Fungal infections can raise your risk of cancer and other problems, says Dr Leigh Erin Connealy. Here’s how to keep the bugs at bay
Human beings are covered in fungus. Yes, it sounds a bit gross, but our bodies are brimming with all sorts of fungi ranging from the beneficial microorganisms that help balance our skin biome to the harmful types that can lead to infections and systemic disease.
These microscopic organisms can travel not only on our bodies but in the air, on clothing, in soil, and in food and water. In fact, research reveals that our skin’s surface harbors several different kinds of fungi. You’d think our hands would be the obvious “home” for multiple fungus types since—as tactile beings—we are always touching things. However, while loaded with bacteria, the hands actually have relatively low fungi levels.
The feet are another story. As many fungal conditions occur on the body in areas that trap a lot of moisture or incur friction, this should come as no surprise. About a decade ago, US National Institutes of Health researchers conducted a fungi census on healthy test subjects.
Using DNA from samples collected via cotton swabs and toenail clippings, they found a whopping 80 different types of fungi on the feet (the heels, webbed skin between the toes, and toenails had the highest density of different kinds of fungus).1 The scientists even found Saccharomyces, the yeast used to brew beer! See “Proper foot hygiene in 3 easy steps” below for how to keep your feet healthy.
Fortunately, most common fungal conditions (see “Common fungal conditions” below) can be treated with over-the-counter antifungal creams or ointments that are readily available in health food stores and online. Several natural, topical solutions and home remedies are also effective.2
In one study, patients who used a topical antifungal comprised of vitamin E and the essential oils of lime, oregano, and tea tree daily for six months had remarkable success treating nail fungus. An impressive 78.5 percent of participants saw their onychomycosis clear up entirely.3 Look into tea tree oil, apple cider vinegar, coconut oil, honey, aloe vera or baking soda, and use as directed.
People with weakened immune systems from conditions such as diabetes or HIV are at a higher risk of developing more serious fungal infections. Aspergillosis is an infection caused by Aspergillus, a type of mold that can lurk indoors and outdoors and cause allergic reactions, lung infections, and other issues.4
Candidiasis is caused by an overgrowth of yeast, a type of fungus known as Candida. The species Candida albicans is often the culprit in vaginal fungal infections (yeast infections) and in mouth and throat infections (thrush).
Increasingly problematic and alarming is the global emergence of Candida auris, an easily spreadable, multi-drug-resistant type of Candida that can lead to severe infections.5 Talk to your healthcare provider about treatment options for these conditions. In some cases, prescription medicines may be required to eliminate the infection.
In my book The Cancer Revolution, I discuss cancer’s many causes and contributing factors at length. It surprises some people that “bugs” such as viruses, parasites, and fungi are on that list. Certain molds, mildews, and Candida increase inflammation throughout the body, leading to an increased risk of cancer.
Low-grade infections aren’t always immediately noticeable, and letting the body sit in this inflammatory state for months—even years—can create an environment favorable to cancer development. That’s why it is crucial to work with an integrative doctor who can help you determine if you have any underlying acute or chronic infections that could become problematic. Nipping those infections in the bud as soon as possible gives you the best chance of lowering your cancer risk in the future.
Candidiasis is a prevalent yet drastically underdiagnosed fungal condition that warrants more discussion. Naturally present on the skin and in the mouth, throat, vagina and intestinal tract, Candida albicans is harmless in reasonable quantities.
But when this yeast takes over, problems arise. A laundry list of symptoms ranging from itchy skin, rashes, chronic fatigue and memory fog to gastrointestinal (GI) issues such as cramping, bloating and diarrhea have all been linked to candidiasis.
It can be a tricky condition to diagnose. For years, conventional medicine ignored this genuine health concern, telling patients there was nothing wrong with them and it was “all in their heads.”
Fortunately, that is no longer the case as more and more practitioners embrace the importance of a proper balance of gut bacteria. Our intestinal tracts are brimming with good and bad bacteria and fungi; keeping those levels in check is vital. When the good flora are overrun by the bad, symptoms—sometimes serious—emerge.
To work out whether Candida may be affecting you, see the quiz below.
When I began my own practice 37 years ago, I did so with a registered dietician by my side. I have long believed that food can—and should—be used as medicine.
Treating Candida starts in the kitchen. Yeast thrives on sugar, so that needs to be cut out. Non-organic dairy products can also fan the flames of yeast overgrowth due to the antibiotics they contain that kill off beneficial gut flora. Their high levels of the sugar lactose—one of Candida’s favorite “meals”—promote yeast growth, too.
Foods containing mold or yeast, like bread and mushrooms, can also fuel Candida growth and should be avoided. Alcohol is another no-no, particularly high-sugar wine and beer, which contains yeast.
Like many common health concerns, Candida can be treated naturally by fueling your body with real, whole foods rich in protein, healthy fats and loads of nutrients. See the list below, but keep in mind that the perimeter or the outside aisles/walls of the grocery store is where you will find most of your acceptable food items, such as produce and meats.
If you have Candida, it is best to eliminate these foods from your diet.
*It is best to avoid all fruits until symptoms clear up. Then you can slowly add lower-sugar options like berries, apples, and citrus fruits.
Stick with these foods instead as your gut heals and balance is restored.
A handful of supplements have antifungal properties and can be used to treat a variety of fungal infections and conditions. As is the case with many supplement protocols, cycling different antifungals may be most beneficial. Trying out one at a time and using it for a month or until the supply runs out is a good approach that is easy to implement.
You can find high-quality supplements in health food stores or visit perfectlyhealthy.com to purchase the targeted supplements I prescribe to my patients. Use all supplements as directed on the supplement bottle unless your provider suggests otherwise.
Oregano’s medicinal properties have been touted for thousands of years, and its benefits are even recognized in the Bible. Likely due to its high levels of the phenol thymol, oregano oil has potent antiseptic and antifungal applications.
One study suggests oregano oil also works synergistically with oral antifungals to kill off Candida albicans.6 Adding this aromatic herb to your food can also help you reap the benefits of oregano. Grab some fresh oregano, grind it yourself and toss it into your favorite dishes!
Olive leaf extract
Olives were revered in ancient Greek and Roman culture. Used for everything from currency to food to fuel, olives were a staple of the times—for a good reason.
The cardiovascular benefits of olive oil are well known, but a phenolic compound in the leaves called oleuropein is a superstar in its own regard. Oleuropein has potent antimicrobial and antifungal properties. And in a study published in the journal Current Medical Mycology, researchers deemed whole olive leaf extract suitable for treating and preventing Candida infections such as oral thrush.7
In addition to smelling fantastic, cloves are rich in antifungal and antiseptic properties. The most active component, eugenol (also found in cinnamon oil), has proven antifungal benefits.
A study published in Frontiers in Pharmacology revealed, “Eugenol may be beneficial in the clinical management of candidiasis, particularly localized forms such as vulvovaginal and oral candidiasis, due to its fungicidal activity.”8
Probiotics: Since balancing the gut flora is key to combating Candida and supporting the immune system, supplementing with a high-quality probiotic is vital.
Fish oil: Fish oil is another no-brainer. According to the latest research, essential fatty acids in fish oil have been found to “exhibit significant inhibitory effects against Candida and have recently been considered potential alternative antifungal agents.”9
Vitamin C: Upping your vitamin C intake isn’t a bad idea, either. Long touted as a potent immune booster, this vitamin also has powerful antimicrobial effects and may help ward off and treat fungal infections as well.
As the author and host of the globally televised TV program and podcast Know the Cause, Doug Kaufmann is one of the most respected and well-versed sources for all things fungus related. For decades, he has worked with scientists and nutritionists to uncover the truth about fungus’s role in disease.
Plagued by his own health issues after returning from Vietnam in 1971, Kaufmann set out to educate the world about the impact fungus can have on our health. And the number of diseases and health conditions that can be traced back to fungal roots is astonishing.
Knowthecause.com is an absolute wealth of information for anyone looking to dive deep into this fascinating world. If you have any health concerns, big or small, Kaufmann invites you to remember the acronym FUPO: fungus until proven otherwise.
Fortunately, we can live amicably with the fungus among us. But it does require a degree of commitment and dedication. Rest assured that with the proper nutrition, supplements and knowledge, it is possible to treat and even reverse Candida and other fungal infections.
It is best to work with an integrative physician who is familiar with a variety of antifungal protocols. We welcome patients from all over the world at the Center for New Medicine, or you can find a physician near you through the Institute for Functional Medicine (ifm.org) or the American College for Advancement in Medicine (acam.org).
To determine whether Candida may be affecting you, answer yes or no to the following questions.
Do you experience any of these symptoms regularly: headaches, bloating, fatigue, depression, impotence, loss of libido, memory problems, brain fogginess, or unexplained muscle aches?
Do you crave sweets, alcoholic beverages, or foods made with white flour?
Have you had repeated vaginal infections?
Do you experience any of these health difficulties regularly: mood swings, inappropriate drowsiness, dry mouth, bad breath, post-nasal drip or nasal congestion, heartburn, rashes, or urinary urgency or frequency?
Have you had repeated fungal infections such as jock itch, ringworm, or athlete’s foot?
Have you ever used birth control pills?
If you answered yes to two or more of these questions, you may suffer from candidiasis.
Many nail issues, including ingrown toenails and fungus, can be avoided or mitigated with proper foot hygiene. Use the following steps to keep your feet and toes in the pink.
1 Wear comfortable-fitting shoes made with natural materials. Adequate ventilation is essential; sandals or shoes with air vents on the sides are ideal. And be sure to avoid tight-fitting shoes.
2 If you wear socks, stick with natural materials as well. Materials such as 100 percent cotton, wool and silk help absorb moisture and ensure proper ventilation. If socks get wet, remove them immediately and thoroughly dry your feet before putting on a fresh pair. (It’s best not to wear socks at all whenever possible.)
3 Wear shower shoes, sandals or swimming booties in areas where fungi and bacteria thrive, such as showers, swimming pools and gym locker rooms, to avoid directly touching these surfaces.