Did y’all know I’m passionate about the gut? (read: complete sarcasm) I’m a massive believer that gut health = whole health and I’ll tell anyone who will listen. And this is a big reason why. A huge part of my healing has been restoring damage done to my gut by years of eating gluten and unknowingly having celiac disease.
So a super brief overview of your gut: it’s pretty dang important. Hippocrates said years and years (and years) ago that “all disease begins in the gut” and we’re finding more and more just how right he was. Your gut (specifically GALT, gut-associated lymphoid tissue) houses 70% of your immune system and of course the intestinal cells that break down food: where nutrients are absorbed and toxins are (supposed to be) removed. It is composed of about a tennis court worth of lining all scrunched together to soak up as many nutrients as possible. I spent an entire semester studying the biochemical processes our body uses to break down our food, so I’ll spare you the textbooks of organic chemistry and tell you it’s incredibly complex. There is SO much our organs to do convert our food to usable fuel, it’s truthfully just beautiful. But we can’t do it all on our own. We actually rely on billions of bacteria cells to help us. Yes, billions. You literally have more bacteria cells in your gut than you have of your own body cells in your WHOLE body. And these bacteria are there to help us with our digestion. There are a lot of fibers and chemicals that our intestinal cells can’t break down on their own, so the bacteria help out in exchange for a warm and cozy place to live.
What is yeast overgrowth?
Very simply, a yeast overgrowth happens when your bad bacteria outnumbers your good. Candida, the most common fungus present in your mouth and gut, can be productive in small amounts, but when it is overgrown, it breaks through your intestinal wall and leaks into the bloodstream. This allows toxins your gut is supposed to eliminate circle back into your system (and even without a nutrition degree, I’m sure you can guess that is not exactly a good thing). This spillage of toxins into the blood is called leaky gut, and it is the root of soooo many of our health problems.
What causes it?
Lots of things!
Antibiotics can cause it. Because they don’t just kill the bad bacteria of a skin rash or an ear infection, they literally kill all bacteria in your body- even the good stuff your gut needs to function properly. And by killing off the good stuff, it allows the bad to grow in its place.
The birth control pill can cause it, too! Really any form of hormonal treatment. With a yeast overgrowth, the candida actually attaches itself to estrogen, so any time you’re adding estrogen to your body (or messing with any form of your natural estrogen/progesterone levels), you’re increasing your risk for overgrowth. A recent study says you’re doubling it.
Even just stress can cause it. Stress (and its sister: lack of sleep) weakens the immune system and disrupts hormone levels, both lowering your body’s natural ability to maintain a healthy bacterial balance.
But probably the biggest culprit for most of us: a high sugar / high processed starch diet. The candida feeds off of sugar (and starch because starch becomes sugar almost immediately in your body). By consuming a lot of the foods that fuel it, you’re promoting its growth and it can easily start to overpopulate and throw off your microbiome flora balance.
How do you know you have it?
Well to be honest, odds are that you do. Because of our diets and the disgusting amounts of sugar and refined carbohydrates loaded into everything we eat, most of us do.
You can go to the doctor and pay some good money to get a blood test for IgA, IgG, and IgM candida antibodies or do a stool or urine sample test to confirm. But I’ve battled this for years, and never once did a doctor think to test for these. So I’ve learned on my own. A yeast overgrowth can cause any and all of the following symptoms:
- Skin infections – eczema, rosacea, acne, dermatitis
- Headaches and migraines
- Digestive issues – bloating, gas, diarrhea, constipation, IBS
- Chronic fatigue – general exhaustion or any form of adrenal fatigue
- Hormonal imbalances and side effects like anxiety or depression – (70% of our serotonin is produced in the gut, so a disturbance of our flora can lead to a disturbance of our happy levels)
- Autoimmune diseases – yup, my celiac disease
- Diabetes – both type 1 (autoimmune) and type 2
- ADD or ADHD
- Frequent infections – ear infections, UTIs, vaginal yeast infections
- Food allergy, intolerance, or sensitivity – often times, we develop food sensitivites simply because leaky gut allows those food particles into our blood stream and they then cause inflammation in places they shouldn’t be
- Thyroid conditions like Hashimoto’s
- Joint pain and arthritis
Crazy, right? But it makes sense. With so much of our immune system and neurotransmitter production residing in our gut, it makes sense that a disturbance of its function can cause a lot of varying effects.
I knew I had one this time around, at the tail end of my European escapades (thanks Italy and all your delicious gluten free pasta and gelato) because all my symptoms pointed to it: my intestines were swollen and painful to the touch, I had some serious changes to my bowel movements, and this rash I’ve been battling on my face got a whole lot worse. Oh and I got a yeast infection you know where. That one made it pretty dang obvious.
How did I treat it?
I was determined to kick this yeast out of my system without any drugs. So my arsenal of weapons was stacked with natural remedies and all together they worked wonders.
#1 – Sugar detox.
The first step is to kill the yeast. And the best way to do that is to starve it. Cut off its food supply by not eating any processed sugars or starches. I cut out all forms of added sugar– honey, agave, coconut sugar, all of it. I limited my fruit consumption, too. Although rich in vitamins and minerals and antioxidants and so many good things, it’s also packed with sugar, so it’s important to keep it pretty fruit-free for at least a couple weeks. I had a few berries on my chia pudding or 1/2 of a frozen banana in a smoothie, but I made sure to not have more than that in any one day. And I also cut out all starches– no flour, no oats, no rice. Even no starchy vegetables like potatoes or corn or beans or legumes or peas. I eat a pretty low-starch diet in general (because I just feel better without too many grains), but I was pretty darn clear of all forms of starches during the first 2 weeks.
Yes, this is hard to do. But it’s necessary. (And I’ve learned a lot of tricks on how to successfully kill sugar cravings, so a blog post on that to come!)
#2 – Apple cider vinegar.
I talked about why apple cider vinegar is a part of my daily routine in a previous post, but it became even more important for me while trying to #killtheyeast. An acidic environment is a hard one for bacteria to grow in, and the acetic acid in ACV helps kill any that is already established.
I put about a tablespoon in a couple ounces of warm water with 1/2 of a squeezed lemon and chugged it. Every night.
#3 – Proboiotics.
In addition to actually killing the bad bacteria, it’s important to repopulate the good ones in its place. Probiotics are the good ones. I splurged on a good quality probiotic and I took it three times a day. And I drank about half of a kombucha every day, too. You can also add in other probiotic-rich foods like yogurt, kefir, and sauerkraut, but I’m not a fan of any of those so I let the probiotic supplement work its magic on its own.
#4 – Digestive enzymes.
I also added in digestive enzyme supplements. Taking enzymes basically just alleviates some stress on your gut by providing extra assistance in its processing, therefore allowing your gut to focus on healing during the protocol. I took one with every meal and noticed a huge difference in my bloat and just general digestion pain issues. This is one I’m sure I’ll keep as a part of my routine even moving forward because it helped so much with my GI discomfort.
#5 – Resistant starches.
Of course we are adding in good bacteria with our probiotics, but it’s also important that we feed those good bacteria to grow and establish and populate. We do that with prEbiotics: food for the probiotics. There are tons of examples of prebiotics like jicama, dandelion greens, garlic, and onions, but the easiest one I chose to use: resistant starches. Resistant starches serve as a natural prebiotic because they cannot be broken down by our own intestinal cells (hence the name), so they are instead digested by the healthy bacterial cells. The simplest (and cheapest) option: potato starch.
Does this seem confusing because I just told you to stay away from starches? Raw potato starch is different. It contains 8 grams of resistant starch per tablespoon and nearly no “usable” starch (none that actually feeds bad bacteria and spikes blood sugar). By taking potato starch, in its simplest form, you’re sending prebiotics straight to your gut. It will pass through your system and arrive to your intestines undigested, ready to be eaten up by the healthy bacteria waiting for some food. Not only does this allow the good bacteria to grow, the process of the breakdown itself also produces short-chain fatty acids and causes fermentation, lowering the pH of the gut and therefore creating an environment less friendly to unwanted pathogens.
I started with about 1/2 tbsp dissolved in a couple ounces of water every night, and I slowly worked my way up to 1 tbsp. Taking this at night is said to help you sleep, but the most important thing I noticed: it helped me start my day clear (if ya know what I mean).
Added bonus #6 – Collagen.
Y’all know this was a part of my daily routine long before this yeast protocol, but collagen was an amazing supplement during this process because it helped to reestablish my gut lining and heal any damage made through leaky gut. Collagen is amazing because, as the main building block of all of our body proteins, it helps to strengthen the production of any new tissues. If you aren’t already taking collagen, I highly recommend you add it in to your yeast protocol, too. (And you read all the details of why I take collagen here.)
And #7 – Coconuts.
Just like collagen, coconut was nothing new for me to introduce, but it helped pack an added punch during this protocol. Coconuts contain lauric acid, which the body converts to monolaurin, which it then uses to fight pathogens. Because of this, coconuts are natural antimicrobial powerhouses and they’ll aid in this yeast-slaying process. Cook your foods in coconut oil, put coconut milk to your coffee, and add a spoonful of coconut oil to your tea. Just all the coconuts. Everywhere.
So that’s it. No doctor bills. No scary drugs or unpronounceable medications. Just real, whole foods and some supplements. Just natural sources to aid my body in its amazing ability to fight for health on its own. 14 strict days of this protocol with an additional 7 of most of this (adding a little more fruit and a few more starches back in), and I’m healthy. My gut microbiome is back in balance and I’m feeling freaking amazing. Better than ever, honestly.
But obviously, I’m not a doctor and I’m not here to replace yours. If you’re curious to do your own research, these are links to my favorite doctors’ discussion of these topics (and a lot of the info I used myself for the above protocol): Dr. Mark Hyman || Dr. Amy Myers || Dr. Josh Axe
Are you afraid you have leaky gut? Are you wanting to try a yeast protocol? Grab yourself the arsenal:
This is a crazy problem that so many of us are unknowingly battling, and it very likely might be the answer to those stubborn health problems you just can’t figure out. And the gut is a topic I could ramble about for hours (and write a lot of blog posts on), so let me know what you want to know! Tag me in your questions on Instagram and keep me posted on your endeavors; I’d love to hear about how it goes and support you through it! Let’s all #killtheyeast!
xoxo, Mollie Mason