Candida and Stress

Gluten-free, vegan BBQ Kale chips recipe on rickiheller.com

[Yes, these BBQ Kale Chips can help alleviate the effects of stress!]

Take a look at the typical anti-candida diet, and you’ll likely see a long list of things you need to remove from your life: sugar, alcohol, mold, toxins, processed foods. You’ll find a (shorter) list of what to add: probiotics, antifungals, perhaps special supplements or herbs to aid with detoxification. And when people still fail to heal even if they’ve “done everything right,” various factors are then examined as a way to ensure that something  (that might be co-exisiting with the yeast) isn’t at play to interfere with recovery.

But many of these programs fail to mention what I’ve come to believe may be THE most important factor to help turn your candida around: dealing with stress.

Why would I say this, you wonder? Well, let me take a step back for a moment.

Many of you know that I’ve been  following an anti-candida diet for what some might consider a long time. (It’s true, of course, that some people can permanently cure candida in as little as three months; others, like me, will need to be on a modified version of the diet indefinitely). Sure, my diet today is much less restrictive than the original Anti-Candida program I started in 2009; that menu omitted all fruits, most grains and many other foods. For the past five years, I’ve been enjoying apples, pears, berries, the occasional salad dressed with balsamic vinegar, and various other treats that weren’t permitted at the beginning.

Even with a diet that’s permanently free of regular (white) sugar, gluten, and (for now) alcohol, I recently found myself in the middle of a major candida flare-up, with symptoms making an appearance once again.  And yet, my diet hasn’t changed over the past few months. So what’s going on?

The answer, it seems, is stress.

You may also know that I just wrapped up the final edits for my latest book (yay! yippee! I cannot wait to share this one with y’all!). And while I loved writing it, I must admit, the workload took a lot out of me.  You see, although I didn’t mention this on the blog, I actually began to write Living Candida Free even before I’d completed the manuscript for Naturally Sweet & Gluten-Free (I know–kind of crazy, huh? Sort of reminds me of my friend who had her second child before the first one was even a year old).

I hadn’t planned to write another book that quickly, but when I was approached by the publisher, well, it was a no-brainer: of course I wanted to write a book about how to heal from candida! I’ve lived through one of the worst cases of candida any of my practitioners had ever seen; I’m passionate about the topic; I know first-hand how much people need help following the diet; and I knew I could offer lots of information and first-hand experience in that area. No way would I turn down that opportunity. And indeed, now that the book is finished, I’m extremely proud of the work Andrea (who wrote the chapter on the biology of candida) and I produced. I know this book will provide a truly practical, living-in-the-real-world guideline for anyone on an anti-candida diet, or anyone looking to cut sugar out of their lives.

vegan, gluten-free sugar-free chocolate protein bites on rickiheller.com

[Chocolate Protein Bites can be enjoyed on every stage of the diet.]

But even “good” stress, as Holmes and Rahe noted in their famous stress scale, can affect your ability to ward off disease (both “marriage” and “retirement” are among the top 10 most stressful events!).  In my case, trying to keep up with two books, a full-time job, my work as Associate editor for Simply Gluten-Free magazine, recipe development, teaching seminars and workshops, blogging regularly–well, that was more than this menopausal ma’am could handle. Don’t get me wrong, I love all of these activities, and I feel very (very) fortunate to be able to work in a field I truly love. But I do have a tendency to take on more than I can chew (figuratively speaking, of course. In reality, there’s never been an actual case where I took on more than I could chew).

And so, for me, the main trigger for my flare-up this time was stress. As so many of us do, when I found myself running out of time to do the things I’d committed to doing, I simply cut out the “me” time to open up hours for work. I reduced the number of days I went to the gym each week, I stopped meditating, I stopped chatting regularly with friends.

Why Stress Can Make You Sick

One of the things that happens when a healthy body is under stress for extended periods of time (which could mean a few days to a year) is a weakening of the immune system  (or, as the American Psychological Association so eloquently put it, “long-term or chronic stress, through too much wear and tear, can ravage the immune system.”)

When we’re stressed for whatever reason, our body produces more of two hormones: adrenaline and cortisol (the “fight or flight” response). Both allow the bodily systems to focus on the immediate threat, thereby redirecting our energies to respond if confronted by a lion (as were our ancestors) or an overly demanding boss (as in today’s world).

Adrenaline causes your heart to race, blood pressure to rise, and blood to be directed to muscles for strength (fight) or speed (flight); cortisol increases glucose in the blood (which ultimately gives you more energy) and to the brain (to outsmart that threat). When you’re stressed, anything the body considers non-essential for life is put on hold: your digestion slows; as do natural growth processes and the reproductive system. In other words, your body throws everything it’s got into defeating whatever is causing you stress.

Another consequence is that cortisol suppresses the natural immune response. In other words, your body doesn’t react to pathogens (like bacteria or viruses) the same way when you’re under stress. I suppose this reaction can be helpful, say, if you’re bitten by that same lion (or boss); rather than mounting an inflammatory (immune) response, the body ignores it for the moment so you can run away to safety.

Once the stress lessens, the immune response is switched back on, and you begin to fight those invaders (which is why so many of us get sick just when we’re about to go on vacation. . . the source of stress is finally gone and the immune system once again recognizes all those microbes, and begins to fight them. Boom–sore throat, runny nose, fever, and so on).

And when the stress continues over an extended period? That’s when excess cortisol can wreak havoc, and all kinds of symptoms can appear. In my case, suppression of the immune response has more severe consequences than it might for a healthier person; as one meta-study put it, “people who are older or already sick are more prone to stress-related immune changes” (emphasis mine).  In other words, if your immune system is already overworked–as it is when you’re dealing with chronic candida–effects of stress multiply exponentially.

Anti-candida, vegan, pesto bean-topped salad on rickiheller.com

[Fight back with healthy food like this Pesto-Bean Topped Salad.]

Getting the Best of Stress

But don’t despair! There are myriad ways to deal with stress; and over the next few weeks, I may just try them all. We also talk about some of the more potent stress-busters in the Candida Kick-Start course. For now, here are some of the tactics I’ll be taking in the immediate future:

  • I’ve vowed to get back to regular meditation, even if just for 10 minutes a day. Meditation has been proven to lower blood pressure and help our bodies (and minds) manage stress more effectively. Even after three hours of meditation, your body begins to experience positive results.
  • Another useful practice that I plan to amp up is  Qigong, which I first learned at Hippocrates and found to be a great stress reliever. And, of course, exercise in general is a major stress-reliever for many people; it releases endorphins in the body, mitigating the effects of stress.
  • Really, any activity that calms the brain and allows you to shut off the welter of worry and negative thinking is a good way to deal with stress. Call a relative or friend, walk the dog, garden, knit, take a bubble bath; they can all work equally well.

Perhaps most important, however, is taking time off–time to focus, think, plan, relax. For me, this means blocking out time when I’m entirely offline and able to reconnect with my hubby, my Girls, and my friends. (“Great idea, Mum! Let’s head out and toss that Frisbee around–how about right now?”).

Eat to Beat Stress

I’ve also returned to Stage one of the ACD, which will help to rebalance my system faster and give yeast the boot. It will offer my immune system a break as well, since the diet is so clean  it won’t tax the organs of detoxification, liver and kidneys. With the next Candida Kick-Start coming up at the end of the month, this puts me in a great place to share the diet with all the participants in the program. (Look forward to some innovative Stage One recipes coming up, too!).

Finally, I’ll be focusing on incorporating more foods that help relieve or combat stress into my diet. Here are my top five favorite stress-busting foods, and how you can use them in your own meals (note that recipes will range from Stage One on the anti-candida diet right up to maintenance):

Avocado: Rich in glutathione, which keeps the intestinal wall healthy, avocados also provide a great source of potassium, helping to keep blood pressure steady. They’re rich in B-vitamins, which are often depleted during stressful times. And they’re a great source of atypical healthy fats, which serve to keep inflammation at bay–something essential when you’re under stress.

Recipes with avocado: Grilled Avocado on “Toast”; Perfect Guacamole; Avocado Mayonnaise; Decadent Chocolate Pate (for ACD maintenance only).

Cashews: My favorite nut (after the HH) not only contains heart-healthy fats, but is also a good source of both magnesium and zinc. Zinc is the one nutrient used in more body processes than any other, and it’s essential for healthy immunity.

Recipes with cashews: Raw S’Mores; Comforting Mac N Cheese Casserole; Easy, Smoky, BBQ Kale Chips (that Can Be Made in the Oven); Chocolate Swirl Halvah.

gluten-free, vegan, anti-candida caramel swirl brownies recipe

 [Aren't you glad chocolate is one of the stress-busting foods?]

Chocolate: Chocolate is the quintessential stress-buster, helping to produce serotonin (the “feel good” chemical). It’s also filled with heart-healthy flavonols and a high magnesium content, which helps to relax muscles and keep blood pressure low. And yes, you can still have vegan chocolate on the anti-candida diet (you’ll just be making it yourself!).

Recipes with chocolate (or cacao): Homemade Superfood Chocolate; Chocolate Protein Bites; Pumpkin Caramel Swirl Brownies; Black Bean Fudge.

Garlic: Nature’s antibiotic, garlic is filled with powerful compounds called allicins that can help to combat bacteria, germs, fungi and other microbes that will decrease your immunity. Its microbe-fighting properties are strongest when used raw.

Recipes with garlic: Crimson Salad with Pecans and Pumpkinseeds; Pesto Bean-Topped Salad; Roasted Garlic and Pumpkinseed PestoWarm Butternut Salad with Chickpeas and Tahini.

Berries: Most berries contain good levels of Vitamin C, an essential nutrient to help maintain cells and repair antioxidant damage.

Recipes with berries: Brilliantly Beet Smoothie; Quick Cranberry-Apple Compote; Homemade Sugar-free Oven-Dried Cranberries; Kale and Quinoa Salad with Fresh Blueberry Vinaigrette.

If you’ve been on an anti-candida diet for a while and aren’t feeling better yet, it’s worth taking a closer look at the stressors in your life and finding ways to deal more effectively with them. I know that for me, this is an essential next step–and one that can affect my health in a major way.

What are your favorite stress-busting activities? Please share in the comments! The more ways we have to combat stress in our lives, the less candida (or any illness) will appear.

 

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Elsie and Chaser on rickiheller.com

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