{Prehistoric Amber} Candida overgrowth, which (not to be dramatic) is pretty much the worst thing ever.

{Prehistoric Amber} Candida overgrowth, which (not to be dramatic) is pretty much the worst thing ever. | AmberLCarter.com
Goodbye, sweet loves.

It was just supposed to be a regular, annual physical exam.

In my quest to love my body more, I was also making a point of taking better care of it. I figured a good benchmark of that was getting a routine physical at the beginning of the year: The kind where you walk in, submit yourself to some questions about your health and lifestyle, maybe endure some minor poking around on the ol’ bod, and then you get to walk out an hour later, feeling like the empowered, confident, “I take care of MYSELF!” woman from the Salon Selectives commercials of my youth. Quick. Easy. Feeling better leaving than you did going in.

There’s a dirty joke somewhere in that last line.

Anyway! Sitting around with my doctor, we were talking about some minor issues I was experiencing…sluggish metabolism, inflammatory responses to certain foods and drinks, a resurgence of ol’ dizziness, weird stomach pains, some digestive issues, this weird mild depression that comes and goes depending on what I eat, and most recently, waking up congested, which had never been a problem for me before. I told her I suspected I might be developing an intolerance to gluten, but that I was ignoring it because I loved beer (I could still drink one full pint with no issues…it was the second pint where my body seemed to swell up like Violet Beauregardein in Willy Wonka and I would begin to as if I were coming down with a cold). I stayed away from most carbs on my own, anyway, and besides, I also seemed to have an inflammatory response when I had too much yeast or dairy. Last year I had done this thing called The Plan, I told her, where you do this 3-day cleanse to baseline your body and then you “test” certain foods to see what you might have an inflammatory response to. I had found it incredibly challenging but also fascinating, and discovered that I had a severe reaction to cabernet, malbec, and pinot noir, and then whenever I paired any red wine with chocolate.

I should have just kept my big dumb mouth shut.

“Hmm. Sounds like it’s more yeast than gluten. You’ve heard of leaky gut syndrome?”

Fuck. “Yeah. I worked with children with autism for almost a decade, so I’m fairly familiar with the term, but all I really remember about it is how hard it is to have it.” HAHAHAHA! Please don’t let me have it.

She told me that candida albicans is a form of fungus (gross!) that also grows as a yeast. A very small amount of it lives in your mouth and intestines, and its primary job is to aid with digestion and nutrient absorption. Typically, the good bacteria in your gut usually keeps your candida levels in check. However, certain things – like processed sugar and refined carbs, lots of alcohol, high stress, or even stuff like taking oral contraceptives, eating too many fermented foods like Kombucha and saurkraut, or getting too many rounds of antibiotics – can make the candida freak out. Then, like a total freaking jerk, it starts to break down the wall of the intestine and penetrate the bloodstream, releasing toxic shiz into your body and causing leaky gut, which leads to inflammatory issues and a myriad of health problems….kind of like everything I mentioned above.

Mah doctah then shared that candida overgrowth is kind of like gluten allergies of five years ago…it’s still not super common to hear about it, most people don’t even know they have it (or it gets misdiagnosed as a gluten allergy…HAHAHAHA! Those people are kind of lucky) and a lot of doctors still typically only associate it with kids on the autism spectrum. But apparently there’s a recent study that showed that one in three people probably have it (which, kind of like the surge in most food-related allergies, makes some sense due to people like me and my peers who have spent the majority of our lives eating processed and refined foods) and there’s finally some really good information out there about it and how to treat it.

“Like what? What would I need to do to get rid of it?”

Oh, barely nothing, you guys! I only have to abstain from carbs AND sugar, dairy AND fruit, alcohol AND coffee, green AND black tea for maybe six months OR MY ENTIRE LIFE, depending on how those things affect me after the candida overgrowth is conquered and my gut is healed. Such a BREEZE! Oh, and I’d have to figure out how probiotics work, too, and maybe go on a prescription to treat fungal infections (gross x a billion), and just basically change my entire life by stripping it of anything that brings me joy.

So anyway.

We did a couple of tests. “Results could take 1 to 10 days, depending on how busy the lab is, okay?”

“Great.” Take your time, I wanted to add, ‘Cause I want as much time as possible to say goodbye to all the things I love, first.

*****

After my doctor’s appointment, I went over to my friend Jen’s house for our weekly viewing of The Bachelor. I told her about the test for candida overgrowth and what testing positive for it might mean.

“It means no carbs, no sugar, no alcohol, no dairy, no fruit, no coffee, and not even black or green tea,” I told her, sitting down on the chair in her kitchen.

“Oh my GOD!” Jen shrieked, walking to her kitchen cupboard to fetch a couple of wine glasses. “So basically no fun. But you can break it occasionally, right? I mean for like special occasions?”

“Nope. You have to heal the gut before you add any of those things back in, which can take up to six months, and even then most people have to do low carb and low sugar diets.”

“And seriously no coffee?”

“Right?! That’s what I said! But no, because it’s a fungal thing and I can’t have anything that could carry or contain mold, so things like cheese and coffee are out.”

Shaking her head in disbelief, Jen poured a glass of white.

“Jen, what am I going to do?” I began to whine. “No wine or cake even on my birthday?! And I don’t even like dating people who don’t drink, much less being one.”

“Oh my god, I totally know what you mean. I even dated a guy who didn’t drink coffee and I was like, “Um, this doesn’t work for me.”

“Right? Coffee and wine are two of the greatest joys in life!”

She laughed and handed me a glass of wine. “So do you think you have it?”

I took a sip and rolled my eyes to myself. Feeling resigned, I told her, “Yeah, actually, I kind of do. Even though it would totally suck and ruin my life to test positive for it, it really would answer a lot of questions.”

“Like what?”

“Like why I can’t seem to lose any weight unless I cut out all carbs and sugar, or why I have an immediate reaction to stuff like cabernet and beer, or why I’ve been dealing with all these other little health problems that don’t seem to have any one answer except for this one.”

“Yeah,” Jen said, sitting down on the chair across from me. “It would probably be nice to finally have an answer to all that stuff.”

“And a plan of attack.”

“Right.” She poured a glass of wine for herself. “So when will you find out if you have it?”

“Not for a few days,” I replied, then smiled brightly at her. “Which is also why I brought chocolate tonight.”

We had white wine, Jen’s famous homemade mini thin-crust pizzas (omgtheyresogood), and dark chocolate while watching The Bachelor…and I started feeling this familiar taste at the back of my mouth, along with a roiling feeling at the bottom of my gut. Like, not sick sick per say…it reminds me of drinking a big glass of milk right before bed and waking up with that certain sort of taste in your mouth. And I only feel that way when I pair wine with chocolate or cheese or bread, I suddenly found myself thinking. Fuck.

Later that night, after coming home and getting ready for bed, I started to think that it might not be that bad. That night obviously serving as an exception, I usually eat really well…pretty freaking clean, in fact. And if I tested positive and went on the candida diet and it helped with my lack of focus and that weird, occasional funk and brain fog I struggled with – not to mention the extra weight around my gut that wouldn’t seem to go away, no matter how clean I ate – then maybe it would actually end up being a good thing. Maybe I could totally do this.

*****

I so do not want to do this, I thought to myself upon waking the next morning.

“Now I look back and think that I was super lucky when I still thought that Atkins was the solution, because at least on that you can have cheese, cream, and coffee…” I wrote to my best friend Katy in an email. “The alcohol thing is honestly not that big of a deal…I barely drink anymore, anyway, save for the occasional night out with Lacy or a glass or two at Jen’s on Monday nights, but it’s more the fact that now I can’t do it at all, you know?”

The coffee and the fruit were, quite frankly, the things that bothered me the most. I’ve given up sugar, carbs, and dairy before in quests for better health, and while each of those times were definitely a trip to sucktown, I already knew how to navigate myself down those streets. But I’ve also been able to do that thanks to knowing that I could still turn to coffee to get me through a hard day. It’s a joy for me, that first cup in the morning. And I love fruit…pairing grapes and almonds in the morning is one of my all-time favorite breakfasts. It makes me feel like a better person just to buy fruit.

But even I can only whine so much, so I spent the rest of the day drinking coffee (because I could) and researching this whole candida thing. I found that there was a lot more information on it than I expected, and the more I read about the causes and the symptoms, the more I started to feel pretty deeply that I was going to test positive for it (the only symptoms that *didn’t* match were any type of infections or autoimmune diseases).

Also, please, please take my word for it: You do not want to Google Image this thing. Not even out of curiosity, not even for research. SAVE YOURSELF THE HORROR AND DON’T FUCKING DO IT.

The information about treating it was the confusing bit. A lot of information out there directly contradicts other sources, and my doctor wasn’t far off the mark when she said that not many doctors know much about it yet – tons of people reported not being taken seriously when they came to their doctors about candida overgrowth, or they report being misdiagnosed for tons of different things, mostly gluten-intolerance (which can help clean up a lot of the symptoms, but doesn’t address the issues with yeast and leaky gut).

Regardless, I was starting to see that even if I didn’t test positive for candida or gluten intolerance, there was still a lot of stuff in my diet that I could and should probably cut out in a quest for better wellness.

(I still really wanted to keep the coffee, though. And the occasional glass of wine).

As if right on cue, I got the lab results back in the middle of the afternoon. On every test we did, the results were positive for candida overgrowth.

So it looks like this whole #BodyLove adventure is now taking a whole new direction!

WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOT.

Written & Published January 16, 2014

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About Amber L.

Hi! I'm Amber. I've been telling stories with books and blogs since 2004. I also spent 10 years working as a behavior therapist, which I now put to proper use by publishing thought pieces and dissertations on '80s pop music and the defining TV shows of our current times ('The Bachelor', 'Vanderpump Rules', etc). I can also be credited with single-handedly ruining the city of Portland, OR just by moving here.

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