Candidia albicans is a ubiquitious fungus that can live in parts of the body such as in the mouth, throat, gut, and vagina. When it overgrows it can invade the body: the intestines, bloodstream, and internal organs like the kidney, heart, or brain.
A breastfeeding mother may develop a fungal infection of the nipple, called thrush. When I lived in Europe and asked my holistic lactation mentor how she treats nipple thrush, she said she was not familiar with it. It turns out that while nipple thrush is very common in the US, mothers in Switzerland did not get it.
Why? Probably because they ate a whole-foods diet, because Swiss doctors did not prescribe antibiotics as frequently (and unnecessarily) as doctors in the US, and especially because, at that time, mothers did not routinely receive antibiotics at cesarean childbirth.
Candidiasis in the intestine contributes to a condition called “leaky gut” or permeable intestinal lining. With a leaky gut, the spaces between the cells of the lining are not tightly bound. This allows partially digested food molecules to pass through the intestine into the bloodstream. The immune system reacts as if fighting a foreign enemy, which creates autoimmune responses and leads to allergies, and food sensitivities.
For decades, pediatric allergists have linked a mother’s leaky gut to her baby’s infant colic and to allergies and other conditions.
In treating systemic candidiasis (systemic means it is found in multiple body systems, such as the blood, the nerves, brain, and other tissues) the short-term use of a medication called Nystatin is considered safe for a breastfeeding mother.
A few years back, I had a recurring urinary tract infection that I tried to treat without antibiotics. The usual herbs were not working–the UTI would improve but quickly return. I researched up and down the web, but was not able to find a solution. Fortunately, a local nutritionist told me that many UTIs are not primarily bacterial, but also fungal, and can be be successfully treated with antifungals. I tried it, and within a few weeks was out of the woods and back on the road to health.
The best advice I received was to take not one or two or three, but a combination of antifungal supplements. The range of supplements would each attack the fungus using a different method, and using several at the same time would prevent the fungus from becoming resistant to any one of them.
When dealing with candidiasis while breastfeeding, you don’t want to hit it hard all at once with herbs or medication. That may beat the problem back for a while, but it will return.
To be successful, you need a longterm, three-pronged approach: eliminate mold from the home (plus other gut-irritating chemicals); eat a whole-foods diet including gut-healing broths; remove all foods made with refined sugar (but some fruit and berries is okay,) and develop an enduring treatment to gradually reduce the candidiasis while building resilience in your intestine with better gut microbes.
Breastfeeding, Milk Supply, Herbal Antifungals
Thinking about breastfeeding mothers, I realized that not all antifungal supplements are suitable. Here is a list of some of the best and most suitable while breastfeeding – except the first one, oregano oil, as I explain below.
One of our strongest antifungal agents is oregano oil. However, mothers and lactation consultants find that oregano oil sometimes reduces milk supply. Keep oregano oil in mind for later, after weaning. I like this particular brand for its additional oils of fennel and ginger as both are good for intestinal healing and they are also lactogenic, and support milk supply.
Grapefruit Seed Extract is a great antifungal that should be safe for milk supply. I like this liquid product. With a liquid, you can modulate your dosage from just 1 – 2 drops in a cup of water to 5 – 10 drops. The option to create your own best dosage lets you have full control. This may feel strange and uncomfortable for those who have always followed strict dosage requirements, but I do recommend starting a low dose and learning how to “listen” to your body.
Food grade baking soda is available at many Health Food markets or online.
Cautions: do not combine grapefruit seed extract with domperidone or fluconazole.
Caprylic Acid is that part of coconut oil that is most strongly antifungal. Many people find caprylic acid to be particularly powerful. Start slowly, just one capsule a day. If you do not experience “die-off” (see below), continue increasing the dosage.
Garlic is an excellent antifungal. However, it is also effective at lowering blood pressure, so take care. This Garlic oil product is odorless.
Acacia Fiber (also called “gum arabic”). Take up to one tablespoon daily in yogurt, juice, or water, or blended into juices and smoothies. Acacia fiber has many benefits. It is antimicrobial both against bacteria and fungus. It “smooths” and “coats” the contents of the bowels, relieving constipation. In a study1 from 2012, a daily snack of acacia fiber in yogurt with Bifidus lactobacilli improved both constipation and diarrhea in persons with IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome). Good to know!
Turmeric: To fully eradicate a fungal infection, we have to dissolve the biofilms where they hide throughout the body. Some enzymes achieve this, and another way is to use turmeric. It is antifungal, antibacterial, a biofilm-buster, plus it supports lactation.
Turmeric relieves muscle aches and joint pain by acting as an anti-inflammatory. It is protective against brain damage and memory loss. Overall, it is worthwhile to learn how to “stomach” a simple dose of turmeric every day, or as needed.
I personally make for myself the simple, fast, and inexpensive version: a half-teaspoon of turmeric powder, stirred into a cup of water and quickly swallowed down. If you don’t mind the taste, a very small shake of black pepper into the turmeric improves its bioavailability.
Olive leaf extract is a home-remedy must-have, and Herbpharm is one of my favorite brands. Although olive leaf has not been safety-tested for breastfeeding, it is widely used as an herbal antibiotic by breastfeeding mothers. It is also a powerful antifungal. I would use it at a low dosage along with the other antifungal products, several times a day.
When I did this treatment, I alternated the products, a few of the supplements one week, another few the next week. You have to see how you react to the supplements; everyone is different.
About Fungal “Die-Off”
Some people go through a phase of feeling tired, foggy-brained and toxic when using antifungal supplements. This can be due to a large and sudden die-off of the fungi.
“Die-Off” is a period of time in which your body is dealing with a flood of dead cells from the fungi. They are now in your blood and as they pass through your body and organs, you may notice sudden fatigue, brain-fog, or even a flare-up of a rash or arthritic pain.
This is a sign that the supplements are working, but that your detox organs need time to catch up with the extra detox work. Eventually, your liver will neutralize the toxins. Depending on the degree of the infection, and the pace of your liver, the symptoms of Die-Off might last 1 – 3 hours or 1- 3 days.
If this happens to you, back off the supplements, drink a lot of water, and rest. Trust that you will soon feel better.
While “die-off” sounds like bad news, it is actually very good to know about and to be mentally prepared for. As you go forward with the treatment, the periods of Die-Off should become less strong and less frequent.
If you have access to a healthcare practitioner or MD with a foundation in “functional medicine,” they are your best bet for clarity and continuity of treatment. Functional MDs are trained to connect the dots and get a handle on these somewhat mysterious health conditions and opportunistic organisms.
- Min YW, Park SU, Jang YS, et al. Effect of composite yogurt enriched with acacia fiber and Bifidobacterium lactis. World J Gastroenterol. 2012;18(33):4563-4569. doi:10.3748/wjg.v18.i33.4563