Beating Candidiasis safely while breastfeeding
An infection, whether from a virus, bacteria, fungus or parasite, presents a challenge to the immune system and leads to fatigue and general malaise, (also called “having the blahs”). Fungal infections in particular can be insidious, meaning, we can have them for a long time without realizing that we have them. We may not realize that they are affecting our health. Doctors might tell you, for instance, that it is normal for a mother to be tired, or that you are simply beginning to feel your age.
It gets complicated when we also have a secondary infection, whether a reactivated virus, a stealth-bacterial disease such as Lyme, a problematic digestive system with an off-kilter biome, a hormonal imbalance or mental health condition. Many “conditions” interact with and exacerbate one another. Knowing how to unravel the entangled interactions between infections, toxins, the microbiome and food allergies is the art of today’s medicine.
Candidia albicans is a common fungus that hunkers down in moist and warm parts of the body such as in the mouth, throat, gut, and vagina. Normally, candida albicans (and similar fungi and bacteria) is not a concern. However, if it dominates and over-grows, it can enter the bloodstream and colonize organs such as the kidney, heart, or brain. Candidiasis is the clinical name for this overgrowth. We can have a mild case and be unaware of the infection, or it can break out and be symptomatic, for instance as vaginal, nipple, or oral thrush.
Fungus has an affinity for moist tissue. You might have experienced vaginal thrush and used an insertable cream to beat back the infection. “Beat back” is key. We do not want to completely eradicate the fungus. It is just one member of a community of bacteria that make up the body’s microbiome.
The varieties of these micro-members, bacteria, viruses, and parasites, have a profound effect on our health. We aim to reduce the fungus and then keep those numbers low over a period of time, so that the microbiome can establish a better balance and the immune system can recover. Otherwise, we might have repeat infections and more complications.
Breastfeeding mothers can experience a painful fungal infection of the nipple called thrush. Again: it occurs when the microbiome is out of balance and unable to prevent fungal overgrowth.
When I lived in Switzerland, I learned that nipple thrush is practically unknown in that country. Why? For starters, Swiss doctors do not over-prescribe antibiotics, many of which degrade the microbiome. The Swiss also typically eat a whole-foods diet including fresh fruit and vegetables. The Swiss also value cleanliness, regularly changing sheets, vacuuming and wiping down surfaces, cleaning the fridge, etc. Importantly, the weather in Switzerland is rarely humid, and humidity increases the growth of fungus. Those of us who live in high-humid parts of the world need to take extra care to maintain the balance of the microbiome and to keep the home clean.
Candidiasis (and similar fungi) is a major contributing factor in a condition called leaky gut or permeable intestine. Here, the cells of the intestinal lining are not tightly bound together. Spaces open between them, microscopic “holes” through which tiny food molecules and toxins pass through. See my article on priming the baby during pregnancy for colic and food allergies.
Candidiasis is opportunistic: it overgrows and invades the body if the immune system is unable to fight it off. People with a compromised immune system such as those with chronic fatigue, chronic inflammatory conditions, or brain fog, frequently also have a systemic candidiasis infection. (Systemic means that it is found in multiple parts, or systems, of the body.)
Resolving a fungal infection can be tricky – but absolutely worth the trouble as it is an essential step toward re-balancing and strengthening the immune system.
The short-term use of an anti-fungal medication called Nystatin is considered generally safe for a breastfeeding mother.
If you develop nipple thrush, first talk with your lactation expert to learn what you can do to resolve the infection. For a long term solution, take the steps listed below in the next section.
Re-balance the microbiome and strengthen the immune system against candidiasis
A successful, long-term approach has three parts:
1) eliminate mold from the home (also eliminate irritating and toxic chemicals);
2) eat a whole-foods diet including gut-healing vegetables and broths; remove all foods made with refined sugar (but some fruit and berries is okay);
3) rotate herbal supplements that have strong anti-fungal properties. We alternate these supplements to prevent the fungus from developing resistance to any one of them. In order to overwhelm the defenses of the fungal infection, hitting it from many sides repeatedly and frequently with different kinds of anti-fungal herbal supplements is what works.
This long-term approach does not quickly eradicate the fungus, but it does slowly reduce the fungus while allowing your immune system to become stronger and more effective against the fungus, while allowing your intestine and organs to heal.
Scroll down to the end of this article to read about “Die Off,” and learn about the ups and downs of an intense healing protocol.
Why a rotation schedule? And why use several products?
Fungal infections can develop resistance to any one product, even if it consists of several ingredients. To overwhelm the defenses of the fungal infection, hitting it from many sides repeatedly and frequently is needed. See the suggested products, listed below.
Do not use oregano oil
Not all antifungal supplements are suitable for breastfeeding mothers. Oregano oil is a case in point. Although oregano oil is one of our strongest anti-fungals, oregano oil sometimes reduces milk supply. Keep oregano oil in mind for later, when you have weaned. I like this particular NOW brand because it also contains oils of fennel and ginger, and both are good for intestinal healing.
Grapefruit Seed Extract is a strong antifungal that has a long history of use by breastfeeding mothers. With a liquid product such as this one by NutriBiotic, you can modulate your dosage from just 1 – 2 drops in a cup of water to 5 – 10 drops, taken 3 – 5 times a day.
The ability to experiment and find your best dosage gives you control. This may feel new and uncomfortable for many, as we are used to following dosage recommendations. In the case of clearing infection, and using natural products, it is useful to start with. alow dosage and build up, watching your body’s reaction. You can scale back if you notice increased fatigue or any unwellness, and then gradually increase your dosage again at a later time.
If the acidity of Grapefruit Seed extract irritates your digestive system, combine the GSE with a half-teaspoon of baking soda in a cup of water. This will neutralize the acidity.
Cautions: do not combine grapefruit seed extract with domperidone or fluconazole.
Caprylic Acid is the part of coconut oil that is most strongly antifungal, and it is experienced as being particularly potent and often causing “die-off.” Start slowly, just one capsule a day. If you do not experience a “die-off” (see below), continue increasing the dosage to tolerance.
Acacia Fiber (also called “gum arabic”). Take up to one tablespoon daily in yogurt, juice, or water, or blended into juices and smoothies. Acacia fiber has many benefits. It is antimicrobial both against bacteria and fungus. It “smooths” and “coats” the contents of the bowels, relieving constipation. In a study1 from 2012, a daily snack of acacia fiber in yogurt with Bifidus lactobacilli improved both constipation and diarrhea in persons with IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome).
Olive leaf extract is a home-remedy must-have, and Herbpharm is one of my favorite brands. Although olive leaf has not been safety-tested for breastfeeding, it is widely used as an herbal antibiotic by breastfeeding mothers. It is also a powerful antifungal. I would use it at a low dosage along with the other antifungal products, several times a day.
Turmeric: To fully eradicate a fungal infection, we have to dissolve the biofilms where they hide throughout the body. Some enzymes achieve this, and another way is to use turmeric. It is antifungal, antibacterial, a biofilm-buster, plus it supports lactation.
Turmeric relieves muscle aches and joint pain by acting as an anti-inflammatory. It is protective against brain damage and memory loss. Overall, it is worthwhile to learn how to “stomach” a simple dose of turmeric every day, or as needed.
“Golden milk“ is a popular way to drink turmeric. This product is made with dates, cardamom, ashwaganda, and other herbs that are both immune supportive and lactogenic.
I personally make for myself the simple, fast, and inexpensive version: a half-teaspoon of turmeric powder, stirred into a cup of water and quickly swallowed down. If you don’t mind the taste, a very small shake of black pepper into the turmeric is believed by many to improves its bioavailability, though I find it highly medicinal without the pepper.
About Fungal Die-Off
Some people go through a phase of feeling tired, foggy-brained, and toxic when using antifungal supplements. This can be due to a large and sudden die-off of the fungi.
“Die-Off” is a period of time in which your body is dealing with a flood of dead cells from the fungi. They are now in your blood and as they pass through your body and organs, you may notice sudden fatigue, brain-fog, or even a flare-up of a rash or arthritic pain.
This is a sign that the supplements are working, but that your detox organs need time to catch up with the extra detox work. Eventually, your liver will neutralize the toxins. Depending on the degree of the infection, and the pace of your liver, the symptoms of Die-Off might last 1 – 3 hours or 1- 3 days.
If this happens to you, back off the supplements, drink a lot of water, and rest. Trust that you will soon feel better.
While “die-off” sounds like bad news, it is actually very good to know about the possibility and to be mentally prepared for it. As you go forward with the treatment, the periods of Die-Off should become less strong and less frequent.
If you have access to a healthcare practitioner or MD with a foundation in “functional medicine,” they are your best bet for clarity and continuity of treatment. Functional MDs are trained to connect the dots and get a handle on these somewhat mysterious health conditions and opportunistic organisms.
- Min YW, Park SU, Jang YS, et al. Effect of composite yogurt enriched with acacia fiber and Bifidobacterium lactis. World J Gastroenterol. 2012;18(33):4563-4569. doi:10.3748/wjg.v18.i33.4563