Candidiasis has become a "hot" topic over the past few years among health-conscious individuals in the United States. Candidiasis is a condition that results from the overgrowth of a yeast-like fungus called Candida albicans. Candida cells are part of the normal flora of our bodies found in our mouth, vagina, intestines, and other organs. When they grow unchecked, they can cause a number of health problems, including digestive disorders, fatigue, and vaginal yeast infections. Whether candidiasis is to be considered a disease or a syndrome is still controversial in conventional medicine, but the general public has accepted it as a valid disease, apart from lab tests or theoretical constructs. Some practitioners even claim that "everybody has it." Almost every day in my clinic, people walk in asking for help with this problem. Although Chinese medicine does not have a traditional diagnosis of "candidiasis", we can find a diagnostic framework and a treatment approach to candidiasis from the patients' common symptoms and complaints. I do not believe that "everyone has it", but it is a very common problem in the United States. When you know the causes of candidiasis, it is not surprising that people are more prone to have it here than in other countries.
There are a number of medications that promote the overgrowth of yeast cells, either because they kill beneficial bacteria, or because they interfere with normal hormone functions. These medications include: antibiotics; chemotherapy; hormone replacement; corticosteroids; and oral contraceptives. Improper diet, such as over-consumption of yeast products, sugar, or alcohol, also can promote yeast growth. In traditional Chinese medicine, these foods disturb the balance of the Spleen, produce Phlegm, and create the perfect environment for yeast overgrowth.
Those people with immune system or endocrine gland disorders are more prone to candidiasis, such as patients with AIDS, cancer, or diabetes.
In Chinese medicine, balance is the most important concept in maintaining health. Yin and Yang, the eternal opposites of the universe, also form the basic substance of our bodies. They must be in balance for us to be in good health. It is the same for the yeast cells and bacteria in our bodies: too many yeast cells and a condition of candidiasis results; too many bacteria, and infection can be present; when there is balance, we are in good health.
Triple Burner: A Concept in Traditional Chinese Medicine
The Triple Burner is one of the six Yang organs in the body. It includes the Upper Burner (the Heart, and Lung), Middle Burner (the Spleen and Stomach) and Lower Burner (the Liver, Intestines, Bladder and Kidneys). As stated in the classical medical textbook, Yellow Emperors Classic of Medicine, "the Upper Burner opens outwards, spreads the five tastes of the food essences, moistens and pervades the skin, fills the body, and is like mist. The Middle Burner receives vital energy, expels the wastes, steams the body fluids, transforms the refined essence of food, and connects upwards with the Lungs. The Lower Burner directs the separation of the clean fluids from the dirty fluids, and facilitates the excretion of urine." Notice that the Triple Burner is described in terms of what it does. It is called a "concept" because it really exists as a function, rather than as a physical organ. In Chinese medicine, the Triple Burner regulates the activities of the other internal organs and participates in fluid metabolism.
Traditional Chinese medicine recognizes the development and proliferation of Candida in the body as a Triple Burner-related condition. The Middle Burner, and particularly the Spleen, is seen as the key to this health issue. The Spleen is responsible for taking the food and fluids that we ingest and processing them into the Chi and Blood that are the true "fuel" of our bodies. When the Spleen is functioning well, Chi and Blood are in balance, intestinal flora are in balance, there is no excess fluid or phlegm in our system, food is properly digested and distributed, and the immune system is being nourished by Chi and Blood. In most cases of candidiasis, the problem starts with a Spleen imbalance, which may then progress to digestive disorders, irregular bowel movements, diarrhea, constipation, and/or fatigue. In the absence of treatment, or with improper treatment, the disorder will then spread from the Spleen and Spleen meridian to other organs and meridians. At this stage, the condition will be diagnosed as a systemic yeast infection. When the Spleen system is weakened, Damp Heat accumulates in the Lower Burner, and an ideal environment for yeast overgrowth is developed. Symptoms such as a white, cheesy vaginal discharge, genital itching, or vaginitis might occur. When the Spleen system is disturbed, Heat and Fire can accumulate in the Upper Burner, causing an infection of the oral cavity called thrush to develop.
With candidiasis, there are cases when symptoms only appear in one Burner; but in many cases, symptoms spread to all three Burners. As explained above, Middle Burner disorder (Spleen and Stomach) is the key factor in candidiasis. When Spleen energy is weakened by poor diet, medications or other factors, its ability to transform phlegm and nutrients is diminished. The Spleen then fails to properly absorb and utilize nutrients from the foods we eat, and is therefore unable to produce healthy amounts of Chi and Blood. So the earliest stage of candidiasis is almost always a Spleen (Middle Burner) disorder. If treated appropriately at this stage, with re-balancing of the Spleen and Stomach, the problem will resolve with no yeast-related symptoms. But candidiasis is not a well-defined disease pattern. It is difficult to diagnose at the early stages, and many people are completely unaware that they are developing a severe problem. Then the disease gains ground, spreading to the Upper Burner (thrush, cough, etc.), or to the Lower Burner (vaginal infection, etc.), or both. As with many diseases, the best way to head off trouble is with early detection and treatment.
A Two-Step Treatment Plan with Chinese Medicine
Step 1. Cleansing
In Chinese medicine, a thorough cleansing is the first step in dealing with candidiasis. When our systems are full of the waste, phlegm and toxins which contribute to yeast overgrowth, clearing them out of the system is necessary. "The constitutional energy is endangered when an internalized evil is there," says the Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine.
Many people try to clear out their yeast overgrowth with diet cleansing methods. For candidiasis, diet management alone is not strong enough to clear the system, or it can take a very long time. Combining proper diet with Chinese herbs and acupuncture can achieve this goal much faster. With herbal cleansing therapy, the goal is to clear the system of Dampness, Phlegm, and Heat. These are seen as the causative factors of candidiasis. The herbs are not intended to mechanically clear out the large intestine; rather, they promote the clearing-out of the pathological factors of Phlegm and Heat toxins. Commonly-used herbs include gentiana (long dan cao), melia (chuan lian zi), agastachis (huo xiang), cardamon (bai dou kou), saussurea (mu xiang), skullcap (huang qin), coptis (huang lian), and phellodendra (huang bai).
Damp Heat Clearing Formula (Long Dan Xie Gan Wan) and Coptis Formula (Huang Lian Shang Qing Wan) are powerful herbal combinations to promote the cleansing process. Damp Heat Clearing is used most often when Lower Burner symptoms appear, and also with some Middle Burner problems; Coptis Formula is more effective with Upper and Middle Burner symptoms.
Damp Heat Clearing Formula (Long Dan Xie Gan Tang)
Gentian (Long Dan Cao)
Scullcap (Huang Qin)
Gardenia (Zhi Zi)
Akebia (Mu Tong)
Plaintain (Che Qian Cao)
Alisma (Ze Xie)
Buplerum (Chai Hu)
Rehmannia (Di Huang)
Angelica (Dang Gui)
Licorice (Gan Cao)
Coptis Formula Formula (Huang Lian Shang Qing Wan)
Coptis (Huang Lian)
Da Huang (Ruhbarb)
Scullcap (Huang Qin)
Phellodendra (Huang Bai)
Gypsum (Shi Gao)
Gardenia (Zhi Zi)
Forsythia (Lian Qiao)
Chrysanthemi (Ju Hua)
Schizonepeta (Jing Jie)
Angelica (Bai Zhi)
Viticis (Man Jing Zi)
Cnidium (Chuan Qiong)
Ledebouriella (Fang Feng)
Mint (Bo He)
Inula (Xuan Fu Hua)
Platycodon (Jie Geng)
Licorice (Gan Cao)
Some commonly-used acupuncture/acupressure points for this cleansing process include LIV3, LIV2, ST40, UB57, and LI4.
Step 2. Tonifying
After the waste, toxins, and phlegm have been cleared out of our systems, we then have to tonify our bodies, repairing the damage and restoring the balance, or the pathological factor(s) will return. "If sufficient vital energy exists, a pathological factor cannot attack us" (Yellow Emperors Classic of Internal Medicine). This is also a very important step to prevent recurrence of yeast infections. Commonly used tonifying herbs include astragalus (huang qi), codonopsis (dang shen), atractylodes (bai zhu), and dioscorea (shan yao). GI Strength Formula (Xian Sha Liu Jun Zi Tang) is a popular formula for tonification, especially of the Middle Burner.
GI Strength Formula (Xiang Sha Liu Jun Zi Tang)
Ginseng (Ren Shen)
Atractylodis (Bai Zhu)
Poria (Fu Ling)
Licorice (Gan Cao)
Tangerine (Chen Pi)
Pinella (Ban Xia)
Amomi (Sha Ren)
Saussurea (Mu Xiang)
Commonly used tonifying acupuncture/acupressure points include ST36, SP9, SP6, LI10, LIV8, REN6, and REN4.
A Recommendation for Your Diet
People who are familiar with a yeast-free diet stay away from bread, cheese, mushrooms, vinegar, soy sauce, barbecue sauce, black fungus, and white fungus. But there are other yeast-based foods such as crackers, pretzels, dry cereal, miso, tempeh, canned vegetables, pickled vegetables, beer, root beer and other fermented beverages which are often overlooked by those with yeast infections.
Grains, noodles, non-yeast bread and white rice are recommended. They are easy to digest. Brown rice and wild rice have more nutrients than white rice, but they take more energy to digest, and it is better for Spleen Chi Deficient people not to eat them often. Certain vegetables are extremely therapeutic for those with yeast infections, such as Daikon radish, which can help cleanse your system and is known as a "phlegm cleanser".
The family of yellow-colored foods such as yam, winter squash, and pumpkins are strongly recommended from the viewpoint of traditional Chinese medicine, as they tonify and strengthen the Spleen and Spleen meridian.
Yeast-based medications such as penicillin, mycin, chloromycetin, and tetracyclines should be avoided, as well as yeast-based Vitamin B supplements.
About the Authors:
MD (China), MPH, L.Ac. Lic. Nutritionist and Changzhen Gong, PhD, MS
are part of the team of acupuncturists at TCM Health Center clinics in
Minnesota. With five convenient acupuncture clinic locations in the
Minneapolis/St. Paul area, TCM Health Centers are committed to provide
high quality acupuncture and Chinese medicine services at reasonable