Have you recently been diagnosed or suspect you have yeast overgrowth?
Also known as Candida overgrowth, this excess of yeast in the gut often leads to leaky gut and other digestive issues. Your doctor may have you on a specific Candida diet or prescribe specific antibiotics to fight the infection.
If that’s the case, I want to warn you about Herxheimer reactions, a response to the treatment of Candida infections that can be confusing and frustrating for those who experience it.
What is a Herxheimer Reaction?
If you’ve ever experienced flu-like symptoms, such as nausea, swollen glands, headaches, chills, fever, or other odd symptoms, after recently switching to a healthier diet or taking medication for your Candida infection, you might have experienced yeast die-off, also known as the Herheimer reaction.
Herxheimer reactions are usually brought on by an increase in endotoxins, a toxic substance living inside bacteria and fungi (such as yeast).1 Usually, these toxins are stored within the bacteria, but if the bacteria begin to disintegrate (or die-off), the toxins are released into the body.2 If enough “bad” bacteria or yeast die in a short amount of time, the toxin overload can cause the sudden onset of the symptoms listed above.
Often, patients are confused and frustrated by these symptoms because it doesn’t feel like the medication or diet changes are working. In fact, it can feel like you’re actually getting sicker!
It can be unsettling if you don’t know what’s going on, so let’s take a look at the causes and symptoms of Herxheimer reactions, as well as ways to avoid them completely.
Symptoms of Herxheimer Reactions or Yeast Die-off
In this article, I am addressing specific patients who may experience a worsening of their condition after starting a program for yeast control.
Common symptoms of yeast die-off include: 3,4
- Brain fog
- Gastrointestinal distress (such as nausea, gas, bloating, diarrhea, or constipation)
- Low-grade fever
- Sore throat
- Body itch
- Muscle and joint soreness or stiffness
- Flu-like symptoms
Less common symptoms include:5
- Intense sweet cravings
If you’ve recently been diagnosed with a yeast infection and your doctor has prescribed a yeast control diet or medication, you may experience some or all of the symptoms above. In most cases, this is normal, although unpleasant.
However, also keep in mind that yeast die-off reactions are not necessarily a sign that the yeast treatment is succeeding. In some cases, these symptoms may be the body’s way of telling you that its elimination pathways, such as the liver, kidneys, and bowels, are overburdened by the toxins it’s trying to remove. If you are constipated or have been experiencing these symptoms for longer than seven days, your doctor will need to work with you to help your body eliminate those toxins.
It’s worth noting that these symptoms, if associated with yeast die-off, should last less than one week. If they last longer, be sure to ask your doctor to do further testing to see what’s going on.
So What Causes Yeast Overgrowth in the First Place?
Yeast overgrowth can happen in response to improper diet, poor immunity, difficult digestion, and overuse of antibiotics.
- Poorly-digested food can lead to putrefaction (rotting) in the gut and encourages the growth of organisms, such as yeast.
- Excessive antibiotic use often destroys the normal balance of gut flora and opens the door for bad bacteria and fungi to move in.
- Hormonal therapies and steroids can make this condition worse. This includes hormonal birth control.
- If the immune system has been weakened or there are not enough probiotics to combat the yeast, the fungi will begin to grow unchecked and lead to a condition called leaky gut.
However, the number one reason most people suffer from yeast overgrowth is the overconsumption of simple sugars and refined carbohydrates. If you’ve been eating a diet high in sugars, carbs, or alcohol, it’s highly likely that your gut microbiome might be unbalanced, putting you at risk for yeast overgrowth.
Eight Ways to Prevent Yeast Overgrowth and Avoid Herxheimer Reactions
Maybe you haven’t had a Herzheimer reaction, but you’d like to prevent yeast overgrowth in the future. Here are some strategies to help rebalance your gut flora and keep your digestive tract healthy:
- Reduce antifungal and antibiotic use. If you’re on antifungal or antibiotic medications, ask your doctor about ways to slowly reduce your dosage.
- Increase the good bacteria in your gut. To avoid dealing with yeast die-off later, it’s best to start addressing your diet now and make any changes needed to rebalance your microbiome. I recommend taking a good probiotic, such as Probiotic Essentials, to help reintroduce good bacteria into your digestive system.
- Add enzymes at mealtime. Adding enzymes may improve the digestion of foods that limit the rotting of food in the gut. Be sure to use pancreatic enzymes, not fungal or plant-based enzymes.
- Stay hydrated. I recommend you drink 4-6 fluid ounces of warm water every 45 minutes throughout the day. Mineral water may help too!
- Get your sleep. Your body needs rest, especially if it’s working to remove an excess of toxins. Aim for 8-10 hours each night.
- Supplement wisely. Supplements I recommend to neutralize fungal toxins include Biotin Plus, Activated Charcoal, Molybdenum Glycinate, and Pantethine.
- Up your antioxidants. Vitamin C, vitamin A, or N-acetyl cysteine, which supports liver detoxification, are all powerful antioxidants that will help minimize the oxidative reactions created by toxins.
- Keep your bowels moving. Consult with your doctor if you have any trouble with bowel elimination—if you are not eliminating properly, your body will reabsorb any die-off toxins being released. Here are a few tips if you’re feeling constipated:
- Use Magnesium CitraMate™ daily or until you begin having normal, soft bowel movements one or more times a day.
- Drink an 8-ounce glass of warm water immediately upon waking.
- Drink 1-2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil several times daily on an empty stomach.
- Mix 2 tablespoons of ground flax or chia seeds into water and stir. Let the mixture sit for 10 minutes, then stir and drink on an empty stomach.
How Long Yeast Die-Off Lasts and What To Do About It
If you have been diagnosed with yeast overgrowth and are dealing with a subsequent Herzheimer reaction, the good news is you won’t have to deal with these nasty symptoms for too long. Most patients undergoing yeast overgrowth treatment experience Herxheimer reactions for no longer than 3-7 days. If your symptoms last longer than a week, ask your doctor to do further testing.
Unfortunately, you’ll probably feel worse before you begin to feel better. Here are a few things you can do to mitigate the symptoms of yeast die-off in the meantime:
- Try eating high fiber foods. Fibrous fruits and vegetables can help bind with toxins in the gut and flush them from your body.6, 7
- Add 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar to a glass of water. Drink this first thing in the morning as it encourages bile flow, which leads to increased detoxification.8
- Try an Epsom salt bath. Not only does this encourage detoxification, but it’s a great way to relax and unwind. Your body is going through a lot and needs all the extra love and support it can get! 9
- Get a massage. Similar to the Epsom salt bath, this will help you relax and will also activate the lymph system, another avenue for detoxification.10
Moving Forward: Diet, Lifestyle, and Other Changes You Can Make
If you’ve been diagnosed with yeast overgrowth, or you’re just worried that you might have a fungal overgrowth, there’s good news: prevention is doable and totally up to you!
By implementing a healthy diet, avoiding excess sugar and carbs, keeping up with exercise and sleep, and following some of the steps outlined above, you can take steps to ensure you’ll have a healthy gut. You won’t have to worry about overgrowth in the future, and you’ll never have to experience the symptoms of the Herxheimer Reaction.
Here are some additional articles I recommend that discuss gut health:
- “What is Your Total Toxic Burden? How To Reduce It For Better Health”
- “Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth: Signs, Symptoms, and the IBS Connection”
- “4 Detox Methods That Actually Work”
Now I want to hear from you—do you take steps to limit fungal overgrowth in your digestive system? What methods do you use to reduce toxins in your body? Share your thoughts in the comments below!