for gut health include fermented foods like yogurt and sauerkraut, for example. Prebiotic foods like onions and garlic also help to feed the good bacteria in the gut. In addition, a healthy diet includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. These foods are high in fiber, which helps to keep the digestive system running smoothly. A healthy diet is good for gut health because it helps to maintain a balance of good bacteria in the gut.”

More from U.S. News

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Ways to Reduce Inflammation

Best Foods to Eat for Your Mood — and a Few Bad Ones

What Is the Candida Diet and Is It Safe? originally appeared on usnews.com

Update 12/06/22: This story was previously published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.

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