You remember how I said that we all struggle and and we all hit roadblocks from time to time? Well, I hit a pretty nasty one this past summer, and I want to tell you about it because it could be affecting 30-50% of the population, making you feel abnormally fatigued, bloated, and causing you to be sick more often than you should be.
Have you ever heard of Candida Albicans? No? Well, I hadn’t either until I came face to face with it this summer. Below is a little bit of information about Candida, and then read on for my personal story and diet advice.
Here’s a list of classic Candida symptoms:
- muscle aches/joint pain
- chronic tiredness/insomnia
- weight gain
- diarrhea and/or constipation
- fungal infections of the nails/skin
- bad breath
- food allergies/intolerances
- hay fever
- sore throat
- nagging cough
- foggy brain/poor memory
- dizziness/blurred vision
- impaired decision making
- menstrual irregularities
- night sweats/hot flashes
- lowered libido
How Candida affects the body:
“Moderate amounts of candida (and other yeast) live in every one of us without causing any harm, but when given free rein to grow unchecked, candida can change into its fungal form and spore through the intestinal wall into the rest of the body. Once through, it rampages around the body producing a multitude of symptoms.
All Candida needs to invade your gut is for something to kill off the normal flora; the bacteria that aid digestion and protect the gut from yeast. Once the flora are damaged, yeast will invade. In ideal circumstances, Candida can double in quantity every half hour, so it takes very little time for it to populate a damaged intestine. Hormones, antibiotics, environmental toxins, heavy metals, and poor dietary habits can all contribute or cause a yeast infection. Once in the gut, candida creates an environment that prevents the normal flora from repopulating. The lack of flora causes mal-digestion of certain sugars, carbohydrates, minerals and trace nutrients and leaves food to rot in the gut, creating an ideal environment for the Candida.
Once the yeast has overgrown the gut, malnutrition will result, in the form of vitamin and trace nutrient deficiencies. In addition, the constant presence of a pathogen will stimulate the immune system, eventually causing immune deficiency (as found in CFS) and severe fatigue. Victims will experience a multitude of symptoms caused by malnutition, an impaired immune system, toxins from the yeast’s metabolic processes, and from the physical presence of the yeast.
Candida mainly exists in two forms: a round yeast that remains in the colon and is actively reproducing, and the other in its fungal form that ‘eats’ through the intestinal wall and travels via the blood to any site in the body. Sugar activates candida metabolism and its by-products are neurotoxins (toxins that damage or destroy nerve tissue) such as formaldehyde and alcohol.
Candida leads to brain fog because having systemic candidiasis means you’re constantly producing alcohol, as yeasts convert sugars into alcohol. This also congests the liver, another major co-factor in brain fog. If the liver, the filter for blood, is congested, it cannot take toxins out of the bloodstream fast enough. These toxins will pass the blood-brain barrier of the brain and deplete the brain of oxygen and glycogen.
Approximately 80% of our immune system lies within the intestinal walls. What you do to your intestines directly affects your immune system. The immune system will respond to candida and its by-products along with food molecules that escape into the bloodstream by secreting histamines causing classic symptoms of allergies and intolerances.
Most allergies can be eliminated with the elimination of Candida overgrowth. The waste products of Candida flood the lymph system with more toxins than it can handle, and the body develops allergies. Candida overgrowth drastically reduces digestion, allowing undigested food into the blood stream. This undigested food causes an immune response, the making of an allergy.
Once in the blood, the fungus can be carried anywhere in the body resulting in a myriad of health problems including frequent urinary tract infections, respiratory problems, gastrointestinal and liver problems, food allergies, decreased immunity, frequent or chronic fungus infections of the skin and nails, and weight gain. This condition is referred to as Systemic Candidiasis.”
Some causes for the overgrowth of Candida is:
- Widespread use of antibiotics including medications from prescription drugs for chronic infections to consumption of antibiotic-treated foods (meat, dairy, poultry and eggs).
- High cortisol or other steroid levels from stress, prescription drugs, prolonged illness and malnutrition.
- High estrogen levels from pregnancy, birth control pills, estrogen replacement therapy and obesity.
- Diets high in carbohydrates, refined sugar, yeast or yeast products, molds, fermented foods, excessive juices and diabetes.
I want to tell my struggle with systemic candida because I think there are so many other people out there who feel helpless, who feel like their body is betraying them, and who feel like there is no end in sight. I want to share my experience so that we may learn and empower each other to fight through this terrible affliction that many doctors shrug off or call “made up”. All of us know that these symptoms are anything but made up. It is debilitating physically, mentally, and emotionally, and it can make it so difficult just to get up in the morning. I’m hoping that by sharing my journey, other people will be able to find hope and not give up.
Two weeks in Italy and Slovenia, equal parts eating and adventuring.
I first knew something was majorly wrong the week I came back from my honeymoon on August 1st, 2017. I had caught a bug the last three days of the trip, and the eighteen hours of travel from Slovenia to Michigan was a killer, but I thought it was just a run of the mill cold with a bit of a fever. However, days went by and when I wasn’t feeling any better, I started wondering what was going on.
See, for the past year, I had been having a variety of symptoms that seemed unconnected:
In March, I had developed asthma out of nowhere. It started as exercise-induced asthma, but soon progressed into using my inhaler for times I wasn’t exercising. It had ruined my running, dropping my 5K from a 7:30 per mile pace, all the way back to 9:00 per mile. I had never in my life had issues with asthma before.
- For the past three months, my periods had been abnormal. I was having pretty heavy spotting between periods even though I was on birth control, the same birth control I’d been on for seven years without a problem.
- I had been feeling extra fatigued for the last year or so, but I thought it was just a combination of going to school and working full time, and when I graduated and got promoted, I figured the fatigue was due to work stress and wedding planning.
- I had slowly been gaining body fat over the last six months, shooting up from my usual, steady 16% to 20%, without a change in activity level or increase in unhealthy eating.
There were also other symptoms that I didn’t even realize were symptoms at the time just because I had grown so used to them over years of having them:
- My bowel movements were light in color and less structured, not straight out diarrhea, but not normal either.
- I had a rash under my chest and armpits, that I thought was just caused by shaving and the rubbing of my sports bra.
- I had a flaky scalp that no dandruff shampoo had ever fixed and nails with pretty noticeable ridges.
- I had struggled with insomnia on and off since junior high school, but I thought I was just a night owl and it ran in my family.
- I thought it was normal to wake up with a flat stomach and by the end of the day feel bloated and distended simply because all my girlfriends often felt the same way.
- For much of my life, I struggled with anxiety and minor depression. I never had suicidal thoughts, but many days were mentally a struggle to get through even though I had so much going for me a lot of the time. My anxiety would ebb and flow, but I’d fixate and worry about the littlest things. I just figured I was a “worry wort”.
- Somewhere around my junior year in college, my libido plummeted. It greatly affected my long-term relationship at the time, but I thought it was just something that happened once you had been dating the same person for over two years.
But now that I was back from my honeymoon, I was suddenly having even more symptoms. The worst were the hot flashes and night sweats on the daily, multiple times a day. I’d ask my husband or my friends if the room felt hot as I was sweating, and often they said they were cold. My asthma and wheezing was getting worse as well, sometimes needing my inhaler three or more times a day. My weight and body fat were continuing on an upward trend even though I was eating my normal, healthy food with the occasional cheat, and my bloating was often accompanied by bad gas, cramping, and nausea. Never before had I had an issue with PMS, but suddenly I felt so much more irritable and grouchy and emotional during that time of the month than any time before.
Possibly the strangest thing for me is that I literally felt that every day I was growing more unintelligent. I wasn’t sure what was happening, but all I knew was that it was getting harder and harder for me to focus, for me not to trip over my words, to think things out fully. This was terrifying for me because I’ve always prided myself on being intelligent, being a good student, and being able to brainstorm and think critically. On top of that, sometimes when I was looking at things, I almost felt like I was looking at it from outside my body or from very far away, like there was a film over my vision. I was often dizzy and lightheaded and foggy in my day-to-day interactions.
I’d wake up looking like this…
Obviously, all these symptoms would be shocking to anyone, however, I felt even more confused. I am a personal trainer. I run three days a week, lift heavy three days a week, and do yoga three days a week. I’ve ran over fifteen races, have done Tough Mudders, and take pride in my strength. I also am pretty careful about my diet. Up until March, I had been eating mainly lean meats, whole grains, lots of fruits and vegetables, and Greek yogurt. Of course, I also treated myself from time to time. I was a self-proclaimed foodie. I enjoyed going out to eat, I enjoyed having a beer with friends, but 90% of the time I was responsible. In fact, in March I made the decision to go primarily vegan (I still eat eggs and honey, just no meat or dairy, except on the rare occasion) because I felt like it was the next step toward a healthier lifestyle. And I certainly wasn’t one of those vegans who loaded up on processed foods and pastas and sacrificed their health. I was truly aiming for a natural, plant-based diet, and yet, I had never quite accomplished the body I worked so hard for. My legs were never fully defined, my core always had a bit of extra fat on it, my love-handles never went away. I worked my ass off on the daily, and I felt like I was being cheated out of the body a personal trainer and nutritionist should have.
…and end the day looking like this. And then I started waking up looking like that too.
This really caused my self-confidence to plummet. It made me doubt that I could do my job. How was I supposed to be an inspiration to others if I couldn’t obtain my own personal goal body? This doubt also affected my relationship with my husband. I didn’t want him to touch me when I was bloated at night. I felt like I wasn’t attractive enough, even though he would constantly reassure me that he was attracted to me. He was very patient and kind, but I would just beat myself up about it. It was a vicious cycle.
With all these things going on, I did what any person would, I turned to the internet to search for answers. In looking up my symptoms, mostly hormonal things were put on the table, like PCOS, ectopic pregnancy, and estrogen dominance. They seemed fairly likely and, of course, freaked me out further, but spurred me on to action. I began to look up primary care doctors in my area (I didn’t have one currently, as my last one was through Michigan State University and I was no longer a student), and of course, because our country’s health care system is so messed up, there were only two in my area that were in my network and were accepting new patients. So I set up a general physical to talk with a doctor about my symptoms.
Of course, the earliest opening was more than three weeks away. So I waited as my symptoms continued and seemed to worsen with each day. When it finally came time to meet with my new primary care doctor, I was sadly disappointed with the process and the outcome. She began by taking my recent history, so I started by telling her about developing asthma, and how it continued to get worse even though I lived a pretty healthy lifestyle. She seemed unconcerned, and I tried to stress to her how inconvenient it was as a active individual and personal trainer to not be able to breathe and that I was over-using my inhaler, that the condition was clearly not controlled. I told her that I’d had a chest x-ray and a VCO2 test, with no abnormal findings. She stopped me there and said, “So you have or haven’t been ACTUALLY diagnosed with asthma?” I didn’t even know what to say to that. It was like she hadn’t been listening the entire time. So I told her that I had only been diagnosed with exercise-induced asthma and had only been given a rescue inhaler and no other medication.
Then I went on to explain all my other symptoms and how horrible I had felt for the last month. She didn’t ask me any questions or follow ups and then suggested that it was just PMS. I told her flat out that it was not, that they were turning into debilitating symptoms and that I had never struggled with PMS before. She then suggested switching my birth control to help with the symptoms. I told her that I had been on the same birth control for seven years and had never had an issue before, and that I didn’t feel comfortable trying a new birth control. At this, she looked slightly irritated, but moved on.
She then said that she was going to do a pelvic exam to see if there are any abnormalities and handed me a gown. I paused for a second, waiting for her to leave while I changed like at every other physical I’ve had, but she didn’t move, just kept typing into her laptop. So I hopped down off the examination table and got undressed with her in the room, all the while feeling disgusted at her less-than-professional approach. She did the exam real quick, found nothing, told me to get dressed again, and once again, didn’t leave the room.
She went on to say that she recommended a CBC, EGFR, TSH, Lipid Panel, and Metabolic Panel, as well as a pelvic and vaginal ultrasound. For my asthma, she gave me two seven-day steroid inhalers, and told me to read the directions on the box for how to use. She mentioned absolutely nothing about what to do after the fourteen days, (which I didn’t think anything about at the time, but it’s important later), and sent me on my way with my renewed birth control prescription and a new prescription for a rescue inhaler, and a follow-up appointment scheduled for six weeks later.
The following two days, I went and got my blood drawn after fasting for twelve hours, and I had my ultrasound (what an experience that was). The ultrasound came back with zero findings, eliminating PCOS and ectopic pregnancy (thank goodness), and my blood results came back with no clear results. The only two things that were flagged were high triglycerides and high bilirubin. I thought the triglycerides were weird because my cholesterol was really good and usually those go hand in hand, but I gave no thought to the bilirubin. So I was frustrated that there were no clear answers, and I wasn’t sure what to do because I still had five more weeks until my follow up.
Over the next few days, I did more research into my symptoms and came across information on hormonal saliva testing. Estrogen dominance had fit my symptoms so well when I was doing research the first time, so I was slightly surprised that my doctor hadn’t thought of any hormonal testing. I decided to call the office to request that such a test be done, as I was encouraged by a friend in currently medical school. I left a message with the receptionist, who said she would relay it to the doctor.
A week went by, and I heard nothing. My symptoms felt worse by the day, and I was starting to feel so angry that I wasn’t being listened to. I decided to send her an email through the patient portal about the saliva test again. This time, she responded right away that they don’t do that kind of testing, that only osteopathic doctors do, and since their were no findings in the tests, no immediate action needed to be taken. I was infuriated. I had never felt so ignored in my life. I cancelled the six week follow up appointment. At the same time, I felt like I was crazy. Was I just imagining that their was something wrong if a doctor could brush me off so easily? Could it be one of those mental health cases where I had a somatoform disorder?
I started to feel really depressed at this time. I cried more days than not because I felt bad, because I was frustrated, and because I was watching my health drain away. I was only 26; I couldn’t imagine feeling this way for the rest of my life.
Knowing how frustrated I was, my best friend Rosie recommended I look into Dr. Wycoff, who was a well-respected D.O. in the area. So I found his website, and sure enough, he specialized in hormonal health. As I began reading about symptoms of estrogen dominance, I became more and more sure that I had been right all along. So I decided to call to get more information.
The receptionist who answered the phone was very helpful and kind and explained that because they were a private practice insurance wasn’t accepted. An initial appointment would be a flat fee of $450, and then depending on what hormonal tests he ordered, it could be anywhere from $360 to $420 more. I thanked her for her time, hung up the phone, and cried.
I was already $480 in the hole from my first doctor; to add another $900 on top of that seemed unbearable. I mean, my husband and I live comfortably, but that’s because we are good with budgeting, and it certainly didn’t feel like we had that kind of extra money lying around. So I put the idea of Dr. Wycoff on the back burner and hoped that maybe this would all resolve itself.
But things did not get better. In fact, they got a lot worse, specially in terms of my brain fog. It was so difficult for me to focus on my daily tasks. I was training people on automatic. Getting out of bed was a nightmare; I was sleeping for ten hours every night and waking up exhausted. My anxiety was out of control over the simplest things. Every day was just a struggle to get through, and then I’d wake up and do it all over again.
The weekend of my mom’s birthday came around, and we decided to meet in Grand Rapids along with my sister to just have some girl time. It was the weekend after my period, which was when I noticed my symptoms were at their worst. I had also made the decision to go off my birth control for several reasons. First off, it was a moderate estrogen pill, so if I had estrogen dominance, it was only contributing to my symptoms. Secondly, my hair was getting noticeably thinner, which is one of the common side effects. And third, the more I read about hormonal birth control and its negative effects, the more I thought I should stop taking it, especially with my family history of blood clots and ocular migraines.
So I drove up, and we hung out all weekend. It was a nice time, but my symptoms were really getting in the way of me truly enjoying myself. At the zoo, I was having really bad hot flashes and sweating profusely. At the mall, I felt so indecisive with brain fog, I couldn’t decide if I wanted to try anything on. When having girl talk, I was extremely emotional. And then as I was trying to drive my sister and I to the Cat Cafe, on streets that I didn’t know, trying to follow a GPS, I accidentally blew through two red lights, luckily with no cars around.
I was mortified. How had I not realized they were red? My mind was swimming. I wanted to cry because I had put both my sister and I in danger. I simply couldn’t think straight. I was overwhelmed. So I decided then that I was going to bite the bullet cost-wise and go see Dr. Wycoff because I simply couldn’t live like this anymore.
So I got home and I made the phone call and got my appointment set up for a week and a half later. They sent me pre-appointment paperwork to fill out, and it gave me hope. They literally asked about any possible symptom I could be feeling, and they asked for a full medical background. Before even meeting them, I felt like I was being listened to.
So I showed up the following Wednesday, feeling nervous. I’ve never liked going to the doctor. I guess most people probably don’t. But this time I felt even more apprehensive since I had been brushed off so thoroughly by the first doctor, and I had a lot of cash on the line this time. I was also nervous about what they might find. After all, I was feeling pretty darn miserable, so it probably was something that wouldn’t be a lot of fun.
The nurse came in first and did all the usual things, and then Dr. Wycoff came in. After looking over all the paperwork I had filled out, he simply asked me to describe what I had been going through. He listened, asked a few questions, and immediately agreed with me that what I was feeling wasn’t normal.
He started off my feeling and looking at my hands, which he noted my nail ridges and the coldness in my fingers. He felt my lymph nodes. He looked in my ears, eyes, nose, and mouth, and noted that my tongue was paler than it should be. He listened to my heart and my lungs, and could hear the wheeziness in my chest. He had me lie down and felt my abdomen and feet, again noting how cold they were. Finally, he did a BIA measure on me.
He left the room for a bit to go get the results, but I was already impressed with how thorough he was being. When he came back, we sat down and talked through some possibilities of what he thought was going on and a plan of action.
First of all, he agreed that I exhibited many signs of estrogen dominance, so he would be sending me home with a saliva kit to do on the 20th day of my cycle. He said he was very glad I had already made the decision to get off birth control, as he would have recommended it.
Next, he surprised me and said he also thought that I may have sub-clinical hypothyroidism, due to the blood results. He explained that the lab will only flag it as abnormal if TSH is above 4.0, however, new research has shown that that level should be decreased to 3.0, and the average person my age is somewhere between 1.0-2.0, whereas mine had read at 3.16. He then asked me to track my basal temperature upon waking for the next month to see if hypothyroidism was likely.
Finally, he thought I probably had some sort of digestive issue. He pulled out the results from the BIA, and being fairly familiar with it from my Kinesiology degree, I was shocked. My body fat percentage had shot up to 23%, a 7% increase from my typical 16%. To be healthy in my age group, I should be below 20%. Next, he looked at my phase angle, which is the permeability of the cell membrane, which was an abysmal 6.8. It should be 7.5, but mine was reading that of a 45 year old. And finally, he looked at my intracellular to extracellular water ratio, and again it was reading at 55.4, that of a 45 year old, when it should be 57.5.
From that information, he was not surprised at how terrible I was feeling. He said digestive issues were usually the primary reason for unhealthy cell membranes. So we talked a lot about diet, and I explained to him what I normally ate, and he seemed pleased enough to say that I wouldn’t have to fill out a nutrition diary.
He went on to say that he would be ordering a bunch of blood tests to cover a whole spectrum of things, and that I could get that done whenever I had the chance. Then until we got the results back from the hormone and blood test, I should take a multivitamin, 5000 IU of Vitamin D, Estrovera (to help with hot flashes), Mitocore (for energy), and to continue taking my allergy medication.
I left the appointment feeling like I had finally gotten somewhere. I did my advanced blood panel the next day before starting any of the supplements to get a true base reading. Two days later, as I was trying to go to sleep, I was having a major coughing fit due to wheezing in my lungs and my inhaler just wasn’t taking the edge off. I was so tired, but every time I laid down, another coughing attack would seize me. After laying there for a half hour, my throat ragged, I just started crying, feeling overwhelmed, feeling like I couldn’t breathe. My husband, who was out in the living room, came in to rub my back and to try and calm me down, but instead, I just started crying harder. I told him I was scared because I felt so lousy and I didn’t know what was causing it. I told him what a struggle the last two months had been.
I was getting so worked up, that suddenly I really felt like I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t inhale deeply and the world was swimming around me, and I just kept coughing and crying. Apparently, I was having a panic attack, although I didn’t know it at the time, since I had never had one before. But Eric, having experience from EMT school, knew just what to do. He sat me upright, between his legs, and told me to follow his breathing. He kept rubbing my back and playing with my hair and telling me that everything would be alright. After about fifteen minutes, I had finally calmed down, but still felt wheezy and like there was someone sitting on my chest. I finally fell asleep a half hour later still sitting up between his legs.
The next morning, I messaged Dr. Wycoff to tell him about the episode (as he had told me to keep him posted about my symptoms), that my asthma was getting worse, and he told me to go to Urgent Care. So before work, I took myself to urgent care, where I had to reiterate the entire story of my asthma. I told them that my inhaler was no longer working perfectly and that my asthma was clearly unmanaged. They asked me if my primary care doctor had given me any sort of daily medication, and I told them about the fourteen day steroid. They asked me why I hadn’t refilled it, and I was confused. My doctor had never mentioned a thing about needing it past the fourteen days. I had thought at the time that it was just something to strengthen my lungs and get them back on track. So they told me to schedule an appointment with my primary care doctor to get back on the medication and get a prescription, and in the meantime, they gave me five days of prednisone.
So as soon as I left the Urgent Care, I begrudgingly called my primary doctor to set up an appointment. I really didn’t want to go back to her after how the first appointment went, but I had no choice. Luckily, they had an opening the next day, so I took that.
When I showed up for my appointment, she didn’t ask me a single thing about how I was feeling, she didn’t mention any of the symptoms I had presented with four weeks earlier. When I told her that my asthma was worsening and that my inhaler wasn’t doing its job, she seemed unconcerned. I told her that the sample she had given me worked really well, but that I hadn’t known that I was supposed to re-fill it. She simply blinked at me, and asked if that was the medication I would prefer to be on. WHAT? I didn’t know. I was the patient, not the doctor. I told her that it worked for me if it worked for her, so she wrote me a prescription and my appointment was over in five minutes.
The next day I went to pick up my prescription at the pharmacy and when I walked up and told them my name, the lady said she couldn’t find anything under it. She went in the back to talk with the pharmacist and they came out to let me know that they hadn’t processed it because my insurance wouldn’t cover the medication. When I asked how much it would be, he told me it would be $303 dollars for three months worth. I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes, and I told them that I simply could not afford such a high price. They told me to contact my insurance and my doctor to see if there was anything either of them could do.
By the time I got home, I was irate. What was the point of insurance if they didn’t cover anything? I immediately called my Sparrow insurance and asked them why it wasn’t being covered. The lady on the line said that once I reached my deductible, 40% would be covered, but until then, it is not listed as a Class A or B medication, so nothing would be covered. I told her that I could not afford $303 dollars, and that I would just have to go without breathing and I hung up. I then sent a message to my primary doctor, asking if there was a generic that she could prescribe instead that would have a lower cost.
She sent me a message back the following day that was so short and unprofessional, it re-affirmed my commitment to never go back to her again. All she said was, “Sent a different prescription to pharmacy.” Not wanting to waste my time going to the pharmacy before finding out the new cost, I decided to call first. I asked the lady who answered to tell me what the cost of the second prescription was, and when she told me it would be $150 a month, I told her to forget it and hung up the phone before I could say anything stupid. Clearly, my primary care doctor didn’t give a crap about me or the cost of my medicine. Neither did my insurance company, who would cover the cost of Viagra, but not the cost of an essential medicine. I decided that I would deal with my asthma without the medicine, and if worse came to worse, I could always go to urgent care next time I had an attack.
As the next few days went by, my blood test results filtered in slowly. My vitamin B12, vitamin D, and iron levels were normal, which was really nice to see since I had worried about them while being on a plant-based diet. Then came the test that said I was negative for celiacs, and I was extremely relieved. After three days, nearly every test had come back normal, and I was beginning to feel the pangs of frustration of not knowing what was going on, when the Candida Antibody test came back. I had flagged positive for IgA, and IgG and IgM were both elevated as well. I had never heard of Candida before, so I turned to the internet.
What I found was both extremely enlightening and extremely disheartening at the same time. The description of the infection fit my symptoms exactly, and the more I read, the more I believed that I had probably had a minor case of it for many, many years, and now I was currently in a flair up. As I read further, I became more worried. For me, with my lung interactions and asthma, I likely had a systemic case, which could be tricky to get rid of.
I read about how many doctors don’t believe that candida is a real, that many doctors simply brush off the symptoms as nothing, and I felt indignant. How could doctors say that such a illness isn’t real when there was a blood test for it and my symptoms were plain as day?
When I started reading about how I could have developed it, it started to make sense. While I had never been on antibiotics in my life, I had been on birth control for seven years. Also with the high likelihood of having estrogen dominance, I was a prime candidate for candida to bloom. The timeline for everything fit as well. When I had gotten on birth control my sophomore year of college, I also developed allergies six months later. Shortly after that, I had had changes in my digestion and my libido had lowered.
Naturally, reading all this made me feel relieved. I wasn’t crazy. This was clearly what was happening to me. Now the brain fog made total sense. My body had basically been processing alcohol as a by-product all day and my immune system had been working on overdrive, making me feel fatigued constantly.
So now that I knew what it was, I was ready to learn how to get rid of it. As I began to read, I realized just how difficult of a path it was going to be. There was so much conflicting advice out there. Diet was clearly the biggest part of curing myself, but some people believed you couldn’t eat any grains, while others said to only eat gluten-free. Some said you needed bone broth and meat to heal your intestines, others said you could do it without them. Some said to give up all sugar, including fruit, others said to have one piece of fruit a day. Some said that you couldn’t have legumes, while others said you could. I felt overwhelmed, unsure, and a little hopeless. There were a lot of things they were asking me to give up, even when I ate healthy already. There could be no coffee, no honey, no pickled veggies, no ezekiel bread, no popcorn, and certainly no cheat meals.
I began to wonder if I could even do this. It seemed like an impossible task, especially because people were saying that they had done it for three months, six months, a year, and longer and got varying results. How would I go to friend’s houses, visit family, or go on vacation while on such a stringent diet? I would have to be meticulous in planning. I wondered how my husband would mind eating the limited food I could cook. I wondered if I could be strong enough to see his junk food around the house and not eat it. Maybe celiacs would have been easier.
After reading for over two hours, I felt exhausted and defeated and went to bed without any decisions being made.
Over the next few days, I had a rude awakening. Bills from all my different medical procedures began to pour in. There was a charge for $470 for the pelvic ultrasound. There was a charge for $282 for the advanced blood work. And there was the $72 charge for my follow up visit with my doctor for the asthma medication. I felt like I was floundering, and I felt like my country’s healthcare system was failing me.
Then came the tipping point. I decided to go on a run during my break at work one day, nothing too strenuous, just three miles at my 9:00 minute pace. I took two puffs on my inhaler before I went, as my doctor had recommended, and headed out. At three quarters of a mile in, I was feeling abnormally winded and exhausted. I slowed to a walk, trying to catch my breath. After two minutes, I resumed my run and got another three quarters of a mile before coming to a halt. My chest was on fire, it felt like there were iron bars constricting my lungs, not allowing air in. Every time I inhaled, it sounded like I was gasping for air. I was legitimately scared that I didn’t have my inhaler on me, and I was nervous that I could go into another panic attack. I forced myself to breathe slowly and steadily in and out as I walked myself back to work. Any time I tried to breathe deeply, I had a coughing fit that sounded like I could expel my lungs completely. When I finally got back, I took my inhaler twice, but it only helped a little bit. I waited another ten minutes and took it again, but I was still wheezy for the rest of the evening. I decided then that I would first pay for the daily asthma medicine, and I would get started on the diet and anti-fungals the following week.
Luckily, my husband’s sister was a pharmacist and was able to find me a coupon for $90 off my prescription. I then spent the rest of the week planning out my food. I started by making a table of the foods I could and couldn’t eat as a guideline, which I’ve included below. I decided to stick with my guns and stay vegan even though so many blogs recommended animal protein. In exchange for keeping some grains, I decided to give up all fruit. I then began the tedious process of trying to find recipes that fit all my needs. Thanks to FoodGawker and searching No Desserts, Gluten Free, and Vegetarian, I was able to find quite a few recipes that would fit my needs. I read all about what supplements would help me along the way.
The basic rules were no fermented foods (fermented soy, pickled veggies, dairy, alcohol, yeast breads, gluten) because they only continue the fermentation process in your gut. No sugar (including potatoes and corn) because that is what feeds the yeast. Mushrooms, peanuts, cashews, and pistachios carry high mold contents that could make symptoms worse. Tuna and shellfish contained too many pollutants and mercury. And finally, there could be no caffeine because it irritated the lining of the gut.
And of course, I spent the rest of the week saying goodbye to all the foods I loved. I had pizza, sushi, pad thai, wine, and Halo Top. I ordered Garden of Life probiotics and the Candida Cleanse that would serve as an anti-fungal. I went to Whole Foods and stocked up on tons of fresh produce, fresh herbs, and green tea. And then on Monday, October 9th, I began.
From what I had read, most people had said to start with diet alone first for three days, and then add in probiotics for two days, and then add in the anti-fungals for two days, and then to double them the following week to slowly build yourself up and avoid extreme die off symptoms. And so that was my plan.
I had also decided to track my calories out of curiosity. It seemed that I was going to hit 1500 calories the first day (I usually consumed about 1800-2000), even after planning for five big meals. My protein was higher than normal, about 90g (typically was 75g), as were my 65g fat calories (typically 50g), and I was about 120g carbohydrates under what I normally consumed.
That day I felt okay until about 7:00pm, and then I began developing a headache. By the time I got home and ate dinner at 8:00, I was craving every sweet under the sun: cinnamon rolls, ice cream, cookies. But I held strong, had my sparkling flavored water, and went to bed without giving in.
I had also decided to weight myself and track my body fat along the way. So the day before my diet had started, I clocked in a 136.5 and 20.8% body fat. The morning after my first day, I got on the scale and was startled to see that I was 132.5 and my body fat was 19.6%. I assumed this was the great amount of excess bloat and water weight I had been carrying around.
Days two and three were much the same in terms of how I felt and what my cravings were and my calorie consumption. I would have killed for waffles and maple syrup. After the third day, I had dropped to 131.9 and my body fat was at 18.9%.
Three days and the bloat was noticeably decreased at the end of the day.
On the fourth day, I began my probiotic, and I began to feel the brain fog starting to lift. My thoughts were a little clearer, my focus a little stronger. My bowel movements were changing and my bloating was definitely reduced. However, at the same time, my acne exploded, and I was getting a little headache by the day’s end every day. These were common side effects of die-off, and I happily dealt with them.
On the fifth day, I somehow gained an entire pound back, and it was disheartening. I had been tracking continuously and even with feeding myself five big meals and feeling full, I was averaging 1500 calories, so I was unsure of how that was possible, but I tried not to fixate on it.
Over the next few days, as I leveled my probiotics and anti-fungals, my weight remained stagnant. I had read a few places that said it could happen while the gut was recolonizing, but it still was disappointing. It wouldn’t be until nine days later, that I would drop the gained pound and then continue to slowly lose the weight.
The Friday of week two, I took my hormonal saliva tests and sent them into the lab. They said it would take three weeks to get results.
By the end of week three, I was both happy with the results I had seen, but also troubled by some of the symptoms still occurring. My brain fog was greatly dissipated, my weight was finally dropping, my acne was clearing up, my asthma/allergies were getting better. However, there were still some bad fatigue days and some days my bowel movements looked like the old ones. I was still getting bloated by the end of the night, but the gas had gone away. My cravings had died down to manageable levels, but I still didn’t feel as if I had a total grip on what I was doing, so I began researching again.
Pretty flat stomach for the end of the day!
That’s when I found the Reddit Candida community, and I finally felt like I was reading first-hand experiences that mattered. People were telling their own personal stories and struggles with candida. It made me sad that there were so many other people like me out there whose doctors had brushed them off and that we had to turn to our own research for help. It also frightened me how many people were still struggling with candida years after first figuring out they had it. Very few people had successfully beat it.
I had to calm down by reminding myself that while I mostly likely had systemic candida, which was worse, I was already better off due to my healthy habits. I was already exercising six times a week, I already ate mostly healthy, and I had the discipline to do what I needed to do. Surely, I would not be in the same position as them in the future.
There was plenty of amazing insights though into anti-fungals and supplements and people recording their successes and failures with them. I so began to make a list of the supplements I thought most likely to help:
Saccharomyces Boulardii – Builds up healthy bacteria in the gut
Gymnema Sylvestre – Systemic candida cleanser
L-Glutamine – Helps re-line the Intestines
Slippery Elm – Helps re-line the Intestines
Milk Thistle – Helps the liver while your body heals
Chlorophyll – Helps the liver while your body heals
Now Super Enzymes – Helps digest food fully
Neem Leaf – Destroys yeast in the gut
Diatomaceous Earth – Flushes yeast out through waste
I began to feel hopeful that the mixture of these supplements would help rid myself off all my symptoms once and for all, although I knew it would probably be a bit of an investment. One guy in the group said he was spending $500 monthly on supplements. I certainly didn’t want to go down that rabbit hole since I had already spent so much money, but I decided that I would buy these supplements to add to my daily regiments to hopefully spur on my progress.
Shortly into my fourth week, with my added supplements, I hit a new low weight of 130.8 and a body fat of 17.7%. I also was doing fine on my second period without birth control. It was a little heavier and my cycle was 25 days instead of 28, but no major PMS. Overall, there was definite progress, but I was impatient.
On November 8th, I went in for my follow up with Wycoff. I was already super pleased with my progress with my diet, starting my fifth week, I was feeling better than I had in months. My hot flashes were gone, my gas and cramping were gone. My fatigue was better, as was my mood and bloating. My brain fog had all but gone. I had lost five pounds and at least 3% body fat. My periods were still abnormal and my sleep was still funky, but overall, I felt like I had come back to life.
So you can imagine how pleased Wycoff was when I told him about my drastic diet change and the supplements I had added in. He was very happy that I had already gotten a start on it, and said to continue on with it until the end of the year, but that I could start adding one serving of fruit in a day! Such a small victory, but it felt amazing!
As for my other results, he told me that I was borderline hypothyroid and that to keep it from worsening, he was putting me on a low dose iodine medicine, which should help with energy.
Finally, he confirmed what I had expected all along. I was very deficient in testosterone, progesterone, and DHEA. I was so happy to hear this because it proved my theory all along, and it showed me that I wasn’t crazy. He gave me a prescription for DHEA and a progesterone cream, and told me that I should be able to lean out and gain muscle easier in the future. I was ABSOLUTELY ecstatic. Was this why I wasn’t able to get my goal body? Would I finally be able to obtain it?
That’s when I decided to start writing this blog about my struggles with candida so that I would be able to record what worked and what didn’t for others to read about in the future. I also decided that I would make an ongoing expenditure list so that people would understand the cost of dealing with something like this.
1st Primary Visit: Covered
1st Blood Work: Covered
1st Wycoff Visit: $450
Hormone Testing: $450
2nd Blood Work: $263
Urgent Care Visit: $106
2nd Primary Visit: $73
2nd Wycoff Visit: $160
Asthma Medicine: $213
Total: $2834 – End of 2017
So now here I am at the end of December, looking back over the course of the last six months, and I know that I’ve come so far.
End of the day and my stomach is almost as flat as when I woke up.
I’ve been sitting pretty steady at 128.5 and 17.5% body fat. Not quite to where I started from, but I’ll admit, I’ve been slacking on my food recording and have increased my portion sizes around the holiday. Plus, house hunting has got me majorly stressed out! My bloating and gas are a thing of the past, except for the rare, rare occasion. My bowel movements are normal. My rash has disappeared. My brain fog is a thing of the past. The best part is that Eric and I went on our Annual Christmas Eve run to look at lights, and without taking my inhaler and with it being 20 degrees out, I didn’t have any asthma issues! Obviously, one run doesn’t tell the whole story, but it was the best Christmas present I could have asked for.
While I still have fairly chronic fatigue, insomnia and really cold fingers and toes, that’s more to blame on hypothyroidism. Also, my acne is still not totally under control and my periods are still irregular, but I’ve only been on my hormone medication for a month and it can take quite a bit longer to regulate those.
At the start of this new year, I’ll begin to add foods one week at a time back into my diet.
Week 1: Vinegar
Week 2: Coffee
Week 3: Mushrooms
Week 4: Cashews/Peanuts/Pistachios
Week 5: Fermented Soy Products
Week 6: Potatoes
In the future, I’ll probably stay away from gluten, as the couple of times I accidentally ate it, I did have flare up symptoms. I’ll also stay away from corn products. And I’m going to stay away from added sugar and stick with xylitol for my sweet fixes. And of course, for my one cheat meal a week, I think anything is on the table.
So there it is, the entire process I went through to get to this place where I finally feel healthy and whole again. I won’t lie. It wasn’t easy. It may have been the hardest thing I’ve had to do. I passed up social obligations centered around food. I didn’t skip a single workout. There was plenty of experimenting in the kitchen. Some recipes were great successes and some were epic failures (I’ve included my favorite Candida recipes in my blog). And I’ve had great support from my husband who ate everything I did.
My hope is that if you are struggling with a lot of the same symptoms I was, this story will help convince you to try an elimination diet and see how much of a change it can make to your life.
Abs at the end of the day? It’s a miracle!
I’m two weeks into adding foods back into my diet, and I’m feeling great. Coffee and vinegar have both gone well other than one day where I did have some bloating and discomfort at the end of the evening (but I indulged on a lot of vinegar that day, including salsa, salad dressing, pickles, and a spicy, vinegar-laced dinner). Two things that I have started noticing is that my dandruff is now almost completely gone after years and years of having it. Second, dare I say it, my energy levels have started increasing finally (i.e. I don’t want to kill anyone in the mornings anymore).
I stopped weighing myself for about three weeks because I didn’t like having to depend on the scale for success, and I was feeling great. However, this morning I stepped on, and to my surprise I was 126.5 and 17.1% body fat. That’s ten pounds and 6% body fat that I’ve lost since changing my eating habits. I’m truly amazed. To top it off, and perhaps the most awesome thing of all, is that I’ve not needed my inhaler at all! I’ve started running three times a week again, and my lungs are doing just dandy. Life is seriously good.