For whatever reason, many people in the Western world feel crummy. Exhaustion, stress, headaches, and gastric discomfort have become a modern plague of sorts, and finding the cause is the time-consuming plight of many. Legions of people have chalked up their woes to any number of causes: gluten intolerance has become a popular scapegoat, as well as intolerance or allergies to any number of other ingredients.

One school of thought pins the blame for a host of symptoms on “an opportunistic fungus” named Candida albicans, and from this concept, the candida diet was spawned.

According to the The Candida Diet website, symptoms such as fatigue, recurrent yeast infections, headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, itching and headaches can all be caused by candida, which the site describes as a pathogen that “takes advantage of a disruption in the balance of microorganisms in your gut.” We’ve been hearing a lot lately about the importance of healthy gut flora, which can be thrown out of whack by stress and antibiotics. When the healthy microorganisms in your gut suffer, colonies of C. albicans are able to expand rapidly and take over much of the gut, resulting in what is called “yeast syndrome.”

The site notes that C. albicans releases up to 79 different byproducts, including uric acid and a neurotoxin called acetaldehyde, both of which can cause all kinds of woes. The change in gut flora can also lead to digestive problems, food intolerances, yeast infections and even oral thrush, which is a yeast infection of the mucus membrane lining the mouth and tongue.

With the candida diet, waging war against the fungus involves a three-step strategy: removing sugars from the diet, beginning a regimen of probiotics, and taking an antifungal.

The reduction of sugars is important because they are one of the primary causes of C. albicans overgrowth. The yeast depends on sugar for structure, growth, and to push them into their more invasive fungal form. The process begins by eliminating fruit, added sugar, most starchy vegetables and caffeine from the diet. It is followed by a reintroduction period. Slowly, items containing sugar can be added back to determine what foods are responsible for the candida flare-ups.

Meanwhile, probiotics are added to increase the presence of friendly bacteria in the gut; the probiotics work to create large healthy colonies that leave little room for the candida. They also regulate stomach acidity and boost the immune system. The anitfungals are the final nail in the candida coffin as they work to break down the cell walls of the yeast.

So, the big question is: does the diet have any merit? Are many of us suffering from a rampant invasive fungus?

Some complementary and alternative medicine practitioners say "Yes," as do many people who have adopted the diet and feel better as a result.

But Western medical science remains skeptical. The Mayo Clinic notes that there is little evidence to support the diagnosis of yeast syndrome and says that many conventional practitioners question its validity. No clinical trials have proven the efficacy of a candida cleanse diet for treating any recognized medical condition.

However, many people notice an improvement in various symptoms when trying the diet. One thing is clear, however: By eliminating sugar and refined flour from your diet — both nutritionally insipid “empty” carbs — you’re bound to feel better. By replacing processed foods with whole foods, which is what the diet dictates, chances are you’re going to feel better, candida or not.

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