by Michael Biamonte
When they are under stress, women typically report more vaginal yeast infections, and candida sufferers often find that their symptoms worsen and that the stress also triggers other issues, such as skin problems, itching and chemical sensitivities; digestive problems; allergies; ear, nose and throat problems; fatigue; memory loss and poor cognitive function; and even a white coating on the tongue. Doctors have observed and agreed upon this phenomenon for years, but no one has offered a satisfactory theory or explanation.
A recent review of patient findings and records has led me to the following conclusion: Candida worsens during periods of stress due to the adrenal hormone cortisol.
Over the past 10 years, I’ve consistently observed that stressed-out patients don’t respond to a candida program the way others do—and when these patients do improve, they’re the likeliest to relapse. They always seem to end up being the “failed cases.” But now there is hope for recovery for these patients. If their cortisol levels are very high, we can lower that level first, so that the candida program has a chance to work. If their cortisol is only moderately high, we can begin the candida program while we lower the cortisol.
The Cortisol Connection When we’re under stress, our bodies naturally produce cortisol. Physiologist Hans Selye has mapped out the different stages of stress and how the body chemically responds to them.
In one stage, the adrenal glands secrete cortisol, which breaks down tissues in order to release proteins, sugar and nutrients that will nourish our hard-working organs and muscles. This action is then balanced by the release of another hormone, a steroid known as DHEA, which slows the release of cortisol, allowing the body to rebuild its spent tissues. With prolonged stress, however, the cortisol release continues, weakening the immune response and raising blood sugar levels.
These actions can increase candida in two ways: First, a weaker immune response allows candida that may be occurring in normal amounts to overgrow. There is also some evidence that cortisol inhibits or kills “good” bacteria such as acidophilus, its natural enemy. Second, candida spreads by feeding on elevated glucose levels. That’s why it’s a persistent problem for diabetics.
Detecting and Lowering Cortisol The easiest way to detect an increase in cortisol is to perform a saliva test, which is easier than blood work for measuring active cortisol levels in the body. If cortisol is elevated, there are several ways to lower it. GABA, an amino acid naturally produced by the body, has a calming effect and helps reduce cortisol. It is available as a supplement.
Phosphatidylserine, a phospholipid similar to GABA, may also help reduce cortisol. (With either nutrient, a doctor should determine the appropriate dose.) If the body is continually under stress, however, these nutrients alone might not be able to lower cortisol levels. In this case, reducing the stress itself must be a goal. Estrogen and progesterone also play a major role in candida growth.
The only way to treat candida is to run the proper tests with a doctor who knows how to treat the underlying cause, rather than simply prescribing “cookie-cutter” treatments.
Michael Biamonte owns the Biamonte Center for Clinical Nutrition, located at 2185 34th Ave., Queens, NY. To schedule a consultation or read an extended version of this article (and many others), visit NewYorkCityCandidaDoctor.com. See ad on page 5.