Candida albicans yeast is a naturally-occurring intestinal inhabitant. Ordinarily held in check in a properly balanced intestinal biosphere, Candida infestation (Candidiasis) becomes a concern only when the intestinal population of beneficial bacteria are eclipsed by an overgrowth of this tenacious yeast. When present in a flourishing overabundance, Candida can enter the bloodstream via the enteric cycle and give rise to systemic yeast infection symptoms: poor appetite, persistent coughing, fatigue, insomnia, dizziness, difficulty in focusing and concentrating, tinnitus, decreased immunity, an assortment of body aches and digestive anomalies.
The most common manifestation of Candida overgrowth is vulvovaginitis, a vaginal yeast infection. Roughly 80 percent of women will experience a vaginal yeast infection at some point over their lifetimes, with at least half of these individuals suffering persistent and recurrent infections. They are most common in women aged 18 to 35.
Oropharyngeal thrush is another form of localized Candida infection found particularly after oral antibiotic use and with people using dentures or inhaled steroid-based inhalers.
Skin fold infection, occurring especially in warm weather, as well as diaper rash, are commonly occurring localized skin yeast infections. Recurrence is common, and each successive occurrence is harder to eradicate. Successful treatment depends upon reducing the proportional size of the yeast population in the body, building up the beneficial bacteria populations, limiting and controlling yeast triggers, and strengthening overall health and immunity.
Ayurvedic protocols are designed to address the underlying cause of the yeast infection. In Ayurvedic medicine, illness due to a systemic invasion of Candida albicans are not identified as such. Most practitioners believe Candidiasis is caused by a combination of factors, including a diet high in refined sugar and refined flour products, antibiotic therapy, environmental stresses that weaken immunity, sedentary lifestyles, obesity, the presence of immunodeficiency diseases such as HIV, the use of immunosuppressant therapies including inhaled corticosteroids, and a variety of endocrine disorders including diabetes, hypothyroidism and adrenal insufficiency.
From an Ayurvedic perspective, the premier etiology of candida is agnimandya, or deficient digestive efficiency. Improper functioning of Samana vayu, (a subdivision of Vata dosha) along with deficient Pachakagni (digestive fire) cause a systemic malfunctioning of the digestive process. The result of this deficient digestion is the production of ama, undigested and partially digested food materials that becomes enlodged in the alimentary canal and ultimately migrates throughout the body. Accumulations of intestinal ama result in the defective processing of food into utilizable nutrients needed for the proper nourishment of the tissues. Ama is absorbed into the subtle channels of the body known as srotas, creating toxicity and are the basis for the initiation of the disease process. As ama accumulates in the small and large intestines, it will putrefy and ferment, thus inhibiting the normal flora to proliferate and finally resulting in the change of proportionate populations of normal intestinal flora. It is because of this variation from the normal flora balance that a Candidiasis occurs.
The next stage of a candida infestation is a result of the migration and absorption of ama into different parts of the body.
Ayurveda recommends a holistic approach to restoring balance that includes diet, lifestyle management and herbal medication. It is a life-changing protocol that requires patience, discipline and a full commitment to one’s health to restore balance and stay in balance, but the results are well worth the effort.
Candida infections can be chronic and stubborn in nature, and if not treated, can possibly spread systemically. The disorder is influenced by a multitude of factors including an imbalanced digestive tract, low agni, ama, low ojas, hygiene, diet, lifestyle factors and past or current use of antibiotics.
While primarily a kapha disorder, it can include the other doshas as well, and many times the condition is caused by two doshas, rendering it a more difficult problem to treat successfully.
Treatments include increasing and regulating agni, modifying one’s diet to decrease sugars, yeast, and fermented foods and addressing hygiene and lifestyle issues.
The three most important strategies in the treatment of candidiasis are, first, to reduce the individual’s toxic load, secondly to ensure the integrity of the digestive agni and finally to build ojas (immunity) back into the body. This enables the body to rid itself of this pathological yeast permanently.
How does Ayurveda go about treating Candidiasis?
After assessing the overall level of fitness purification procedures like Virechana or medicated purgation can be done. This reduces concentration of toxins in the system. In Vata-predominant conditions medicated castor oil containing Asafetida or Garlic may be used, while in treating Pitta types the classic Ayurvedic formula ‘Avipattikara churna’ is used for balancing. Kapha types can use the classic Kapha-alleviating preparation known as Trivicchurna.
After completing purification procedures, the agni or digestive fire should be regulated. For digestion, formulations containing trikatu and hing are found to be effective.
To build strength and immunity herbs like bala, ashwaganda, brahmi, and gudduchi work well. Once the underlying imbalance is controlled, herbs like vidanga, neem, pomegranate, and tulsi work well in destroying the yeast. Other compounds utilized include pippali rasayana, which enables regulation of the digestive fire, and triphala rasayana, a powerful anti-oxidant used to purify the srotas or energizes all tissue components of the body.
An Ayurvedic diet should be followed containing turmeric, ginger, cumin, cardamom and cinnamon, and with special care taken to avoid cold foods or drinks, heavy foods at the evening meal, as well as oily and fried food. Also to be eliminated are caffeine, nicotine, alcohol and carbonated beverages, yeasted breads and pastas, aged cheeses, mushrooms and peanuts and fermented foods such as vinegar and products that contain fermented foods as ingredients.
Ayurveda also recommends deep breathing exercises: shallow breathing reduces the quantity of life-supporting prana conveyed with each breath. Practice deep breathing consciously until it becomes a habit. It is also critically important to get an adequate amount of good-quality sleep each night to replenish energy levels and to give the self-defense mechanisms of the body the opportunity to purify the system.
Make it a habit to go to bed before 10pm and rise early. Exercise moderately every day, choosing types of exercise that are appropriate for your body-type and needs for balance. Exercise in the mornings and in the fresh air outdoors when you can. Keeping the skin dry and aired as much as possible by wearing organic cotton clothing and sleeping on cotton bed linens is also highly recommended.
Useful culinary and medicinal herbs include Garlic (Allium cepa), Asafoetida, Triphala (Emblica officinalis, Terminalia chebula, Terminalia bellerica), Vidanga (Embelia ribes), Mustha (Cyperus rotundus), Turmeric (Curcuma longa), Licorice (Glycirhiza glabra), Guloochi (Tinospora cordifolia), Neem (Azadirachta indica), Sathavari (Asparagus racemosus) all of which are very useful in different conditions and phases of Candidiasis.