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About six months ago, I started looking into doing an article on Candida albicans – a type of naturally occurring fungal microorganism that can overgrow in our bodies, generating all sorts of health problems, from digestive disorders to respiratory problems to fatigue.

Candida overgrowth (or Candiasis) apparently affects millions of people. Some doctors dismiss it as an imaginary problem or a “fad” diagnosis, while others see it as a hidden epidemic and are keenly interested in how this internal imbalance gets started, the impacts it has, and how it can best be avoided and resolved.

The topic of Candida originally surfaced when we began planning the article on intestinal flora that appeared in our last issue (“Gut Check,” May/June 2003). We knew we wouldn’t have enough space to go into detail on Candida there, but I thought it might make a good story down the road. A few friends and one of my sisters had tangled with Candida in the past, and all said that they wished they’d had far more information about their foe from the beginning. So I looked into it a little, and as I started turning up interesting facts about the condition, I just kept filing them away in my “future articles” file.

I’ll backtrack now and say that a few weeks before any of this started, I had developed a mild (but annoyingly flaky) rash on my chin. Rashes are extremely unusual for me, and when this one came up, I tried everything in my natural-health arsenal against it, from calendula to vitamin E. It didn’t budge.

Suspecting it might be stubble-burn from kissing my boyfriend, I withheld my affections for a week or two and, on a pal’s suggestion, donned a nightly “beard of lotion” in an effort to heal it. No dice. (Sorry about that, hon, but it worked for Lisa when she dated a stubbly guy.)

Finally, thinking it might be a food sensitivity, I took a dietary approach. First I tried cutting out milk. Then, in turn, I cut out most other common allergens: sugar, wheat, eggs, corn, soy and peanuts. Still the rash. I figured it must be hormonal or something.

Before long, my inner ears and throat started itching. My digestion got a little off kilter. I started craving sugar (which I almost never eat). I couldn’t figure it out. What was going on here? Then one night, I sat up in bed and said, “Candida!”

I don’t know why it didn’t strike me before. But once I had made the connection, I was a woman on a mission. I got up, went down to my office, dug through my file, booted up my computer and started researching. What I found encouraged me: I could address my suspected imbalance mostly with a low-glycemic diet and a few herbs.

Unfortunately, for the first stage of the anti-Candida diet (which lasts until one’s symptoms are reduced by 50 percent), I had to simultaneously cut out just about everything: sugar for sure, but also alcohol, fruit, coffee, many grains and flours, most milk products, fermented products and virtually anything else that wasn’t a non-starchy vegetable or lean meat. It was one of the most stringent and challenging eating plans I’ve ever followed in my life, but within a week, my rash and itchiness totally disappeared, and I felt a ton better. I proceeded with stage two of the diet, which was somewhat easier.

The last few weeks of anti-Candida eating have been tough, but educational. I discovered there are a lot of very appetizing things you can do with vegetables, for one thing. I also gained a new respect for my body’s complex and delicately balanced chemistry.

In truth, I can’t say for sure whether I was actually dealing with Candida (I never got an official diagnosis from a doctor), but evidently, whatever I did worked. And in retrospect, that frustrating rash was a gift. It forced me to pay attention to an internal challenge with which my body had obviously been struggling for quite some time, and it inspired me to improve my eating habits.

This issue of EL is one big invitation to explore and embrace challenges of all kinds. As for me, I’ve had enough challenges for one season. That’s why next issue (thank heavens) we’re focusing on “success.” We’ll squeeze in the article on Candida somewhere, though – and if you have any challenges of your own you’d like us to tackle, just give us the heads up!

Thoughts to share?

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