Candida : an Ayurvedic perspective
Candida overgrowth is an infestation of the Candida albicans yeast. Everyone has a certain amount of Candida in their digestive tract, but if the Candida increases beyond a certain level, it cause problems. The main symptoms are chronic low energy, low-grade fevers, variable digestion, weak immune system and food allergies. These symptoms can be confused with other conditions, especially complaints relating to general digestive weakness and immunity disorders, so it is best to have a medical examination to verify whether Candida is present at significant levels.
Normally, Candida overgrowth starts in the digestive tract causing a variety of symptoms which will depend on constitution. If it is left untreated, it can enter the blood and lodge itself in various organs. Candida overgrowth is an Ama (Ama is a generic term in Ayurveda that means internal toxins produced by improper metabolic functioning) condition and while it can happen to any of the constitutions, Kapha (phlegmatic) types tend to suffer the most due to their inherent low metabolism and damp nature. These are the main causative factors:-
- Excess sugar consumption
- Excess use of stimulants and drugs
- Excess use of antibiotics
- Depressed immunity, frequent colds, flu’s of yeast infections
- Emotional factors such as worry and fear
- A generally toxic environment
Ayurvedic Candida Treatment
The Ayurvedic treatment is similar to that of parasites, and includes the following components:-
- Balance the Agni (digestive enzyme functioning) through the use of digestive spices according to constitution in conjunction with general nutritional guidelines.
- Increase Ojas (immunity) with immunity increasing herbs (Rasayanas) supported by appropriate lifestyle and exercise regimes according to your constitution.
- Eradicate the pathogen (in this case, the Candida). Special anti-fungal and anti-parasitical herbs are used along with an anti-Candida diet.
Attempting to remove the Candida by following a strict reducing diet, and perhaps taking some anti-fungal and anti-parasitical herbs is likely not to succeed since it fails to address the root of the problem, the digestive and immune weakness. Hence the above protocol emphasises the regulation of the Agni (digestive fire) and the restoration of immunity.
As with any chronic condition, and from considering the list of causes above, it is probable that in addition to following a remedial program, there will need to be some permanent lifestyle changes. Unfortunately, we are often not prepared to really take responsibility for our health, seeking only a quick fix for what is almost always the result of our own ‘failure of wisdom’.
If you suspect you have a chronic Candida infection, I would suggest you nip to your local book shop and browse over the available literature on the topic. Don’t be overwhelmed. It’s always good to be informed. If you still suspect you have an overgrowth, make an appointment with your doctor, equipped with your book, and ask them for a Candida test. If it turns out that you do have a Candida infection, it is good to determine whether it has remained limited to the G.I. tract or whether it has spread to any of the organs. It is quite common that the bladder and genitals are affected, where Candida is commonly known as ‘thrush’.
It is best to be as clear as you can before launching into an anti-Candida regime, which can be quite rigorous. The more systemic and long term the imbalance, the more I would urge you to work alongside a professional, such as an Ayurvedic educator, or a good naturopath or western herbalist.
Here are some simple recommendations based on the Ayurvedic approach. For this you need to know your dominant Dosha, your prakriti, and what constitutes a prakriti-balancing program in terms of diet, exercise and daily routine. Most introductory books on Ayurveda cover this in sufficient detail. My favourite is ‘Prakriti – Your Ayurvedic Constitution’ by Robert Svoboda.
The more serious your Candida infection, the sooner you should follow an Ama-reducing (detoxifying) diet adjusted to your constitution. This needs to be designed specifically for you, and cannot be explained here. If you cannot seek professional guidance, then you can at least cut down on damp, heavy, mucus forming foods such as peanuts, dairy, bread, sugar, fruit, raw foods, cold and iced foods, fatty foods and fermented and yeast products, since these all increase Kapha and Ama. Your diet should be based on whole foods with the total elimination of refined and processed foods. Foods that are helpful are garlic (3-5 cloves a day, as it destroys the yeast and enkindles Agni), millet (a light, drying and heating grain), and hot and anti-parasitical spices like cayenne, asafoetida, prickly ash. Some people suggest that fresh fruits, and honey can be tolerated. My experience is that it depends on the individual. So I usually suggest that people first cut our concentrated sugars, including a sweeteners, but leave some fruit in the diet. When you do take ‘offending’ foods, especially dairy and sugars, take them with spices like cardamom and cinnamon, as they help to digest sugars and mucus forming foods.
Herbs to the rescue!
Use special anti-fungal and anti-parasitical herbs like valerian, wormwood, mugwort, saussurea, vidanga and pau d’arco. These need to be balanced with herbs that balance the Agni. While it is best to have a formula made up for your specific constitution and situation, the following classic formulas will help to balance you Agni and help digest the above anti-Candida herbs.
- Vata types can use the classic Ayurvedic Vata-balancing digestive ‘Asafoetida 8’ for balancing a Vata-type Agni (variable, weak, chronic constipation and wind)
- Pitta types can use the classic Ayurvedic formula ‘Avipattikar’ for balancing a Pitta-type Agni (hot, fast, tends towards diarrhoea and burning).
- Kapha types can use the classic Kapha-balancing digestive ‘Trikatu’ for balancing a Kapha-type Agni (low, sluggish, tends towards nausea, accumulation of mucus and excess weight).
Typical dosages would be ½ - 1 grams taken three times per day just before meals in a little warm water along with your specific anti-Candida herbs.
In addition, we need to consider taking herbs that promote immunity. There are a variety of ready made formulas that fulfil this goal, in particular, those that contain Ashwaganda or Shatavari. These can be obtained from suppliers like Pukka Herbs (UK) and taken with meals in a dose of about 1 gram taken over several months.
Finally, if you have constipation or a tongue coating, you should consider using the classic bowel regulator, colon cleanser and rejuvenator: ‘Triphala’. Take 1-4 grams of the powder at bedtime in a little warm water (capsules can be used if you cannot abide the bitter taste). Start with 1 gram. It is mildly laxative, especially to Pitta types, who may only need 1 gram. Continue to use triphala for as long as you have Candida and signs of Ama (tongue coating, tiredness, constipation, sinking stool). It can be safely taken or life on a daily basis in small amounts (1 gram), though modifications in its method of administration are advised.
- The Complete Book of Ayurvedic Home Remedies—Dr Vasant Lad
- Ayurvedic Healing—Dr David Frawley
- Atreya Smith: Ayurvedic Nutrition correspondence course