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Surviving Candida - A Patient's Perspective

by Rebecca Richardson(more info)

listed in colon health, originally published in issue 187 - October 2011

Introduction
These days, almost everyone knows someone with food intolerances, yet Candida is still relatively unheard of (unlike Chlamydia, a sexually transmitted disease, which my Office Manager told my boss that I was suffering from!). Thankfully, Candida is now becoming a more recognized complaint, although it is still difficult to obtain this diagnosis from a GP, even though Coeliac Disease and gradually ME are recognized illnesses. Candida can strike anyone at any time in their life. This is my story of how I began the journey back to good health.

Rebecca Richardson and Ketherine Dempsey
The Author (left) with her Nutritionist Katherine Dempsey (right)

 

Symptoms
Six years ago, I visited Nutritionist Katherine Dempsey on the recommendation of a friend who suggested my problems could be put down to food intolerance or allergies. I had been suffering quite badly for a number of years with unexplained symptoms which were progressively getting worse, with no solution. At my appointment, I explained to Katherine that the predominant issues were as follows:

Gynaecological: I began suffering with bouts of thrush (and cystitis) from my late teens onwards and was prescribed antibiotics and vaginal pessaries, told to take live yoghurt (internally and externally) and drink cranberry juice. However, the episodes became much more frequent from about the age of thirty when everything else also seemed to 'kick off'. Vaginally, I often had no discharge, just itching, coupled with inflammation, a stinging sensation and soreness. I began to suffer with PMS, mood swings, irritability and period cramps when I never had before and my libido simply disappeared without a trace. More recently, I experienced issues with my vulva and labia feeling extremely prickly, especially at night in bed (which my GP suspects is Lichen Sclerosus).  

Urological: I also started to experience frequency, urgency and a burning sensation when urinating. My bladder would feel inflamed from over-use and often felt 'niggly'. As soon as I would finish on the toilet, it would feel like I needed to go again, but couldn't. Some days I would wee a lot and then others I would drink many glasses of water and urinate just a little, but it would be more painful. I had to wake six times a night to urinate. I would experience shooting pains/twinges in the urethra about five minutes after passing water lasting for about five to ten minutes. The anterior wall of my vagina was always irritated afterwards. Every visit to the Doctor resulted in me feeling like a hypochondriac. The majority of my test results came back clear, but the pain didn't go away. I couldn't go on feeling like I did for much longer. I was in constant pain, it ruined sex and my social life, and I was unable to go anywhere without planning ahead on where the nearest toilet was going to be. In 2004, I had an IV X-ray on my kidneys and bladder and also a scan of my bladder, which showed nothing untoward. In 2005, I attended an appointment with a Consultant Urologist and was diagnosed with Interstitial Cystitis. However, I found the Consultant's attitude towards me quite dismissive and I came away feeling negative, upset and unhappy with the treatments offered.    I decided not to go back for my follow-up appointment and instead sought an alternative, holistic approach.

Digestion: After eating a meal, I would experience a pain in the left hand side of my stomach, just below my ribs, which turned into a painful stitch under my collarbone when I breathed, together with lower bowel pain. I frequently had an upset stomach afterwards, which caused haemorrhoids and let's not also forget the bloated stomach, constant belching and flatulence! Then I would be hungry again soon after, craving sweet and salty foods, which I had never really done before. I also suffered with bouts of constipation.

Headaches: These felt like a pressure headache and made me feel very nauseous. I suffered from migraines as a child, but these did not feel the same. It was almost as if I was suffering with the auras without the blinding headache afterwards. I felt spaced out, shaky and had occasional dizzy spells, as if drunk without alcohol. It would be as if my brain had just frozen and I couldn't think straight. I also had weakness/shakiness on my right hand side in my arm and leg and felt clumsy.

Ears, Nose, Throat and Mouth: When I was twenty five, I was diagnosed with asthma. It was never that serious and only really manifested itself when I laughed too much, had a bad chest cold, or was in a damp and mouldy environment. However, I was given a steroid inhaler. Soon after I started using this, I began suffering from a constant sore throat and tonsillitis, resulting in a number of prescriptions for antibiotics and an operation to remove one tonsil in 2001. I suffered with bad breath and a coated tongue. I also had a bit of left ear pain like earache and mucous in the back of my nose and throat.   

Skin: I had an itchy patch on the sole (around bladder/urethra area for reflexology strangely enough) and heel of my foot, palm of hand and armpit. You couldn't see anything, but it itched like crazy. My skin was also dry and flaky.

Random Symptoms: My glands always feel slightly enlarged, but I have always been told that this is probably because I have "no meat on me". I am always 'cold to the marrow' and it has been suggested that it is probably because I am "skin and bone". My eyeballs are always dry, apparently "because I do not blink enough!"  My energy levels would be up and down. Some days I just couldn't do anything and had to go to bed when I got home from work and others I was like a whirling dervish. I slept fine, but never felt refreshed when I woke up. Since a child, I have suffered with mild OCD, which equals stress and anxiety. It is always more pronounced when I am worried or upset about something and I go on a mad cleaning spree. It is exhausting, but at least I've always got a tidy house! I have often suffered with depression, panic attacks and paranoia and have on two occasions resorted to taking anti-depressants for a short period of time. I also experienced heart palpitations which felt like a missed beat. It could be very frightening and sometimes I had to punch myself in the chest. It would happen after running or climbing lots of stairs and then other times I could be just sitting watching television and it would just occur for no reason. I still do have an extremely heightened sense of smell and strong odours, such as aftershave, perfume, gas, petrol/diesel fumes, chemicals (especially bleach and disinfectant) and damp/mould send me mad.

Diagnosis
So, after taking all the above symptoms into account, completing a questionnaire of what I suffered from and performing a Kinesiology test on me to establish my personal food intolerances, Katherine informed me that there was "good news and bad news".

The good news was that there actually was something wrong with me and I wasn't going crazy. Katherine confirmed that all of my problems were down to a little known systemic yeast infection called Candida. However, she then told me the bad news; the fact that I needed to go on an extremely strict diet that excluded alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, wheat, gluten, dairy, sugar, yeast, citric acid and fermented products. Obviously, I was greatly relieved at finding out that I wasn't totally 'crackers', but then the realization hit me that life was about to change dramatically and I got a bit grumpy as Katherine continued to tell me everything I couldn't eat for the foreseeable future.

I couldn't believe it when she said that my body could not tolerate onion, garlic, wheat, oats, gluten, potatoes and beetroot. It was no wonder that I was rushing to the toilet within twenty minutes of eating, as these were the majority of ingredients used in my meals! After all the years of suffering, now to be told that I could not even enjoy my food, it was all too much. What did I do? I burst into tears. When I finally pulled myself together, Katherine explained everything about the illness. She also explained Leaky Gut Syndrome and the Herxheimer Reaction, so that I was forewarned that things were about to get worse before they got any better. The Candida 'die-off' releases at least 79 toxins into the body! However, she also confirmed that the food intolerances would possibly subside once the Candida was under control and that I may be able to reintroduce the banned ingredients gradually. She recommended a Candida book to help me stick rigidly to the diet for a number of weeks before beginning a regime of supplements and treatments, which consisted of the following:

  • Caprylic Acid to be used as an anti-fungal, but to change to Oregano later on in my treatment to prevent my body getting used to the Caprylic Acid;
  • Acidophilus to be used as a probiotic to help support the growth of beneficial bacteria in my gut;
  • Permatrol to help protect my stomach lining from Leaky Gut Syndrome;
  • Milk Thistle to protect my liver from all the toxins following the Candida 'die-off';
  • Concentrated Cranberry in tablet form as opposed to cranberry juice to help maintain the health of my urinary tract;
  • Yeast Gard and Cervagyn to be used internally for the thrush symptoms and to help maintain healthy vaginal flora.

Warning: Having Candida can be an expensive business, but it is worth every penny to feel human again.

During the first three months, I found it a hard struggle collating all the information and finding out all the recipes that I could eat, as a lot of them also contained gluten. It was also somewhat of a challenge to cook without so many widely used ingredients. I sourced a lot of brand products that were free from all the hidden 'nasties'. I continued to meet with Katherine regularly, to use her as a sounding board and to receive reflexology and massage treatments. When the Candida started to 'die off' my symptoms were exacerbated and so her professional and emotional support was invaluable to reiterate that this was just a stage that I would have to go through before I felt better and that I was not to give up. It was when I started to 'turn the corner' with my own condition that I made up my mind to write a book to give fellow Candida sufferers hope.

Candida Can Be Fun Front Cover.
Candida Can Be Fun Front Cover.

Candida Can Be Fun! is a 'survival guide' written from a sufferer's perspective and it is also a helpful resource which literally shows you what you can eat instead of telling you what you can't. I wanted to put a positive spin on it and the 100 savoury recipes actually turned out pretty yummy. I did all the leg work so that other Candida sufferers wouldn't have to. My recipes are designed for everyone, and 60% of them are suitable for vegetarians/vegans, with a lot more being able to be adapted by replacing the meat with a vegetable/pulse substitute. Regardless of the medical profession's opinion on Candida, following the anti-Candida diet cannot harm you and, if anything, it is an extremely healthy diet and weight loss programme and you don't even have to have Candida to enjoy it!   

Veggie CayenneVeggie meal

Prawn Curryprawn curry

roasted red pepper meal
Roasted Red Pepper and Garlic Pesto

 

stir fried tofu
Stir Fried Tofu with Chop Suey and Rice

 

Mexican meal
Mexican Meal


Cause and Effect
So how did I end up in this state? Thinking back to my childhood, I now recognize that I had certain symptoms which my lifestyle was beginning to contribute to even then. The fact that I practically lived on raw sugar helped the early Candida set up home. 10 pence back in 1975 could get you quite a haul from the sweet shop; it was unheard of to actually drink water! My first introduction to antibiotics was around the age of six. I was prescribed Tetracycline which was later discovered to permanently discolour the teeth of people who took the medicine in childhood. Combined with my sugar consumption, the long-term plan for a mouthful of mercury was set in motion (to be precise, nine fillings, two crowns and six porcelain veneers). I remember incidents of painful urination after long soaks in bubble baths, or trips to the swimming pool in the days when you used to have to wade ankle deep through disinfectant before you even reached the chlorine! Wearing tight jeans also caused me irritation. About this age, I also started to experience migraines. These stopped when I was sixteen. It was around this time that I started taking the contraceptive pill for about ten years (then off and on after that). I finally stopped taking the pill in 2002, only to find that condoms caused me real irritation. My first kidney infection arrived at the age of seventeen. After a weekend of alcohol consumption and enjoying myself a little too much, I got home from work one night and suddenly had to rush to the loo. Within seconds, I was in agony. My urgent wee was a few drops of urine that seemed to have turned to acid. I stood up and immediately felt like I needed to go again. This continued for awhile until I started passing blood. The doctor was called out and I was prescribed antibiotics. During the next couple of days, I developed thrush and haemorrhoids. I felt pretty awful until it eventually cleared up. Little was I to know that I had been given my first warning. Unfortunately for me, I didn't take any notice.

The next two decades of my life were dedicated to a hedonistic lifestyle. Alcohol was consumed in large quantities (today I believe it has a name: 'binge drinking') and pasta and bread were the main ingredients of most meals. The invention of 'alco-pops' coincided with me taking up smoking and then the real trouble began. A dream trip to Australia and New Zealand became one of the most painful years of my life. It was a 365 day holiday, which involved daily smoking and drinking. Whenever I drank sweet alcoholic drinks, my cheeks would literally burn bright red. My thrush and cystitis were at their highest ebb and various trips to the clinics resulted in more antibiotics. I also ended up drinking a lot of cranberry juice not realizing that it was making the symptoms worse.  Upon my return from Australia in 2004, I was at my absolute worst and almost suicidal. It was at this stage that my friend recommended I visit her Nutritionist. It was the best thing I ever could have done. Katherine was so sympathetic and actually listened. I finally found the answer.  

Conclusion
The path to recovery is a process of elimination; everyone is different, which also includes the time period that it will take for each patient to recover. I always recommend a visit to your GP in the first instance to rule out every possibility. If this does not get to the bottom of your problems, I would suggest you arrange an appointment with a qualified Nutritionist. I started taking a note of my symptoms and keeping a record of what food I had eaten on the particular day that my aches and pains were most prominent. For example, I noticed that after eating curry or chilli, my vagina would be stingy and felt irritated and swollen, as opposed to itchy, and urinating would hurt more. In future, I replaced the chilli with a pinch of cayenne pepper instead and this seemed to help. Simply making certain changes, such as not wearing tight knickers / trousers constantly seemed to make a difference. I stopped wearing perfume and now use only natural toiletry products for myself and avoid using chemical cleaning products and go for natural options. I no longer need to use an asthma inhaler, but realize most asthma sufferers cannot just stop using theirs. I also started to treat myself to holistic therapies, such as acupuncture, aromatherapy massage, colonic hydrotherapy, hypnotherapy, reflexology and shiatsu.

My Interstitial Cystitis still causes me some discomfort, but this is mostly when I suffer flare ups after relaxing the anti-Candida diet. However, the symptoms are absolutely nowhere near to what they were five/six years ago. I always make sure that I totally void my bladder of all urine when I pass water and am not afraid to go to the toilet when I know it will hurt. The longer you hold the urine in, the more irritated the bladder will become. It is also essential to retain a sense of humour to combat all the humiliation and embarrassment involved!

Consultation with a Qualified Nutritionist
If you are interested in setting up a consultation for yourself (and I strongly recommend this) you will be able to locate a Nutritionist that is close to your home location by searching on the internet.

Further Information
Rebecca's Nutritionist, Katherine Dempsey ITEC DIP D-T RGG AoR is a qualified Nutritional Consultant and Reflexologist. She works in the Wiltshire, Bath and Bristol area and may be contacted for nutritional advice and other holistic treatments on the following numbers: Clinic: Tel: 01380 727 765; Mobile: 07973 714 770.

Comments:

  1. Debra barnett said..

    Loved reading your story.I am sufferig from Candida and so far have been unable to find a good nutritionist after seeing about four.I am very ill at the moment and taking time of work as i am finding it hard to work.I have had Candida before in my twenties and a brillant nutritionist who cured me,it has come back now in my fourties.Any help please to find a good nutritionist as the lady who treated me has gone back to Brazil.I am based in north london.


  2. Jazmin said..

    Hi!
    I am really happy for you and how you cured this overgrowth! I feel really good for you from all he experience and benefits you have now. Also, your personal story is really encouraging, specially because of the way it is written.
    I have been suffering from candida for 2 years after a cystitis I had and "cured" with antibiotics. I started the diet almost a month ago and I am feeling better, however I have some questions.
    1. I eat a lot of garlic and onions because I read that they were anti fungal. I am confused whether or not they are good for you. Also, I read that meat is fine but that tofu is not supposed to be eaten. I am practically following the candidadiet.com.
    2. I had sex 2 days ago (with my husband we have been married for almost 3 years, we used condoms) and after a couple of hours later I felt a burning sensation in my vagina. If you know anything about sex related to the candida I would really like to know. I was wondering if the bacteria is somehow felt more with vaginal discharge or if it is triggered by having sex.

    I am currently living in Colombia and I am looking for a nutritionist, but in the mean time I would really appreciate any advice you have.
    Thank you so much!


  3. Nicci said..

    Wow. Your life story and list of symptoms are nearly the same as my own. When I was younger no one would believe me when I was sick or in pain. It came to a point where I started thinking I was losing my mind and its very upsetting to be told I am lying about pain or sickness. I am so happy that I stumbled upon this. I havent yet seen any form of a doctor but after a month of research I am sure that this is whats going on.
    I at first thought my acid reflux was getting worse, but the white swollen coated tongue tells me its thrush.

    The main reason I stumbled across Candida as being the issue here was because my hair would smell bad randomly. I tested it to see if it was products, my brush etc etc. It would come on randomly and go away. I looked it up and found that it could be candida. If I never had this random weird symptom, I probably would never know whats wrong with me, continue living with the 20+ symptoms forever, the pain etc etc.

    Thank you for sharing your story.


  4. Emma said..

    I found your story really helpful, I suffered badly with Vaginal Burning & soreness which carried on continually for almost 6 months.
    I visited my GP lots, was tested for various things which came back clear, I was at the end of my tether & couldn't even go to work as the pain was awful.
    I tried self help-live yoghurts, Canesten, using non perfumed wash powder/Baby Soap/Baby Bubble Bath/loose Cotton underwear etc. The Burning Cystitis feeling was still there, even after trying everything to combat it, my sex life became non existant as I was too sore. I then started to look at my Diet, I was eating pickled Jalapeno Chillies with Cheese & Crackers most nights, also loved Spicy Food in general & would eat Chilli Con Carne, Curries & Spicy Bombay Mix.
    I realised, after almost 6 months of constant pain- it could be my Diet, I immediately stopped eating Chillies, Curries & anything else Spicy, and within 1 Week I immediately starting feeling 'normal' down there.
    I also found eating Spring Onions in a Salad also triggered my problems down there-but always the next day after eating these foods.
    I really fancied a Curry whilst on Holiday recently & stupidly ordered one(I had a few Beers & lost my sense!) it was only a Mild Curry, but sure enough, I woke up the next day in complete agony-sore raw feeling, painful urination & urgent need to pee all morning, completely ruined the whole day.
    I will never touch spicy food again, the pain just isn't worth it.
    If you're suffering from Vaginal Soreness, Inflammation, Burning & irritation, think about what you've been eating, as it could be certain foods triggering it.


  5. HANNAH said..

    hi
    please help me, i am in the early stages of the candida diet, i am doing everything right as far as i can see, BUT i am a little confused. I RESEARCH everything on the net before i buy it to find out if it will conflict with my Foods to avoid list... i came across NATURAL YEAST on a vegan site that says it makes a wonderful cheese alternative in sauces...i checked it out, and there is so many conflicting ideas, some say ABSOLUTLY not..its yeast full stop. Others cant praise it enough for its health benifits..since its a deactivated yeast, can I or can I not use this in my candida diet? ALSO someone said that yeast extract is o.k to eat, so marmite and vegimite are o.k to eat...is this true or not????.....

    please advise me on this..thankyou so much

    HANNAH


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About Rebecca Richardson

Rebecca Richardson is currently full-time Personal Assistant to the Chairman & Managing Director of a specialist recruitment consultancy. She lives in Bristol with Sam, her long-term partner, her five year old daughter, Edie, and their cat. This year saw Rebecca realize her 'New Year's Resolution' and long-term ambition of writing a book. Candida Can Be Fun! was self-published in March 2011. [ISBN 978-0-948808-14-2.] She can be contacted at: Rebecca@candidacanbefun.co.uk www.candidacanbefun.co.uk 

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