Have you recently complained to friends and or family: “I don’t know why I’ve suddenly developed this spring sneezing and wheezing” or “I never used to get an upset stomach when I ate dairy products?” Developing allergies and food sensitivities isn’t necessarily a product of geography, the season of the year or even of aging. While allergies may have many causes, consider the possibility that systemic yeast overgrowth may be an underlying factor. It may sound far-fetched for those of us who think of yeast infections as those annoying itchy vaginal problems, but extensive research shows that yeast overgrowth can weaken the immune system and open the door to food sensitivities, allergies, asthma and other seemingly unrelated health problems. How can this be?
What Is Leaky Gut?
In their 2005 edition of The Yeast Connection and Women’s Health, the late Dr. William Crook and I described a process known as the “leaky gut syndrome.” In the most simple terms possible, here’s how you get leaky gut:
You upset the balance of friendly bacteria in your digestive tract. This usually takes places if you take antibiotics, even for a short time or eat a diet high in processed foods, or if you take birth control pills.
Fewer friendly bacteria in your gut allow the normal yeast balance to begin growing out of control, compromising your immune system which is based in the digestive tract. The yeast overgrowth actually causes tiny perforations in your intestines, which allows yeast and other toxins to spill into your bloodstream, triggering allergic responses.
In addition, the failure of your immune system to function perfectly sometimes triggers over-response (known as a histaminic response) to some substances that were not formerly problematic.
Yeast Allergies & Yeast Overgrowth
Some doctors think the term “allergy” should be limited to those conditions in which an immunological response can be demonstrated using skin tests or more sophisticated laboratory tests, specifically IgE antibody tests.
But some doctors expand that definition to include hypersensitivity to foods and environmental toxins, which, in fact, may be documented by IgG antibody testing. The most common food allergies are wheat, corn, milk and eggs, although many people have dozens of food allergy triggers. These food sensitivities may not cause the obvious symptoms: sneezing, runny nose, coughing, hives and itching.
In fact, as Dr. Crook and Dr. Dean explain, some of your favorite foods could be the ones feeding your problems, especially if they are high in yeast and sugar. And they may have been causing you trouble for years without your knowledge.
Environmental toxins, ranging from tobacco smoke to perfumes to household cleaning products, can cause similar leaky gut symptoms. And they may be caused by yeast overgrowth resulting in the release of toxins into your bloodstream.
These toxins can trigger everything from depression to fatigue to endometriosis to headaches.
If you’ve gotten unsatisfactory results from decongestants, anti-histamines and nasal sprays, perhaps it is time to consider the possibility that systemic yeast overgrowth is causing your problem.
Many of Dr. Crook’s and Dr. Dean’s patients found relief from food sensitivities, allergies and allergy-triggered asthma when they adopted an anti-yeast plan that includes changes in diet, supplements, non-prescription antifungal medications, and sometimes prescription antifungal medications.
The first method of treatment for allergies starts with avoiding the substance that is triggering your problems. That’s fine if you know you’re allergic to eggs or cat hair or ragweed.
But what if you don’t know what you’re allergic to?
The Elimination Diet
For food allergies and sensitivities, the easiest way is to self-diagnose with what Dr. Crook called The Elimination Diet.
Begin by keeping a symptoms diary for at least three days before you begin the elimination diet. Continue to keep the diary throughout your three-week elimination diet.
During this phase, you’ll avoid:
- sugar in all forms (including fruit and high fructose corn syrup) substitute with stevia
- all wheat products (read labels carefully!)
- processed and packaged foods
- all food colors and dyes
- condiments like vinegar, catsup, soy sauce and all fermented foods.
You’ll probably notice that your symptoms will begin to diminish over the first week or so. Keep careful note of this in your diary. You’ll probably also notice that sugar cravings will disappear after two or three days.
While the purpose of this diet is not to lose weight, you may drop a few pounds – a pleasant side effect of this diet.
What you can eat on this diet:
You can eat sparingly:
- dried beans and other legumes
- whole grains like brown rice, barley, oats
- grain alternatives like amaranth, buckwheat and quinoa
After three weeks, you’ll enter what is known as the Challenge Phase. During this time, you’ll introduce the most common allergy-causing foods, one at a time, and watch the effects carefully. Most people with wheat allergies, for example, will notice congestion returns if they eat even half a slice of bread. Many people with yeast-related allergies and food sensitivities have problems with sugar, which is doubly problematic because it actually feeds the yeast that is already overgrown in their systems. Once you have identified your allergy triggers, you can avoid these foods or eat them only on rare occasions.
You’ll find more details on the anti-candida diet plus recipes, and lots more information at www.yeastconnection.com or in The Yeast Connection and Women’s Health.
When Allergies Aren’t Symptoms of Leaky Gut
Environmental triggers for your allergies are usually easier to identify than leaky gut is. You know if your head fills up when you’re around cats or if you can’t bear the smell of cigarette smoke. Allergies to specific pollens, household cleaning products, fabrics and other common substances around us are sometimes more difficult to identify. These types of allergies can be fairly easily identified through a skin prick allergy test
A 1999 Mayo Clinic study concluded that some allergy sufferers have a systemic response to yeast rather than bacterial infection as an underlying cause of chronic sinusitis, which is a common complication of allergies. Treatment of yeast overgrowth with prescription and non-prescription antifungal medications provides relief for many people who have suffered with allergies for years.
How to Heal Leaky Gut
Whether your allergies are food- or environmentally triggered, probiotics are usually the first line of defense. These products containing friendly bacteria help to restore the natural balance of bacteria and yeast in your digestive system. Although probiotics are unlikely to completely take care of your problem, they will begin the job.
- Olive leaf extract is a potent antimicrobial that inhibits the growth of many microorganisms ranging from yeast to viruses, bacteria and protozoa.
- Caprylic acid, a naturally occurring fatty acid, is readily absorbed in the entire digestive tract if you get an enteric coated form. Some research suggests it interferes with the growth and reproductive processes of yeast organisms.
- Garlic has been widely used for medicinal purposes for centuries. Garlic extract has been scientifically proven to strengthen the immune system by helping white blood cells gobble up enemy germs, including Candida albicans yeast.
- Citrus seed or grapefruit seed extract has been shown to discourage the growth of yeast in the intestinal tract. Some doctors say this extract is as effective as prescription medications in treating candida-related yeast problems.
These products are available at your local health food store.
If your yeast overgrowth has been long-established or you are unable to follow the diet, your doctor may prescribe antifungal medications for several months or even more. The most commonly used antifungals are:
- Diflucan is common for the short-term treatment of vaginitis and is the drug of choice for many physicians treating yeast overgrowth on a long-term basis. It works throughout the system to penetrate tissues infested with yeast organisms. Your liver function should be monitored if you take Diflucan on a long-term basis, since rare cases of liver toxicity have been reported.
- Nystatin has been in use longer than Diflucan and similar drugs. It works in a unique way to help re-establish the strength of the intestinal walls, eliminating the leaky gut syndrome.
There are a few other prescription antifungals. Discuss them with your doctor. But whatever you take for short term relief it should be accompanied by an anti-Candida diet and an understanding that you can regrow gut yeast very quickly by giving it the food it wants: sugar, wheat, and dairy.
© 2008 Dr. Carolyn F.A. Dean, M.D., N.D. All Rights Reserved.Heart MD Institute has reprinted this article with permission from Carolyn Dean, MD, ND.
Dr. Carolyn Dean is a medical doctor and naturopathic doctor. She has been in the forefront of the natural medicine revolution for over 30 years. Dr. Dean is the author/coauthor of 20 health books (print and eBooks). She has a free newsletter and a valuable online wellness program called Future Health Now! Dr. Dean is also available to assist individuals with all types of illness at any stage or degree of severity through her Telephone Wellness Consulting practice.