When Danielle first came to see me, her complaints sounded quite familiar.
She was exhausted all the time. Her anxiety was on overdrive. She had to drag herself out of bed in the morning and drink three cups of coffee just to function, but when she laid down at night her mind raced so much she couldn’t fall asleep.
I’ve been doing this work long enough to realize she was dealing with adrenal dysfunction, often known in the functional medicine world as adrenal fatigue. Because I know that the key to healing adrenal dysfunction is to find out what’s actually causing it, I did a little digging.
When she told me that she’d been having issues with extremely itchy skin and a variety of uncomfortable gastrointestinal symptoms, I thought I had my answer. She was likely suffering from an overgrowth of candida (yeast).
“Yeast? But I haven’t had a yeast infection in years,” she said.
Like many women, she had only heard of yeast in the context of oral thrush and vaginal infections. That’s because the conventional medical community doesn’t acknowledge the issue of systemic yeast. But it should!
Danielle trusted me enough to try what I suggested, despite her skepticism. A few months later, she was back in my office, telling me she hadn’t felt that vital and energized since her college days!
Adrenal glands depend on a strong immune system to function properly. And your immune system is primarily located in your gut, so gut health is essential for good immune functioning. Candida overgrowth can take a toll on gut health, and therefore on adrenal function.
Adrenal dysfunction can likewise create imbalances in your gut that foster candida overgrowth. Like many of the ways different systems in our bodies are connected, it’s tough to determine where the issue starts.
The good news is that a lot of the strategies that improve adrenal function also boost balance in the gut, so it doesn’t really matter. Adopting a healthy lifestyle allows you to thrive in all areas!
Let’s take a closer look at adrenal fatigue, candida overgrowth, and how the two are connected. Then I’ll give you some tips for addressing candida to improve both adrenal function and overall health.
What is adrenal fatigue?
I’ve talked about adrenal health so much that you are likely already familiar with the term adrenal fatigue. But just in case you haven’t been following me for long, let me quickly explain how the adrenals work – and what can go wrong.
Your adrenal glands are located on top of the kidneys. These tiny glands, along with the rest of the HPA Axis, produce hormones that carry vital messages throughout your body. Most important in this scenario are stress hormones including adrenaline, epinephrine and, of particular note, cortisol.
When stress occurs in your life (and let’s face it, these days, it’s almost constant), your stress response is activated. This response is a normal, healthy reaction to stressors that can be essential to survival. For instance, if you see a car heading right at you, your stress response prompts you to jump out of the way.
Stress comes at you from all directions, including physical trauma like injury or illness; anxiety around money, relationships, job expectations, and family responsibilities; emotional trauma from long ago; eating foods you have unknown sensitivities to; exposure to environmental toxins; and hormonal imbalances throughout your body.
Unfortunately, your brain perceives all stress the same way. So you may simply be stuck in traffic, safely inside a car, and those same stress hormones flood your body prompting a reaction; this is where road rage comes from.
When your adrenals are called upon to pump out cortisol all the time, there comes a point when they just can’t keep up. That’s where the term adrenal fatigue comes from: the idea that these hard-working glands are just too exhausted to function as they should.
Cortisol has a lot of important roles. In addition to activating your fight or flight response, it helps convert food to energy, regulates blood pressure, regulates blood sugar and cardiovascular function, decreases inflammation and manages the immune response.
When your body is calling for cortisol and your stress response is activated, other important functions are put on hold. This is fine for brief periods of time, but when it lingers on and on, hormonal imbalances begin to take hold.
Related article: What Causes Adrenal fatigue: The Effects of High Cortisol Levels
Your body may have too much or too little cortisol, depending upon the stage of adrenal fatigue you are in. Either way, the symptoms can be unbearable. And fixing the problem can be difficult if you haven’t determined where the stress is coming from in the first place.
Candida overgrowth is just another form of stress. If this is behind your adrenal fatigue, nothing you do will heal your adrenals if you don’t also address the candida.
What is candida and how does it impact health?
As I said before, candida is a type of yeast, which is classified as a fungus.
Did you know that around 1,500 species of yeast have been identified? Candida albicans is the most common form of this fungus; it’s found in between 40-60% of adults. Often, candida is found in the mouth and intestines, as well as being responsible for most vaginal yeast infections.
We need to have a small amount of candida in our systems to help your body digest food and absorb nutrients. But overproduction of candida can push through the intestinal wall into your bloodstream, releasing toxic by-products that lead to issues like candidiasis and leaky gut syndrome.
When the bacteria in your gut is well balanced, candida can’t take over. But so many lifestyle factors negatively impact this balance, making it hard for the “good” bacteria to thrive. And when this bacteria decreases, candida seizes the opportunity to run wild.
Candida overgrowth mimics many other conditions, which is why it can be so easy to miss – especially at a conventional practice where your doctor only has a few minutes to discuss your concerns.
Some of the signs I look for when assessing the possibility of candida are fungal infections like athlete’s foot; chronic fatigue; problems with digestion; difficulty focusing or concentrating; skin problems; mood swings; frequent vaginal or urinary tract infections; and severe seasonal allergies. What a list, right? And all of them can be caused by several other health problems.
The difficulty pinpointing candida lends fuel to the controversy and debate about whether it could be the culprit. But in my practice I’ve seen enough women feel better after addressing the potential for yeast overgrowth to be confident that we should pay attention to it!
Candida and Adrenal Fatigue: What’s the Connection?
Okay, so now that you understand a little more about both adrenal fatigue and candida overgrowth, let’s connect the dots. How does one impact the other?
The first connection, as I mentioned earlier, is immunity. If you are already impacted by adrenal dysfunction, your immune system may be weakened. A weak immune system opens the door for candida overgrowth.
At the same time, treating candida can actually make your adrenal fatigue worse at first, since treatment prompts release of toxins that put stress on your adrenal glands. With adrenal fatigue, your liver may already be working overtime to keep up, and a sudden flood of new toxins won’t be processed well.
That’s why it’s best to take a slow, steady approach to addressing candida. Addressing symptoms of adrenal fatigue before hitting probiotics or antifungal medications hard may help eliminate this issue and avoid even worse symptoms.
Natural ways to address candida overgrowth
Ridding your system of excess candida can be a long and frustrating process. You’ll need to commit yourself to changing the habits that may have allowed for it to thrive in the first place. Initially, drastic changes may be called for. Remember, it won’t be forever. Once you have healed your body, you can afford to indulge once in a while. I recommend a three step approach to addressing candida: cleanse, heal, maintain.
- Cleansing your system. The first step is to starve the yeast to remove it from your system. Since Candida loves sugar, cutting it out entirely (and that means natural sugar from fruits, as well as anything that converts to sugar in your system) is important. I know this step is no fun at all, but it’s temporary! For a day or two, eat organic, non-starchy vegetables as much as you can, and flush toxins from your system by staying well hydrated.
- Heal your body. Slow and steady is the name of the game here. While in the healing phase, continue to avoid fruit and starchy vegetables. Instead, eat organic, non starchy vegetables, plenty of healthy facts, and healthy proteins. Some great options for fats are nuts, seeds, olive or coconut oil, and avocados. For protein, choose wild caught fish, grass fed beef, and free range eggs and poultry.
Coconut oil and ghee are both powerful antifungal agents and great energy boosters. Consuming a few tablespoons each day can be a huge help to the healing process.
You’ll also want to add good bacteria back into your system, and help it thrive. Avoid fermented foods during the healing phase. Although these are fantastic at boosting beneficial bacteria normally, during the healing phase they can enhance candida growth, since they contain yeast.
A high-quality probiotic is another important addition during the healing stages. And even when healing is complete, making this part of your regular routine is a good idea to keep your gut balanced long term.
Herbs that are high in antioxidants help replace minerals, salts, and antioxidants that candida destroys. Some good options are turmeric, cinnamon, ginger and green tea.
Because candida overgrowth can rob your body of minerals, salts, and antioxidants, consuming herbs high in antioxidants like cinnamon, tumeric, ginger and green tea can help the healing process as well.
- Maintain balance. Any time you change habits, maintaining the new, healthier way of living can be a challenge. Most of us can be a lot more rigid if we know it’s only for a little while. But some of the changes that help you heal, when practiced permanently, can keep you healthy and strong for the long haul.
That doesn’t mean you can never enjoy a small dessert or a glass of wine. Moderation is the healthiest habit you can build! I like the 80/20 rule; if you take the healthy road 80% of the time, you can likely veer off that path the other 20% of the time without major consequences.
To keep both adrenal fatigue and candida overgrowth from becoming a recurring problem, I suggest adopting the following lifestyle changes for life:
- Alcohol, sweets and simple carbs should be consumed sparingly, if at all.
- Antibiotics should never be your first course of action. Only use them when you’ve tried everything else first.
- Both a high-quality probiotic and multivitamin complex should be part of your daily routine to be sure your body is getting the nutrients and gut support it needs.
- Organic foods are always the best choice. Fresh veggies can fill the void left behind by simple carbs, and keep you healthy at the same time!
- Don’t let stress rule your life. Find ways to relieve the tension of daily living and enjoy yourself.
Don’t let candida overgrowth rule your life
Despite the fact that many conventional practitioners insist that candida overgrowth has nothing to do with major health issues, I’ve dealt with enough stories like Danielle’s to believe we must keep talking about it.
Recent research on the link between candida colonization and gut health has grown, which may (like so many other areas functional medicine practitioners have been talking about for years) move the conversation forward.
In the meantime, you have nothing to lose by trying the strategies I suggest to heal both adrenal fatigue and candida overgrowth. Nothing, that is, except those awful symptoms!
Reviewed by Dr. Mark Menolascino, MD