My first experience with Candida occurred 13 years ago, three weeks before my 22nd birthday and a week before my wedding. As prescribed by my doctor, I took my last over-the-counter 7-day treatment on my wedding day, and ate sugar-sweetened yogurt every day of my honeymoon. Fortunately, the yeast infection did not return and I thought it must have been a one-time event, triggered by two new medications taken in the month prior — I had just begun oral birth control, and had taken a very strong antibiotic. I was symptom-free for the next 6 or 7 years, even through two pregnancies.
In August, six years ago, while camping, I swam in a mountain lake wearing cut-off denim shorts. I didn’t change until late that night. I didn’t shower either. Within a few days, I had another vaginal yeast infection. I called my doctor, and was told to treat it over-the-counter at least three times before I could be seen. I did so, and finally was seen in November with the recurring symptoms. I was diagnosed with a combination of yeast and bacterial infections, and was treated with two prescriptions. I think I took some oral probiotics along with the prescriptions to try to restore my own proper balances. I don’t think the doctor even gave that advice. And I remained symptom-free for a few more years.
Three years ago, I was nursing my 5-month-old-infant and began having new pain. Of course, I had gone through mastitis, plugged ducts, and sore nipples before, but this was a new, deep, burning pain that came and went. It seemed especially noticeable at night, and even woke me up. It was especially sore on the left side, and I immediately thought of the nipple blister I’d experienced when my son was a newborn.
It had developed within the first week of nursing, and was probably a result of improper latch. It had grown into a whitehead about half the size of pencil eraser. I could not see my doctor until the 8-week postpartum check-up and she easily lifted the head of the blister and squeezed out a thick, white, pasty substance that truly looked like butter. She confirmed my self-diagnosis of a milk blister — milk had been trapped under the skin. So, a few months later, with newly sore breasts, and after reading on the internet, I knew that the blister had been an open source for yeast, and that I had ductal thrush. My son didn’t have any signs of it in his mouth, but I recalled that all of my babies had experienced yeast diaper rashes as brand-new babies, which the pediatrician had treated with Monistat cream.
Armed with my new information, I called my doctor’s office and spoke with her nurse, who told me since my pain was internal I must have mastitis or plugged ducts, and not thrush since my nipples were not reddened. She called it “normal” breastfeeding pain, maybe even “letdown.” I disagreed with her, citing my reading. She could not be persuaded, and would not make an appointment for me. I told her that I would be taking strong doses of probiotics, and asked if it was advisable. She said it would be fine. I took 5-6 probiotic pills each day, and within 2-3 weeks, was feeling better. I wrote my doctor a letter, included a few print-outs from my internet research, and received a phone call from her a few days later. She was extremely apologetic. I continued nursing my son for another 17 months, symptom-free.
One year ago, in January, I’d had a very busy week and took a bubble bath one evening. It had been very cold; I’d worn heavy SmartWool long underwear under my jeans that day. Within a couple of days, a vaginal yeast infection began. I treated it with over-the-counter medicine, but it was back again in a few weeks. I called my doctor, and was told by the nurse I would have to treat it three times before I could be seen. Symptoms would improve with the treatment, only to return sometime during my next cycle. There was no regular pattern to it, sometimes it would return mid-cycle, sometimes the week before starting my period, sometimes right after my period.
I was finally able to see the doctor in April, for my regular annual exam, and during a relatively symptom-free week. She observed my skin appeared fragile but healing. The culture revealed only a few yeast which she confidently called “leftovers” and predicted I was on the recovery track. But, a couple of weeks later, I was back at her office and she prescribed a prescription-strength topical treatment. May and June were the same, with symptoms returning. By this point, I think I’d had 6 or 7 episodes of vaginal itching, and must have called my doctor’s office at least 3 or 4 times only to be told to take the same treatments again, only ever talking to a nurse.
I was desperate; the itching was at times unbearable. I was wearing skirts daily. I tried baking soda sitz baths, which did seem to help. I was applying coconut oil topically, and that provided some relief too.
In July and August, I went to a naturopath. She said that the immediate culture revealed small traces of yeast, but the 48-hour culture revealed large numbers of candida and bacteria. She treated me with Diflucan for the candida, and Flagyl for the bacteria. In September, I had symptoms return a few weeks later, and she treated me again with Diflucan. She advised changing my diet too. I took probiotics, Echinacea, Krill oil, Vitamin D … things I hoped would help my immune system heal.
It was at this time that my husband went to see a different naturopath for his year-long digestive issues, which would present themselves unpredictably. The ND thought it was either from giardia or yeast, and gave him an herbal remedy. He also decided to eliminate sugar from his diet, and together we decided it was yeast all along and though the doctors didn’t know if it was passing back and forth between us, we suspected it must be. With this remedy and the sugar elimination, my husband’s digestive problems are reduced to lactose intolerance and an egg allergy. But I have hope that the lactose intolerance might be healed with good eating.
It was the first week of October when I eliminated all sugar, all fruit, all wheat, and all dairy. I ate a lot of vegetables, avoiding the starchy ones like carrots, potatoes, and corn. I ate grass-fed beef, lots of butter and coconut oil, nuts and almond butter. I did allow myself to have oatmeal and rice. The first couple of weeks were hard, with craving the old foods and feeling exhausted. But when the yeast symptoms didn’t return, I had motivation to continue eating right. I did have a small piece of pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving, my first indulgence in sugar. I didn’t even finish the pie; it was so sweet.
After 6 weeks on the very restrictive diet, I added in berries, heavy cream, and one piece of sprouted-grain bread per day. I have since added in some citrus, apples and pears, though not daily. I also drink about a cup of raw milk a day now.
Now a year since this began, and almost 4 months into my new way of eating, I am symptom-free, lost those last stubborn 10 pounds I never thought would go, and am free of the brain fog and fatigue that I thought must just go along with motherhood. Feeling better is the motivation to keep eating properly grown, natural whole foods.