Last week my son woke in the middle of the night complaining that he was itchy. We didn’t think much of it until the next morning when I took a look in his mouth, saw a nice white layer coating his tongue, and noticed a “different” smell to his breath. Uh ohYEAST. A quick check in with our doctor confirmed my suspicions and we’ve been on a natural, anti-yeast program for over a week with good results. I’ll share with you what has been working for us, but first let’s talk for a minute about yeast overgrowth, or candidiasis.
What IS a Yeast Infection?
When you think of a yeast infection in babies and children you may think of thrush in the mouth (the telltale white-coated tongue that I saw on Alex) but there are many other symptoms and complications associated with an overgrowth of yeast. A yeast infection, or candidiasis, is a fungal infection, usually caused by an overgrowth of candida albicans, but it can also be caused by different species of fungus. All of us have varying amounts of candida in our body, and in healthy individuals this is not a problem because our immune system and healthy gut flora keep the fungus under control. However, when our gut becomes imbalanced, due to injury, illness, medications, toxic environment or a poor diet, the candida can multiply and become a problem.
Symptoms to Look for in Children
Candidiasis is a tricky condition because the symptoms mimic many other conditions and can be hard to track down. It is estimated that as many as 1 in 3 people suffer from a candida overgrowth. For some people candida infections go on for years undiagnosed and cause tremendous damage to the body. For children, the most common symptoms are listed below.
Common Symptoms of Candida in Children*
Constipation and/or diarrhea
Craving for sugar and sugary foods (breads, cakes, chocolate)
Frequent diaper rash
Ear infections, recurring
Fatigue, lethargy, feeling drained
Food allergies and sensitivities
Gas and flatulence
Learning or behavioral problems
Skin problems like eczema or hives
Vaginal or bladder infections, recurring
*Source: Digestive Wellness for Children by Elizabeth Lipski and New Medicine by Dr. David Peters
When are Children Susceptible to Candida Overgrowth?
In children, candidiasis is most often seen after a round of antibiotics or corticosteroids, when the healthy gut flora is killed off along with the bad bacteria. During the time after the medication is taken, the gut is out of balance. Not only is immune function compromised (remember over 70% of our immune system is in the gut and we rely on healthy gut flora for proper immune function), but because the healthy flora is wiped out, an environment for yeast overgrowth is also present.
Parents may also want to pay attention to their children’s health after a vacation or extended time of celebration when children are eating a lot of sugar. Sugar feeds yeast, so if your child’s diet is filled with refined flours and sugar, be aware!
Our guts are particularly sensitive when we are sick and while we are recovering from a virus or bacteria. When your child is feeling under the weather, watch his sugar intake to help prevent a yeast overgrowth from occurring.
And finally, it is a good idea to check for food allergies and sensitivities and also do a stool screening for parasites. Both cause disruption to the digestive tract and an opportunity for candida to multiply. In our case, we recently moved to Argentina and Alex has had stomach issues since our move. Along with our anti-candida program, we are also testing him for parasites and bacteria.
The Damage of Candida Overgrowth
So what’s wrong with a little yeast overgrowth? Unfortunately more than many of us realize. Candidiasis, if not kept in check, can quickly multiply and cause damage throughout our body. The fungus damages the intestinal lining, which impacts our immune function and our digestion. After a period of time the fungus can trigger a leaky gut which allows undigested particles of food to pass through the intestinal lining and trigger the immune system. This causes an increase in food and environmental sensitivities. The fungus multiplies rapidly and produces toxins that also compromise our immune function. The result is a child who is susceptible to many recurring viruses and bacterial infections. If antibiotics or medications are taken for these recurring infections, the cycle of yeast overgrowth is impacted time and time again leading to greater immune dysfunction down the line.
Natural Remedies for Candida Overgrowth
To combat a candida overgrowth, there are really three main areas to consider: 1) starve the yeast through an anti-candida diet, 2) kill off the yeast with anti-fungal herbs or pharmaceuticals, and 3) re-build healthy gut flora and heal intestinal lining that has been damaged by the fungus.
There are many versions of the anti-candida diet but most of them focus on the same general food guidelines. First, sugary foods should be eliminated because sugar feeds yeast. This includes breads, cakes, pizza, pasta, honey, syrups, cookies…you get the idea. Also foods that contain yeast, mold or vinegar should be avoided such as; aged cheeses, vinegars, peanuts, pistachios, mushrooms, dried fruit, prepared foods and soups, ketchup, mustard, beer and wine, pickles, prepared salad dressings and soy sauce. Some diets recommend eliminating all fruit from the diet while others are more lenient. For kids, fruit is often a healthy part of the diet and may be allowed. We decided to keep fruit in Alex’s diet but focused on low glycemic options. Additionally, while the intestinal lining is compromised by a yeast overgrowth, it is wise to keep gluten out of the diet. These changes are hard for a child to make, but in our case Alex was uncomfortable enough to try anything and he is now acutely aware that SUGAR FEEDS YEAST. This experience might turn out to be a blessing in disguise.
There are many herbs and supplements that can help to eliminate a fungal infection. We wanted to wait on the anti-fungal pharmaceutical treatment for now and have had good success treating the candida overgrowth naturally. However, it is very important to clear the yeast from a child’s system- so in some cases the anti-fungal might be necessary to use. If a pharmaceutical is the route you choose, it should always be paired with dietary and natural remedies for greater successthe anti-fungal alone won’t do the job. One of the reasons I like using herbal therapies for kids is because certain herbs can kill a variety of invaders (fungus, virus, bacteria) while pharmaceuticals often only kill one type (for instance antibiotics only kill bacteria). Also, herbs are usually easier on the liver so I always try the herbal route first and so far (knock on wood) they have worked for our son.
Dosage information can be found in the books I’ve listed at the end of the article. Dosage should be tailored to your child’s weight, age and severity of infection. Additionally, when the treatment begins, a “die-off” reaction is highly likely. As the fungus is killed it releases toxic byproducts that can temporarily increase your child’s symptoms. They may feel worse for a period of time as they are healing. Therefore, you want to start gradually, with low dosage, and gently increase supplementation as your child tolerates. Continue to support the immune system and liver throughout the healing process. Supplements to consider are listed below. Please work with a qualified holistic health practitioner and do your research before starting any program for your child. The list below is an extensive list of options and you do not want to use them all at once.
Holistic Remedies to Consider for Candida Overgrowth:
Oil of Oregano: Powerful anti-viral, anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, anti-parasitic. This is a staple in my first aid kit.
Lauricidin: Anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, anti-viral. These small pellets are easier for kid’s to swallow.
Garlic: Anti-bacterial, anti-microbial, anti-fungal, anti-viral. A natural powerhouse, but kids may not want to eat raw garlic! Try an apple sandwich and place a thinly sliced piece of garlic between two slices of apple.
Grapefruit seed extract: Powerful anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties. This is also a staple in my first aid kit, both in pill and liquid form. You can also clean your entire house with it, wash vegetables, disinfect toothbrushes… in fact I’m not sure there is anything GSE can’t do.
Probiotics: It is supremely important to increase your child’s probiotic intake during a yeast infection. Make sure you choose a high quality supplement that has a high adherence rate. More on probiotics here .
Biocidin: A combination of herbs to eradicate yeast and parasites and increase immune function. This is something we are adding to our first aid kit.
Epsom salt, tea tree oil and vinegar baths: Epsom salt helps detoxify the body, while tea tree oil and vinegar eliminate yeast. This is helpful if your child is uncomfortable due to a yeast rash. When Alex felt itchy, the bath did wonders.
Sunlight treatments: Sun kills yeast! If your child has a yeast diaper rash or irritated bottom, have them sit in the sun for 15-20 minutes and expose the infected area. This was a sight to see at our house, but the results were dramatic.
To Increase Immune Function, Lower Systemic Inflammation and Support Detoxification:
Follow an anti-candida diet
Vitamin D: To increase immune function during healing.
Omega-3 fats: To lower systemic inflammation and support immune function. We use Green Pastures fermented cod liver oil.
Bone Broths: Drink homemade bone broth as much as possible both during and after infection. This helps to decrease inflammation in the digestive tract and also contains trace minerals for healing. Bone broth is liquid gold.
Repairvite: An herbal combination to help heal the digestive tract after the candida infection has cleared.
Increase fiber to support proper bowel transit time.
Additional herbs that heal the digestive tract: Slippery elm, marshmallow root, l-glutamine, zinc, probiotics.
Additional herbs that increase immune function: Cod liver oil, zinc, vitamin A, vitamin C, probiotics.
Sources and Resources:
The Body Ecology Diet by Donna Gates
Digestive Wellness for Children by Elizabeth Lipski PhD, CCN
Healing the New Childhood Epidemics: Autism, ADHD, Asthma and Allergies by Dr. Kenneth Bock, MD and Cameron Stauth
New Medicine by Dr. David Peters
Staying Healthy with Nutrition by Elson M. Haas, MD