Joy Smith of Santa Cruz’s Growing Wild encourages vegging out to restore balance in the digestive tract. Photo by Chip Scheuer.
Native to the human body, candida albicans is a fungus that lives in the intestines, skin and mucosal surfaces. Thriving on sugar and yeast, it releases 79 different byproducts, including the neurotoxin acetaldehyde (a potential carcinogen) and uric acid. Luckily, the “good” microbes in our digestive tracts work to keep candida in check—until they don't anymore.
A round of heavy antibiotics, a diet high in sugar and processed foods, and even excessive stress can throw one's gut out of balance, allowing candida to gain considerable ground. Symptoms of candida overgrowth range from brain fog and bad breath to rashes, abdominal pain and digestion troubles. The most serious: a compromised immune system and permeations in the intestinal lining that allow toxins to seep into the bloodstream.
Candida is one of 15 microbes that is becoming increasingly resistant to drug therapy, according to a 2013 report by the Center for Disease Control. But when it comes to controlling and preventing its overgrowth, Hippocrates' wisdom “let thy food be thy medicine” couldn't ring truer.
“To reverse the overgrowth of candida, we must restore an inner environment that prevents candida from taking over,” says Joy Smith of Growing Wild, who recently led myself and some 60 others on a 10-day anti-candida cleanse with two major purposes: “killing off the bad yeast and other opportunistic parasitic organisms by creating mineral-rich slightly alkaline blood, and then recolonizing the friendly bacteria and restoring proper digestion,” says Smith.
Based largely on Donna Gates' plant-strong Body Ecology Diet, Smith's cleanse cut out all of the candida-promoting culprits (sugar, gluten, coffee, processed foods, most dairy products and alcohol), and sent us running for the produce aisles.
“Vegetables are the most nutrient-rich food on the planet,” says Smith. “They are loaded with everything you need to live, thrive, heal and keep your immune system working for you.”
But what about protein? “There is plenty of protein in these foods, even the raw. The seeds alone are loaded with usable, clean protein,” countered Smith, and asserted that in a true, therapeutic detox for chronic disease, animal protein is cut and all fats and proteins lowered as they both slow down the detox process.
For 10 days, we ate a diet of 80 percent vegetables, 20 percent animal protein, seeds and nuts, and the approved grains—quinoa, millet, amaranth and buckwheat. Probiotics were also incorporated, in the form of fermented foods and supplements. And lots of water.
It was not easy. By day three, cleanseistas were reporting both weight loss and die-off symptoms in the Facebook forum that served as our support network, rich with meal photos and recipe ideas. Even those who never thought they had a problem with candida experienced die-off symptoms; primarily sweating, headaches, nausea and a 'hung over' feeling—the result of perishing candida cells releasing acetaldehyde into our systems.
But by day five, everyone was feeling, well, nothing short of amazing. It's strange to say, but our bodies literally sang with each bite of nutrient-rich food, which was carefully combined to promote good digestion. Our digestion became regular, and as one cleanser ventured—”beautiful.” We felt light, energized, hydrated and empowered. We became reacquainted with our kitchens.
“I think that anybody who takes on their health and wants to eat well, always has to prepare their food, and you realize very quickly that the best and highest quality foods are really not out there pre-made. You need to make them at home on your own in the kitchen,” says Smith. “You can't really get around that.”
Each night, we soaked our grains for the following day, and quickly learned new food alternatives; xylitol and stevia replaced sugar, and kefir cheese became a godsend for those of us craving dairy. We learned that the fennel in our broccoli soup was a carminative, which counters the flatulence-producing effect of nutrient-rich broccoli. Cooking with coconut oil—an anti-fungal—we experimented with the broadest spectrum of vegetables and grains we had ever eaten.
After the cleanse, I immediately went out for pizza and beer, and was surprised to experience a stark contrast in my well-being; my gut, bloated with yeast and grease, kept me tossing and turning with insomnia. Like many, I bounced back to reaching for vegetables when hungry—something I never did before.
Two weeks after the cleanse, the lifestyle has stuck; the Facebook forum remains active with inspired recipes and self-discovery, and many of us have decided to participate in Smith's next challenge—Thrive for Five—which will have us eating only raw and living foods for five days. Stay tuned.