Yes, I am still here! Sorry for the long silence here at the blog. As most of you know, I have had a very difficult fall and have been severely crashed for much of the past 3 months. With the holiday season on top of that, I just haven't had any time/energy at all for writing (my book blogs and commercial writing have been neglected also!). But I am back now - back to feeling pretty good and back here on the blog.
As it turned out, much of my suffering the past three months was due to yeast overgrowth, a fact that I didn't figure out until about a month ago. I wanted to share my recent experiences with you in the hopes that perhaps it might help some of you.
Yeast (aka candida) are a type of fungus that normally live in small amounts in your mouth and digestive tract. Problems occur when the yeast increases and/or good bacteria in your gut that normally keeps it in check decreases. One common cause of this yeast overgrowth is taking antibiotics - they kill off all the bacteria in your system, including the good stuff that lives in your digestive tract, allowing the yeast to take over. This is what happened to me this time. Back in September, I took 5 days' of Zithromax for bronchitis. Under normal circumstances, such a small amount of antibiotics wouldn't bother me (especially since I take probiotics every day - see below), but ever since I was treated for Lyme disease (over 3 years of antibiotics every day), I've had occasional flare-ups of yeast overgrowth.
For those of us who have ME/CFS, we don't even need antibiotics to cause yeast overgrowth. Since immune system and GI dysfunctions are an integral part of our illness, yeast overgrowth is a very common occurrence, though one that is often missed or not diagnosed.
How did I know I had a problem with yeast overgrowth? Well, it took me many weeks to figure it out, even though I've experienced it before. My symptoms included fatigue that was much worse than usual and severe flu-like aches all over my body; in fact, the aches these past few months were some of the worst I have experienced in my 12 years with ME/CFS. Increased brain fog is also common with yeast overgrowth. At one point, I looked back at my records and saw that of the past 60 days, I'd only been well enough to leave the house 14 days. That's far worse than is normal for me. For a long time, I assumed that the virus that triggered my crash initially (and started my bronchitis) was the reason for the prolonged crash.
I finally figured out that yeast was responsible when I noticed that my tongue hurt, especially when I ate certain foods (anything bitter, sour, or sugary). The light bulb finally went off at that point, and I ran to the bathroom mirror. Sure enough, I had active thrush on my tongue. Thrush is one sign of a yeast overgrowth - when you stick your tongue out, it looks like a whitish or yellowish fuzz on the back of your tongue and mouth. It generally makes your mouth hurt or feel sore, as mine was feeling, though sometimes it's your throat that feels sore - something easily excused by "normal" CFS symptoms! While I usually get thrush in my mouth when I have yeast overgrowth, some people get vaginal yeast infections or an itchy feeling around the vagina or anus.
So, what do you do about it? Well, I should have gone directly to my doctor, but instead I tried to treat it myself first (and lost another month to the couch!). There are lots and lots of herbal remedies and supplements that can help, as well as dietary changes, but I wasn't making much progress with those approaches. They definitely helped, but I found that if I had even the tiniest bit of sugar, my symptoms returned. I finally went to see my doctor a couple of weeks ago, and she prescribed an anti-yeast medication (the two most common ones are Diflucan and Nyastatin). This time, it had gotten so bad that it took me a full 10 days on Diflucan before I finally began to feel better...and then it was like someone had flipped a switch!
Here are all the remedies that my son (who is currently being treated for Lyme disease) and I have tried for yeast overgrowth -->
Probiotic: Probiotic are the healthy bacteria that normally live in your GI tract; they also affect the immune system, so it's a good idea for anyone with ME/CFS to take them daily and to double the dose when you are on antibiotics (always take it at least 2-3 hours away from antibtiocs so the meds don't kill off the good bacteria). I take New Chapter All-Flora (dairy free), 1x/day normally and 2x/day during a yeast flare-up; my son takes HMF Forte brand, which was recently rated as having the highest amount of active bacteria.
Saccharomyces Boulardii: This is a specific type of probiotic that is most effective against yeast. Ever since my Lyme treatment, I take it every day (as does my son). I am now taking it 2x/day until I get the yeast under control.
Phytostan: This supplement blend was recommended by a Lyme treatment guide that I read, but it seems to have been discontinued just this week. Its main ingredient is caprylic acid, plus other anti-yeast ingredients, so I found an alternative that seems to be comparable, NOW brand Candida Support. My son and I are both currently taking it 2x/day.
ADP (emulsified oil of oregano) and/or Olive Leaf Extract: Both of these herbal supplements are potent anti-fungals, antivirals, and antibacterials. Our Lyme doctor recommends ADP, and we have taken Olive Leaf for years when exposed to a virus. One potential problem, however, is that both of them could possibly kill off good bacteria while also killing off yeast. Currently, we both take one or the other 1x/day.
Grapefruit Seed Extract: Another supplement recommended in Lyme treatment guidelines to prevent overgrowth of yeast. We both take it 2x/day for now; I will probably stop once I get this under control again.
Raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar: This is NASTY tasting stuff! My son tried it once and said no way, but I took it every day for a while, until I started the Diflucan. Lots of websites recommend this for yeast - I have no idea if it helps, but it seemed to at the time. 1 Tbls diluted in water, 1x per day as needed.
Tea Tree Oil: Another herbal remedy I've read about - you can add a drop to your toothpaste (and brush your tongue, too) or add a few drops to a cup of water and gargle/rinse your mouth with it. Again, pretty nasty tasting, but it did seem to help, especially if you have active thrush in your mouth.
Avoid Sugar, Refined Carbs, Yeast, and Alcohol: OK, this is the one that's been the toughest for me, and I still can't convince my son to try it (even though his Lyme doctor told him at the last visit that sugar is like poison for him!). People with ME/CFS already avoid alcohol (since it makes OI so much worse), but the rest has been tough for me. However, I did find that it helped. That's when I finally went to the doctor - when the yeast seemed to be improving and even a single bite of something sugary would make it flare up again. I miss my square of dark chocolate at night! (not to mention fruit). Just like you see when you bake something with yeast, yeast literally feeds on sugar, so this can be an important step in difficult cases.
Diflucan or Nyastatin: These are prescription medications and are often necessary when yeast overgrowth has been present for a long time or is stubborn. Like I said, taking Diflucan finally flipped the switch that got me back on my feet, so I am grateful. I have been on it for 16 days so far and still can't eat sugar without a flare-up, so I will probably need to stay on it a bit longer. My son has been on it for years, as part of his Lyme treatment (and I took it every day when I was being treated for Lyme, too). I know people who were totally incapacitated by Lyme disease even after their treatment, until they took an anti-yeast medication and were magically better. I highly recommend seeing your doctor sooner rather than later if you suspect yeast overgrowth or have signs of thrush or yeast infection.
So, that's been my recent experience - another of many examples where I thought I knew all about a topic and then I found out I had a lot to learn! I hope this is helpful.
And, please, let me know if you have some tips or remedies for yeast overgrowth that I didn't mention here. I am still relying on Diflucan at the moment and still unable to eat any sugar (plus my son is constantly battling yeast overgrowth), so any information is greatly appreciated!