It's no secret that eating too much sugar – in all of its various forms – can ruin your health.
We’re all familiar diabetes and hypoglycemic, two of the most common metabolic conditions which can be the result of a high-sugar diet.
But did you know that sugar can also damage your immune system. It can contribute to an overgrowth of bacteria, yeast, and fungus… and allow potentially harmful organisms like Candida albicans to thrive in your body?
You may have heard people talking about “candida” as an illness. But what they're referring to is not the candida itself, but rather an overgrowth of this opportunistic pathogen.
Everyone Has Candida... No Matter How Healthy You Are
As you know, your body contains billions of bacteria, yeasts and even funguses. Most of the time, these microorganisms are kept in balance. And they are absolutely necessary to a healthy body.
They help you digest and extract nutrients from your food. In fact, in some cases, their own secretions can provide beneficial vitamins and other nutrients. They help to support your immune system and even play a part in blood sugar regulation.
But there are a number of factors that can cause certain species to proliferate wildly and become pathogenic. Soon your healthy inner ecology is thrown out of balance. Your immune system becomes compromised. A cascade of health consequences can soon follow.
And the over-consumption of sugar is one of the most important factors that can cause this to happen…
A new study, published in Nature Communications, shows that even a little bit of sugar on the cells of Candida albicans can trigger this organism to transform into a pathogenic fungal state and then cause the death of immune cells that would normally be able to defend themselves.1
"The addition of glycosylated proteins, which are proteins with a sugar attached, re-models the surface of the fungal cells," says Professor Leah Cowen, lead researcher on the study.
Stop and think about that for a second...
The presence of sugar can change Candida cells from a beneficial microbe to a deadly invader with the ability to disarm your immune system.
You see, there are actually two forms of Candida:
- One is a yeast-like state. This is a non-invasive organism that lives in harmony within your inner ecosystem. We all have this form of yeast in our bodies. These populations are usually low, basically indiscernible… and somewhat beneficial.
- The other form of Candida is fungal. In this form the organism produces root-like structures called rhizoids. In this filamentous form the organism can penetrate the lining of the gut causing inflammation and permeability of the intestinal wall (or leaky gut).
When your gut flora is healthy – and in the absence of a high-sugar diet – your immune system helps prevent the yeast organism from becoming an infectious fungus.
But in a great many people, the parasitic fungal organism grows out of control and overpopulates. It penetrates the gastrointestinal tract and allows foreign materials and pathogens to enter the bloodstream. This can cause chronic widespread inflammation, ongoing allergenic responses and increased risk for autoimmune conditions and other disease states.
In some cases a transformation of Candida into its fungal state and subsequent overgrowth can cause a potentially fatal blood infection called candidemia. In fact, this is the fourth most common blood infection in the United States, affecting 400,000 people every year.2
And all of this can be mediated by too much sugar in your diet…
So Does This Mean You Can't Eat ANY Sugar?
One study, done in 1999, suggests that if your immune system is strong, you should be able to consume sugar and defend yourself against candida just fine.3
In the experiment, the researchers tested 28 healthy volunteers for candida before, during, and after they ate a high-sugar diet.
The diet did not significantly increase the frequency of oral or fecal candida samples.
But something interesting did happen...
The people who already had elevated counts of oral candida had an increase in fecal candida. This led researchers to conclude that different diseases – particularly diabetes – may be affected by candida differently.
Diabetes and Candida
Diabetes is a metabolic disease where the body is no longer able to regulate blood sugar normally. Two key traits among diabetics are high blood sugar and a suppressed immune system.4
And when your immunity is low, Candida has the chance to take hold. So if diabetics often have a weak immune system, logically they're more susceptible to candida.
One study tested diabetics and people with impaired and normal blood glucose to see how their blood sugar levels affected the growth of oral candida.5 The results showed that diabetics were more likely to be infected with oral candida than people with normal or impaired blood glucose regulation.
Other studies have also shown that diabetics are much more likely to experience Candida overgrowth.6
But whether or not you have diabetes, it's important to understand that dietary sugar intake is an important mediator in the transformation of candida to its pathogenic fungal state.
Even if you're healthy now, if you consume sugar and other high-glycemic carbohydrates on a frequent basis, you're slowly destroying the organs and cells that regulate your blood sugar. And this can eventually lead to diabetes, a suppressed immune system, and set the stage for candida overgrowth.
How You Can Prevent Cravings and Keep Your Immune System Strong
1. Ditch the sugar and follow an ancestral, naturally low-glycemic diet: The healthiest for most people is the one our ancient ancestors thrived on, including naturally-raised meats, a variety of colorful vegetables, berries and nuts. If your sweet tooth is calling, consider low-glycemic alternatives like erythritol and stevia. In fact, US Wellness Meats now carries a range of grain- and gluten-free baking and dessert mixes made by Wellness Bakeries that exclusively use natural and low-glycemic sweeteners.
2. Eat more fermented foods: Foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir and others contain powerful doses of beneficial probiotics, which promote healthy digestion, support your immune system and keep pathogenic bacteria and other organisms (like Candida) from growing out of control. Start with 1/4 to 1/2 cup per day of these foods. And up your consumption as you feel appropriate.
3. Herbs and Spices: Common herbs and spices like oregano, basil, ginger, rosemary, and turmeric are highly anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and high beneficial phytonutrients. Use these herbs and spices liberally in your sauces, marinades and recipes.
4. Sun, Fresh Air, and Movement: Our ancestors lived in a symbiotic relationship with their natural environment. And their health was better for it. Research shows that vitamin D is effective against cancer, heart disease, autoimmune diseases, type-2 diabetes, depression, and so many other diseases. Get outside and go on a walk. Spend some time in nature. Relax. Do something fun. You need sun, fresh air, and movement to be healthy and happy.
Kelley Herring is the co-founder of Wellness Bakeries, makers of grain-free, gluten-free, low-glycemic baking mixes for cakes, cookies, breads, pizza and much more.
- Teresa R. O’Meara et al. Global analysis of fungal morphology exposes mechanisms of host cell escape Nature Communications, 2015; 6: 6741
- Society for Experimental Biology. "Stopping Candida in its tracks." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 3 July 2015.
- Michael Weig et al. Limited effect of refined carbohydrate dietary supplementation on colonization of the gastrointestinal tract of healthy subjects by Candida albicans. Am J Clin Nutr. June 1999. vol. 69 no. 6 1170-1173
- Geerlings SE, Hoepelman AI. Immune dysfunction in patients with diabetes mellitus (DM). FEMS Immunol Med Microbiol. 1999 Dec;26(3-4):259-65.
- Huang JH, Liu Y, Liu HW. Comparative study on oral candidal infection in individuals with diabetes mellitus and impaired glucose regulation. Zhonghua Kou Qiang Yi Xue Za Zhi. 2012 Jun;47(6):335-9.
- Mohammad Hossein Lotfi-Kamran et al. Candida colonization on the denture of diabetic and non-diabetic patients. Dent Res J (Isfahan). 2009 Spring; 6(1): 23–27.
- Mona Ghasemian, Sina Owlia, and Mohammad Bagher Owlia. Review of Anti-Inflammatory Herbal Medicines. Adv Pharmacol Sci. 2016; 2016: 9130979.
- Rathish Nair and Arun Maseeh. Vitamin D: The “sunshine” vitamin. J Pharmacol Pharmacother. 2012 Apr-Jun; 3(2): 118–126.