Updated: Jan 30
Do you ever feel that your anxiety and depression is completely out of your control? You’ve tried so many mental and cognitive techniques to manage the mental illness, but these techniques don’t give you more than short-lived, temporary relief from the anxiety and depression.
What if a fungus living in your gut was contributing to your mental illness? This may seem strange, but there is plenty of research to suggest this might be the case for you, especially if you are someone that also excessively craves sweets. Keep reading to find out more.
They say mental illness is genetic
Human genetics certainly play a role in your mental health. But did you know that you inherit not just your parents' human genetics, but their microbial ones as well?
Microorganisms may have everything to do with your mental health. This is because your gut health is directly linked to your brain health, and the balance or imbalance of species in your gut play an integral role in the health of your the immune, endocrine, and neural systems in your body.
For instance, did you know that microorganisms in your gut are involved in the synthesis of neurotransmitters like GABA, serotonin, and dopamine? Without proper biodiversity and the right strains of bacteria in your gut, your body will not be able to adequately produce these “happy chemicals” for your brain.
Gut microbes also play a central role in digestion and absorption of nutrients. Your brain uses nutrients like amino acids, fat, carbs, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients to function - without the proper absorption of them, your mental health suffers.
It is genetic…but it’s not that simple.
While genetically inherited brain chemistry plays a significant role in your mental health, and you do inherit your microbiome (your microbial genetics) as well, these can be altered over time through dietary, lifestyle, mental, and spiritual interventions.
This includes removing certain foods and toxins from your diet, and including other foods. By healing your gut - impacting your absorption of nutrients and your production of hormones and neurotransmitters - you in turn heal your brain.
Bacterial/fungal overgrowth & mental illness
When we are experiencing an overgrowth of bacteria, fungi, or parasites in our gut, we will not assimilate nutrients properly. This severely inhibits our body’s capacity to produce the compounds our brain needs to function optimally. Opportunistic microorganisms can inhibit the proper function of these processes.
Opportunistic (or “bad”) fungi, bacteria, and parasites are known to release toxins into the body. In the case of fungi, mycotoxins are produced which are toxic to the nervous system and other systems in the body, which could lead to a variety of physical and mental complications.
In addition, microorganisms in your gut can release chemicals that influence you to eat the foods that they subsist on. They can also release toxins which induce dysphoria, causing you to be more likely to consume foods that they need to survive.
This brings me to Candida albicans, the little gut fungus that may well be contributing to your mental illness, especially if you simultaneously deal with sugar cravings.
What is Candida albicans?
Candida is a naturally present fungus that resides in the gut (your intestines and other digestive organs). Because it feeds on sugar, it can cause you to crave sweets by putting out signals to your body and brain that you “need” some sugar.
It can also release toxins in your gut that travel up your vagus nerve (the main connection between your digestive system and brain) and into your brain, which may cause you to feel anxious or depressed. This of course makes you more likely to consume more sugar, which it desperately wants.
What a sly little microorganism, huh?
Here’s the funny thing about Candida albicans. It isn’t originally an opportunistic (or “bad”) microorganism. Candida is actually a naturally occurring, helpful fungus that is a necessary part of your gut microbiome. It is in part responsible for helping your body absorb nutrients, as many microorganisms are, and it is also in part responsible for consuming your body after death (ewww…).
The problem comes in when Candida proliferates too much and is left unchecked. This can occur when your immune system is compromised, your gut is “leaky”, or when you eat a diet too high in sugar.
Is Candida bad?
No bacteria, fungi, or virus is necessarily “bad” when present in a properly balanced microbiome. You can look at practically any microorganism and observe a functional, helpful purpose that it has within the whole ecosystem of the body, or at least of the earth.
Candida only becomes “bad” due to a gut that lacks biodiversity and a microbiome that is imbalanced. This can come from taking a round of antibiotics, which indiscriminately klls off both “bad” and “good” gut microorganisms, eating a highly homogeneous or high-sugar diet, or facing an acute or prolonged emotionally traumatic event (as your mental health has a direct impact on your digestive health).
It is estimated that our paleolithic ancestors had a 40% higher diversity of species in their microbiome as we do. With a biodiversity like that, there was plenty of competition for Candida and it was extremely unlikely for it to overgrow in the gut.
With our rampant use of antibacterial ingredients in our cosmetics and cleaning products, over-prescribed antibiotics, wide-spread use of herbicides and pesticides on our food (which are also functional antibiotics), and the foods we eat which alter or damage our gut microbiome, the biodiversity in our guts and throughout our bodies has never suffered more.
But this is not a “doom-and-gloom” declaration. Rather, it is simply a call-to-action for us all to make changes that are made up of small, simple steps to help heal our bodies and the planet.
How does candida overgrowth cause anxiety & depression?
When Candida heavily proliferates and gets out of control, becoming an “aggressive” form of itself, it begins releasing neurotoxins in the body which can cause dysphoria, leading to anxiety and depression. This can also cause us to experience sugar cravings, which is what Candida feeds on.
This is all of course in the best interest of Candida, as a dysphoric and sugar-craving maniac is a much better host to it and will see that Candida gets an environment composed of a weak immune system that cannot fight it so well and plenty of sugar to feed on so it can continue to grow.
An overgrowth of Candida can cause leaky gut, inhibition of the immune system, and the malabsorption of nutrients (including inhibited production and assimilation of hormones and neurotransmitters), all which play a direct role in brain function.
Opportunistic species like Candida, when their populations grow big enough, can even hijack the vagus nerve (the connection between gut and brain), leading to a very unpleasant and confusing mental and physical experience for the person with the infection. This can continue on for years if left untreated through dietary and lifestyle interventions.
What is a biofilm and why is it problematic?
When Candida albicans (or other strains) proliferate out of control and their population grows to a large enough extent, they can form what is known as a biofilm. This is essentially a network of Candida that are interconnected and in constant communication with one another. This network can be highly resilient, as it communicates via quorum sensing, quickly adapting to environmental changes, leading to a higher resistance to antifungal treatments or diet interventions.
Candida can also hide in the gut lining, waiting days, weeks, or perhaps even months until the right opportunity comes around to release bio and neuro toxins to manipulate circumstances. Hence it is an “opportunistic” microorganism.
Some experts suggest that Candida will wait until you feel stressed or high strung - leading to a less effective immune system - and then it will pump out toxins at the right moment. When you are vulnerable, it will release these toxins causing you dysphoria so you will be more likely to consume sugar and help it grow.
At its core, Candida simply wants to ensure its species survival. It isn’t necessarily malevolent, simply evolutionarily self-preservant. But, at the same time, when you look at what it does in the gut…it sure can seem malevolent.
What does candida feed on?
Candida feeds on sugar. Of course, highly processed sugars like white sugar or high fructose corn syrup are its favorite, as these are highly concentrated, providing a much higher quantity of sugar in a short period of time. But Candida can feed on any kind of sugar available.
This is one of the reasons perhaps that Candida has become such an issue for some in westernized society. We used to only have the ability to consume sugar in natural forms, which comes with other vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, enzymes, fiber, etc. This is no longer the case. White sugar is simply sugar….with no redeeming qualities or components that aid in its digestion.
High fructose corn syrup is an even more highly concentrated form of sugar, disposing of all naturally-occurring elements in corn that might be helpful to the body and opting simply for the basic fructose component.
When we consume diets filled with white sugar and corn syrup, as well as inflammatory foods like gluten and dairy, we make our guts vulnerable to the overgrowth of opportunistic species like Candida. While Candida may not feed directly on gluten or dairy, these foods (at least in their modern, westernized form) are inflammatory and can weaken the immune system, leading to an increase of imbalance in the gut microbiome and a better opportunity for Candida to grow.
It is also important to consider that milk contains lactose, which is a disaccharide that Candida may be able to feed on. In addition, westernized wheat is much different since it was hybridized by Norman Borlaug in 1970 and regular use of starter and iodine in bread were replaced by pasteurized yeast and elasticity agents like bromine. Wheat now contains far more sugar content than it did a hundred years ago, and is far harder to digest than it once was.
How can you get rid of a candida overgrowth?
In order to get rid of a Candida overgrowth in your gut, you’ll need to tackle the problem from multiple directions. This includes repopulating your microbiome with beneficial bacteria to fight off Candida, removing processed sugar and other inflammatory foods from your diet, using natural antimicrobials and antifungals, and managing stress more effectively.
Repopulate your gut microbiome
If you have a Candida overgrowth, it has come in part because of a lack of biodiversity and a microbial imbalance in your gut. An overgrowth of any species in the gut microbiome simply means there is far too much of that one species and far too few of other competing species. So, you need to populate your gut with other species that actively compete for the space, so they can help to rebalance the Candida and heal up your gut lining (which has been compromised by the Candida overgrowth and other cofactors).
Repopulating your gut microbiome with beneficial microbes can be done in a variety of ways. While probiotic supplements can be somewhat helpful in this process, it is far more effective to consume probiotic and prebiotic whole foods to stimulate the growth of commensal (or “good”) bacteria.
Below are several ways to do this.
Eat fruits & veggies
Fruits and veggies are loaded with prebiotics, nutrients that feed probiotic bacteria. Prebiotics are essentially different kinds of fiber. We popularly hear the terms “soluble” and “insoluble” fiber, but fiber is more complex and versatile than this. Different types of fiber from different foods feed different species of beneficial microorganisms in the gut.
Fiber is what “good” bacteria like Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria feed on. These species are in part responsible for the production of neurotransmitters and hormones for the body and brain. When we consume fibrous foods, we stimulate the growth of these beneficial bacteria, leading to an improvement of nutrient absorption, hormone and neurotransmitter production, and smooth digestion. Each of these factors play a primary role in our mental health.
As far as fruits and veggies go, cruciferous vegetables are an especially great source for feeding commensal (beneficial) bacteria, as they contain a high volume of fibers that these bacteria feed on.
Eat fermented foods
Fermented foods contain beneficial bacteria. When we consume them, these beneficial bacteria enter our gut and help repopulate it. It is important that we consume these foods regularly, as our bodies cycle through bacteria fairly quickly. Fermented foods include things such as real sourdough bread, raw kimchi, raw sauerkraut, natto, and kombucha.
Get out in nature
Beneficial bacteria are not only found in our food, they are also found abundantly in nature. Plants and soil, just like us, have their own microbiome. In fact, the fruits and veggies we eat have microbiomes too, but their microbiomes are disturbed and even destroyed by pesticides, herbicides, other man-made chemicals, and farming practices such as tilling, planting massive monocrops, destroying soil fungal systems, failing to utilize cover crops, and failing to properly rotate and rest crops.
This is not the case for places like the mountains, forests, and the ocean. Because what we touch and breathe enters our bloodstream, walking out in nature, touching plants, swimming in the ocean, and breathing fresh air all give us micro exposures to the microbiome of nature, helping to repopulate our body with the biodiversity we need to thrive.
While many destructive and toxic man-made chemicals have unfortunately found their way into our earth’s ecosystem due to our poor choices as human beings, much of nature is still alive, beautiful, and filled with Mother Earth’s readily available medicine.
We need to support organizations and food suppliers who seek to uphold nature’s abundant beauty, such as organic and family growers who do not use toxic chemicals on their crops or in their products. We must keep nature’s healing capacities alive for the sake of our collective physical and mental health, that of the earth and the animals, and for our children, our children’s children, and so on. It is all interconnected.
Exercising also impacts the composition of your microbiome. Exercise impacts how well your beneficial bacteria populations develop and it also increases their numbers.
If you have a hard time exercising, set a small, measurable goal to get started, such as going on a 30-minute walk 3 times per week. Do this for a few weeks, and then increase by a little, such as walking 40-minutes 3 times per week. Continue setting goals, congratulating yourself on small successes, and building momentum bit by bit.
Get enough sleep
Fun fact, when you are sleeping so are your bacteria. They have a circadian rhythm just like you do! This is one of the reasons that having a regular sleeping schedule is so important.
Going to sleep and waking up at the same time each day can be a great benefit to your overall physical and mental health and can help in improving the biodiversity and microbial balance of your gut microbiome.
Remove processed sugars from your diet
If you eat sugary foods often, and you are looking to get rid of a Candida overgrowth, you must replace those sugary foods with other healthier foods. Taking an antifungal supplement or medication without changing your diet is a futile effort; you can’t balance your gut while constantly feeding the very thing that is keeping it imbalanced.
It is important to note that Candida feeds on all sugars, not just the processed ones. Even things like raw honey or natural maple syrup can lead to the proliferation of Candida. The difference is that these types of “sugars” come combined with many other beneficial compounds. Raw honey, for instance, comes packed with vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and is even prebiotic and probiotic.
So while the glucose and fructose in things like whole maple syrup, raw honey, and agave do technically feed Candida, it is far harder to overload on these sugars than it is to do so on processed ones. That being said, you still need to eat them in strict moderation if you want to heal a Candida overgrowth.
It is important to note that honey that has been pasteurized and processed is not good for your body, and is in many ways similar to pure white sugar. This is because it has had all of its beautiful beneficial compounds removed, leaving essentially only glucose and fructose.
Because of this, honey that is not raw (has been pasteurized) is hardly better than white sugar unfortunately, because it has undergone the same type of denaturing as is done with white sugar. The only way it is better is that most white sugar in America comes from GMO sugar beets, which are destructive to top soil and likely to our bodies as well.
So when buying honey, be sure to buy the one that says “raw and unfiltered” or purchase from a local beekeeper who does not pasteurize or denature their honey.
This is similarly the case with high fructose corn syrup - it has everything but fructose removed from it, leaving a highly concentrated dose of sugar that the body does not process well.
Candida has a hay day when it comes to processed sugars. The more we can consume natural, whole sugars in moderate amounts, rather than the processed ones, the better.
Remove highly inflammatory foods from your diet
Inflammatory foods such as dairy and gluten are hard on the gut, the immune system, and cause inflammation in the body. When our immune system is busy fighting these foods and other toxins, its ability to fight off Candida and rebalance the gut is compromised, leading to a higher proliferation and resilience in aggressive Candida.
Stop using antibiotics as much as possible
Antibiotics kill all bacteria, not just the “bad” stuff. Studies have shown that one round of antibiotics can impact the health of the body’s microbiome for years. Some populations of gut microorganisms may never return after antibiotic use without expansive treatment and intervention.
Fortunately, interventions such as walking in nature while touching the wild plants and trees, swimming in clean, untainted oceans or springs, or consuming a highly diverse diet of fruits, veggies, and probiotic foods can help your body recover. There are also more extreme interventions such as Fecal Microbiota Transplantation (FMT) which have proven highly effective in treating gut issues.
Taking antibiotics can lead to long-term complications. When possible, we are better off treating a sickness or infection with natural antimicrobial/antifungal/antiparasite plants, herbs, and fungi, as well as whole-food dietary interventions.
Spiritual, mental, and social wellness practices can also make a big difference, as our psychological well-being is directly linked to our immunological well-being.
Use natural antimicrobials & antifungals
In order to heal an overgrowth of Candida albicans, you’ll likely find it necessary to go on an antifungal treatment. Natural antifungal/antimicrobial/antiparasite treatments include:
Black walnut hull
An antifungal/antimicrobial/antiparasite supplement that includes these ingredients and more, and has been highly beneficial for my own Candida overgrowth, is Canxida.
I have been extremely impressed with this supplement. From everything I can see, it has made a real difference for me and I’d recommend it to anyone who thinks they may be struggling with a Candida overgrowth. My father also suffered from a severely aggressive overgrowth himself, and used the same ingredients that are in Canxida to heal his Candida infection.
In truth, the natural ingredients in Canxida are effective not just for Candida but for treating many gut overgrowths of fungi, bacteria, or parasites. Natural healing compounds from the earth tend to be wonderfully multifaceted that way.
In addition, to my knowledge there are no harmful side effects. You only stand to benefit from taking a natural antifungal. Even if you did not have an overgrowth of opportunistic microorganisms in your system, the ingredients in Canxida would help heal your body in varying ways regardless, bringing more balance to the ecosystem of your gut and other organs.
Managing stress more effectively
Central to stress management are spiritual practices like prayer and meditation and reading of inspired words such as those in the Holy Bible, Bhagavad Gita, Tao Te Ching, The Meditations, and many more. If you are suffering from anxiety and depression, making these practices central to your everyday life is your very best chance of finding peace and mental well-being.
There are many other methods for managing stress such as thought replacement strategies (you’ll find some in this article on healing social anxiety), working through trauma (I talk about that to some extent in this article), coping mechanisms, fulfilling hobbies, uplifting relationships, and more. I believe at the core of all of this is connection with God. Without God, all else seems undoable; with God, all else can become manageable.
Candida albicans has played a role in my own struggle with mental illness. The nutritional and lifestyle solutions I have listed above are many of the ones that I have used to balance out my gut microbiome and find increased mental peace and stability. I hope that they will help you too.
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Want to know the four fascinating ways that your gut health impacts your mental health? Read my article The 4 Ways the Gut and Brain Connect.