By Carolyn Dean, M.D., N.D.
Inflammation is a HOT topic, an Internet search on the word turns up an overwhelming 37.5 million hits. Journals of inflammation, inflammation research associations, and drug companies are all scrambling to find a drug to treat this scourge.
The cover story blazing through flickering flames on a February 2004 issue of TIME magazine notified the public about “The Secret Killer: The Surprising Link between Inflammation and Heart Attacks, Cancer, Alzheimer’s and Other Diseases.” The lead in to the story was just as dramatic: “The Fires Within - Inflammation is the body’s first defense against infection, but when it goes awry, it can lead to heart attacks, colon cancer, Alzheimer’s and a host of other diseases.”
How can a simple infection lead to heart attacks and cancer?
That’s exactly where inflammation begins; it’s the first response of your immune system to an infecting organism or foreign material that trips a switch leading to a “cascade” of biochemical events. Fluid floods the infected area along with a dozen different chemicals including white blood cells and histamine –all capable of producing the signs of inflammation –redness, swelling, and pain.
The extensive TIME article focused on the miraculous drugs that are in the pipeline to defeat this foe. It was obvious, however, that the authors and researchers they interviewed really didn’t understand inflammation, otherwise they would know that synthetic drugs do not treat it. By their very nature as toxins that the body is designed to attack, drugs are a primary source of inflammation.
Also in 2004, there were countless headlines about the anti-inflammatory drug, Vioxx, the cause of an estimated 140,000 heart attacks. In fact, when properly studied, most anti-inflammatory drugs were found to have serious side effects, mostly involving the heart. So, along with the unveiling of inflammation we learned that the “cure” for it might be more deadly than the disease. In 2006, it appears that the only drugs that are being promoted to treat the inflammation associated with chronic diseases are the cholesterol-lowering statins. Yet, this is another family of drugs with a checkered history of serious side effects including severe muscle pain and muscle tissue breakdown, global amnesia, and liver damage.
In the TIME article there was no mention that obesity causes inflammation or that the levels of the inflammation marker, C-Reactive Protein (CRP), drop dramatically when overweight people lose as little as ten pounds. There was also no discussion about the inflammatory role played by the yeast, Candida albicans, a common inhabitant of our intestines that can grow out of control. In what appears to be a concerted effort to ignore yeast overgrowth in our population, conventional medicine has not informed practicing doctors of yeast’s dangers.
What is Yeast?
In brief, Candida albicans is a fungus living in our intestines that produces 180 chemical toxins capable of making you feel dizzy and fatigued, shutting down your thyroid, throwing your hormones off balance, and causing you to crave sugar and alcohol, and gain weight. It’s associated with PMS, loss of libido, painful intercourse, infertility, numbness, tingling, MS, Crohn’s, colitis, IBS, acne, Lupus, insomnia, drowsiness, white tongue, breath bad, body odor, sinusitis, bruising, sore throat, bronchitis, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, spots in front of eyes, and dozens more symptoms.
To the great detriment of the health of our society, this fungus is growing rampant in a large proportion of the population –mostly women. It’s one of the many diseases of civilization – the culmination of the side effects of drug and food technology and the disservices of our stressful way of life. The miracle of antibiotics has its downside as an underlying cause of yeast overgrowth. The refining of sugar and wheat has its downside by creating a simple food source for yeast. The tremendous levels of stress hormones that flood our bodies daily, hourly, and every minute in our sped up world also make us prey to yeast.
Candidiasis (yeast overgrowth) has been around for decades, ever since we began to use antibiotics but neglected to replace the good bacteria that are destroyed along with the bad. Yeast itself, a cousin to molds, has grown in human bodies since Adam and Eve. Candida albicans is the main yeast in the human body; it lives there happily enough, kept in check by beneficial bacteria in the intestines. These bacteria make small amounts of vitamin K and B12 and help digest excess sugar that gets past the small intestine. A very special group of bacteria also make lactic acid, which protects the gut and vagina against yeast.
Candida is one of the 400 organisms that make their home in our mouth, digestive tract, vagina and on our skin. For the most part, yeast get along with their neighbors. When you begin taking antibiotics, however, the whole delicate balance is lost. Antibiotics don’t discriminate, they wipe out most of the good along with the bad bacteria leaving yeast unharmed.
Leaky Gut: An Open Door To Our Tissues
In the absence of competition, yeast colonies grow into all the empty nooks and crannies of the large intestine and even the small intestine. It is a scientific fact that when yeast cells reach a certain critical mass they change from a round budding stage to a thread-like tissue invasive stage. They are running out of food and looking for more, so they pack their bags and emigrate to the small intestine from their main home in the large intestine.
In the small intestine, the yeast threads poke microscopic holes in the intestinal lining. Such a phenomenon is called “leaky gut” – a superhighway to the blood stream with nothing to block toxins trickling across the gut lining. Instead of absorbing life-giving nutrients through an intact intestinal wall, yeast’s chemical by-products (all 180 of them), the inflammatory products they produce, undigested food molecules, bacterial toxins, and other chemicals take a one-way ride. The holes are not necessarily big enough to allow yeast to get into the blood stream, so the blood is not infected with yeast, but it carries hundreds of waste products that cause inflammation from head to toe.
Yeast and Inflammation
When yeast, bacterial, and food toxins hit the blood stream they trigger widespread inflammatory reactions by either directly attacking tissues or creating allergic reactions along with the production of histamine. Some of the yeast toxins like acetaldehyde, alcohol, zymosan, arabinitol, and gliotoxin have been named by mycologists –people that study fungi but rarely do they extend their discussion to the human suffering caused by these toxins. A similar lack of attention is being paid to toxic mold that threatens the Gulf states after the Katrina devastation. Any home still standing that was flooded will be covered in mold, and that mold and its toxins could be deadly.
Acetaldehyde is produced when yeast digests sugar. It is a particularly potent toxin that can damage all the tissues in the body including the brain. It is also produced when you drink alcohol, breathe the exhaust from cars, and smoke cigarettes. What most people don’t know is that yeast also produces alcohol in the body—enough to make some people feel drunk and give a positive reading on a breathalyzer test. When alcohol breaks down in the body, it produces acetaldehyde. If you have yeast overgrowth and also drink alcohol you are hit with a double dose of acetaldehyde hangover or brain fog. In actual fact, most people with yeast overgrowth can’t touch alcohol because it makes them feel so rotten.
Acetaldehyde readily combines with red blood cells, proteins, and enzymes; travels to all parts of the body; and even passes through the blood brain barrier. It damages the structure of red blood cells making them unable to squeeze through tiny capillaries to convey oxygen to needy tissues. Acetaldehyde also blocks the attachment of oxygen to red blood cells. Your brain uses 20 percent of all the oxygen that you inhale but stiff red blood cells cut down that amount considerably leaving you gasping for air and feeling whoozy. Acetaldehyde damages nerve cells, induces deficiencies of an important nerve vitamin, B1 (thiamine), the energy and neurotransmitter vitamin, B 3 (niacin), and vitamin B5, which is crucial for normal brain function.
Zymosan causes inflammation and has been directly associated with psoriasis. Arabinitol attacks the immune system, nervous system, and the brain. And gliotoxin disrupts the DNA in white blood cells killing them outright. Other toxins account for the long list of symptoms attributed to yeast overgrowth and that are eliminated when yeast is brought under control. Researchers have also proven that Candida antibodies cross react with all tissues in the body that have been tested. That type of cross reactivity sets the stage for autoimmune disease.
Weight gain is very common in yeast overgrowth. Our bodies create pounds of fluid retention in an attempt to dilute the inflammatory toxins that yeast produces. Over time, tissue toxins and fluid build up lead to cellulite and weight gain. The gas produced by yeast can cause abdominal bloating that can increase your waist size up to 6 inches from one meal to the next.
The Yeast Questions
The following questions can help you decide whether you should look further into yeast overgrowth as a cause of your inflammation and chronic symptoms.
- Have you taken several courses of antibiotics in the past?
- Have you been on the birth control pill?
- Do you react to the smell of damp moldy places?
- Do you crave sugar and bread?
- Do you feel drained to the point of exhaustion?
- Do you have symptoms of intestinal gas, bloating, and cramping (IBS)?
- Are you troubled by constant vaginal infections?
- Are you bothered by itchy burning eyes?
Where’s the Cure?
Unfortunately, the treatment for yeast does not lie in a pill as many women have learned. Even if your doctor is one of the few that does recognize yeast overgrowth, the most common treatment recommended is a week or two of antifungal medications. Most doctors don’t understand that yeast overgrowth requires a 6-Point Yeast Fighting Program. Information on this approach is freely available at www.yeastconnection.com and follows in a very abbreviated form.
- Diet: avoid sugar, wheat and dairy as well as fermented foods, and alcohol. Substitute stevia* (see below for recommendations)
- Probiotics (good bacteria): the best ones are acidophilus and bifidus. Obtain products that guarantee a minimum of 2-10 billion organisms per capsule.
- Antifungal supplements: garlic (eat one or two cloves a day), oil of oregano (take 2-3 capsules per day) and grapefruit seed extract (take two to three capsules per day) or take a formula that also includes caprylic acid, pau D’Arco, black walnut, beta carotene, and biotin.
- Exercise: every day, at least 30 minutes, to move the lymph circulation that clears toxins from the body.
- De-stress: with prayer, meditation, breathing exercises, and/or yoga to reduce the amount of natural cortisol that stimulates yeast overgrowth.
- Work with a caring physician. Download a comprehensive physician’s packet to take to your doctor from yeastconnection.com. The last step of the 6-Point Program is prescription antifungals from your doctor, but only if you also continue steps 1-5.
It is mainly through diet and lifestyle change that you can overcome yeast overgrowth—but you can overcome it and reduce the amount of inflammation in your life with some effort and support.
*As a physician, I have found that reducing sugar intake is one of the most important ways to control hypoglycemia, diabetes, and intestinal yeast. Reduce your sugar intake by supplementing your tea, water, and other beverages with Stevia. Please go to www.carolyndean.com and click on Dean Wellness for my personal Stevia recommendation.
Dr. Carolyn Dean, M.D., N.D.
Proficient in both conventional and alternative medicine Dr. Dean offers Consultations for Health by Phone. If you require individualization of the advice offered in this article, you can contact Dr. Dean at www.carolyndean.com or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. At www.carolyndean.com, under Dean Wellness, you can find a list of food and supplement resources including food-based organic vitamins and angstrom-size minerals that Dr. Dean recommends.
Dr. Dean graduated from medical school in 1978 and holds a medical license in California. She is also a graduate of the Ontario Naturopathic College, now the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine, where she sat on the Board of Governors for six years.
Dr. Dean is an expert in difficult to diagnose conditions such as digestive and intestinal disorders (IBS); hormone imbalance and estrogen dominance; and yeast overgrowth as evidenced by three of her books, IBS for DUMMIES, Hormone Balance, and The Yeast Connection and Women’s Health. Another of Dr. Dean’s areas of expertise is magnesium. In her latest book, The Magnesium Miracle she uncovers evidence of magnesium deficiency in 22 health conditions including heart disease, arthritis, PMS, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, and anxiety. Dr. Dean is able to advise what types of magnesium are best suited for these conditions.
Dr. Dean has authored a total of twelve books to share her extensive knowledge in both traditional and alternative medicine. These titles include Natural Prescriptions for Common Ailments, Menopause Naturally, Homeopathic Remedies for Children’s Common Ailments, The Miracle of Magnesium, Everything Alzheimer’s, Hormone Balance, The Yeast Connection and Women’s Health, IBS for Dummies, Death by Modern Medicine, The Complete Natural Medicine Guide to Women’s Health, Solve it With Supplements, and The Magnesium Miracle.
Originally published in Total Health and Longevity Magazine Sept 2006.