The Place for Natural Antifungals in the Treatment of Mold-Injured Patients
A few weeks ago, we introduced an article about the use of prescription antifungal medications in treating patients with mold/candida problems. We discussed when these medications should be used, and what symptoms they typically are used to address. To carry this discussion further, it is helpful to also look at some of the more natural, non-prescription possibilities for treatment. (Keep in mind, though, that there is no ideal, one-size-fits-all solution, and it is truly best to consider an individualized treatment plan while working with a practitioner skilled in treating mold-related illness.)
As we identified previously, there are only a handful of prescription antifungals that can help with a Candida or fungal overgrowth, and the potential for side effects is always there. In using any antifungal medication, it is important to remember that yeast and fungal cells are quite like human cells; therefore, it is difficult to create a treatment that targets just the “bad guys” and not also the “good guys” at the same time. For this reason, natural antifungals may be easier for the body to tolerate and, in some cases, work even better than their prescription counterparts.
Natural Antifungal Options
There are several natural antifungals that are derived from plants. You see, plants have their own immune systems, just like we do. In their case, they generate antifungal compounds that prevent molds from attacking them. These natural antifungal properties can be useful for us too, both in supplement form and when incorporated into our diets. These antifungals work by breaking down the cell walls of mold and yeast and can be an important part of mold illness recovery. Many people even benefit from taking two or three antifungals at the same time; this prevents candida and fungi from adapting. Most natural antifungals should also be taken at least an hour apart from your probiotics, as they have some mild antibacterial properties too. Their antibacterial properties make natural antifungals a more full-body solution for many mold patients, though; large bacterial and viral loads are often part of their issues. While a prescription medication would not address anything other than the fungus, a natural antifungal will.
Here are a few good examples commonly used of natural antifungals:
Caprylic acid is one of the active ingredients in coconut oil. It works by interfering with the cell walls of yeast and fungi. Its short-chain fatty acids can easily penetrate the cell wall of the yeast and then inhibit its growth by causing it to rupture. This effectively destroys the yeast cell. There have been some studies in Japan that suggest that Caprylic Acid may be as effective as the prescription Diflucan in reducing yeast levels significantly.
Further research has shown that oregano oil contains two naturally-occurring antimicrobial agents, carvacrol and thymol. These agents work by reacting with the water in your bloodstream, which effectively dehydrates and kills Candida yeast cells. (4)
Other studies report that the major terpenoids in oregano–carvacrol, thymol, and eugenol–have important antifungal activity. These important phenols are effective in not only killing planktonic cells but also in breaking up the biofilms of Candida albicans, which are often resistant to many pharmaceutical antifungal drugs.
Of these, carvacrol appears to be the strongest; studies show it continues to be effective regardless of the maturity of the biofilm.
(Note: In a previous article we discussed biofilm in detail, but as a reminder here, this is a compound that forms between the human proteins and lining of the digestive and respiratory passages. Biofilm binds with the wall of the mold or yeast, forming a “film” that protects the pathogen and makes it difficult to break through for treatment.)
Garlic contains the powerful antifungal agent ajoene, an organosulfur compound that has been found to kill off a variety of fungal infections. Ajoene is formed from another compound called allicin and an enzyme, alliinase. When garlic is chopped or crushed, allicin and alliinase come together to form ajoene.
Various studies have found ajoene to have the strongest activity of all garlic compounds in inhibiting the growth of Candida albicans. Another study showed that garlic has potent anticandidal activity and can halt the growth and spread of Candida Albicans. However, ajoene’s exact mechanism of action is not so clear. As with other antifungals, scientists hypothesize that ajoene works by disrupting the cell walls of the Candida yeast cells, preventing them from functioning properly.
Grapefruit Seed Extract
Grapefruit seed extract is highly effective against a variety of yeasts and molds including Candida, Geotrichum, Aspergillus, and Penicillium sp.
A 2001 Polish study found that grapefruit seed extract had a strong antifungal effect against Candida albicans overgrowth. The researchers concluded that the extract could fight Candida by attacking yeast cells directly, effectively destroying those that have already taken hold in the body.
Another study in 2002 showed grapefruit seed extract that is useful as an all-round antimicrobial, thanks to its inhibition of a wide range of harmful bacteria. Amazingly, it appears to do this within just 15 minutes of contact, even when diluted.
The American Research Institute also reports that grapefruit seed extract can kill over 800 bacterial and viral strains and 100 strains of fungi. It’s believed that the extract interferes with the membrane of the bacteria, destroying the cell by breaking it apart.
CitriDrops Dietary Supplement, available through Micro Balance Health Products, not only contains grapefruit seed extract but several other citrus botanical oils, making it an even more potent product as a compound. The fact that it is a blend of citrus seed extracts also makes it less likely for yeast to develop resistance to it.
Berberine is often used for treating gastrointestinal infections and boosting the immune system. It’s been shown to help kill pathogens that may cause gut infections and diarrhea such as candidiasis and giardia. Even better, berberine helps to heal the lining of the gut and improves the gut microbiota when cells have been damaged by bacteria.
Research shows that berberine’s antifungal effect is most potent in mucous membrane tissues, particularly the genitals, mouth, and especially digestive system. Berberine also has powerful antimicrobial activity against a wide variety of harmful yeasts and pathogens in the body, including Candida albicans, e-coli, staph aureus, and many others.
Berberine can be taken in supplement form. Goldenseal and Barberry are excellent sources of berberine. There are other products as well, but I have found that the above-mentioned are the most economical, the best tolerated, and the most widely available. There are many supplement sources of berberine products on the Wellevate portal.
Combination Antifungal Supplements
There are many broad-spectrum, natural antifungal supplements that contain multiple herbs and nutrients in one capsule. This design amplifies the benefits because it essentially tackles the yeast and biofilm at the same time. Candida Rid is a blended product of antifungal herbs and nutrients for microbial infections and yeast overgrowth, including oil of oregano, caprylic acid, proteolytic enzymes, black walnut, and wormwood. It is a supplement that can be very effective for patients needing to address a fungal, bacterial, and viral load. Lyme patients tend to find it very helpful as long as it is well tolerated. Additionally, there are times that I put my patients on an “antifungal parade” in which we alternate various natural and pharmaceutical antifungal products and can be done exceedingly long term for those in whom ongoing therapy seems to be needed.
In addition, there are certain foods that contain antifungal properties. Adding these into the diet, if they are well-tolerated, can give some added benefit.
These foods include, but are not limited to the following:
Popular around the world as a savory addition to many dishes, onions are also known for their strong medicinal properties. They have antifungal, antibacterial, and anti-parasitic activity against a wide range of microorganisms including bacteria and yeasts. Studies have shown that onion essential oil contains 21 compounds, the major components of which are dimethyl‐trisulfide and methyl‐propyl‐trisulfide. These can delay or kill fungal growth by intervening with the ability of the organisms to replicate and spread.
Although not a well-known food, rutabaga (also known in some countries as Swede or Swedish turnip) is one of the most potent antifungal vegetables around. It’s a root vegetable–a cross between a cabbage and a turnip–and a member of the mustard family.
One study showed that rutabaga produces phytoalexins, a type of chemical defense produced by plants in response to certain forms of stress, such as microbial attack. According to researchers, these phytoalexins can ward off harmful fungi and yeasts such as Candida, as well as several other microbes. The chemical structures of these phytoalexins appear to have important biological activity against at least four plant pathogens.
Olive oil is one of the most versatile and readily available condiments in the world–and it’s also great for helping you to beat fungal infections like Candida.
Olive oil contains a powerful chemical called Oleuropein which has valuable antifungal properties. It’s been shown to help stimulate your immune system’s own response to effectively fight off Candida albicans overgrowth. (17) Oleuropein has also been shown to help stabilize blood sugar levels, which is an important benefit for Candida sufferers as elevated blood sugar levels can increase the yeast’s ability to spread. (18) Oleuropein is also found in olive leaf extract and can be taken in concentrated doses in the form of supplements. Olive oil is not the most temperature-appropriate oil for cooking as it can destroy its nutritional properties. Instead, drizzle over salads, stir-fries, and vegetables. Be sure to choose a high-quality, extra-virgin olive oil–not a cheap one! Some types of oils labeled as “olive oil” are a blend with other less desirable oils and are not pure. Check the label carefully to make sure that olive oil is the only ingredient.
When it comes to improving the health of your gut and reducing fungal growth, fermented or probiotic foods are an excellent addition. These are foods that have been prepared in a way that allows beneficial bacteria to grow, creating live nutrients within the food itself. When you eat them, the live bacteria are established in your gut–like an instant dose of probiotics.
When you eat fermented foods, these healthy bacteria can promote several health benefits and improve the microbial balance of your gut, which is essential for warding off harmful yeasts. The lactic acid produced during the fermentation process is a natural preservative that prevents harmful bacteria from growing. The fermentation process leaves the food rich in nutrients that your body and immune system need.
Some of the best sources of fermented foods include sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, tempeh, and kefir. Eating these fermented foods regularly can support the immune system and prevent the invasion and spread of yeasts or fungal infections.
A good strategy is to combine fermented foods with probiotic supplements. When buying a probiotic supplement, make sure that you choose one that uses time-release tablets. Otherwise, the probiotic bacteria will simply be destroyed by your stomach acid. Some of my favorites are Klaire Pro5, Klaire Therbiotic Plus, and Orthomolecular Orthobiotic.
(Note: If you are suffering from histamine intolerance issues, Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth, or Small Intestinal Fungal Overgrowth, it is best to avoid fermented foods for a bit. Again, it’s not everyone—and the fermented foods, sauerkraut, and kimchi are certainly very healing. But if you find you have a rash, you get headaches or hives, or have increased bloating and abdominal discomfort after eating sauerkraut or kimchi, or apple cider vinegar, then one of these factors may be a precluding issue for you that needs to be addressed.)
A Piece of the Puzzle, But Not the Cure
In conclusion, I do need to repeat that natural antifungals are wonderful therapies when used in conjunction with an overall mold toxicity treatment plan. This plan should include clean air, clean water, and clean food. Without those major pieces of the health puzzle in place, even the most potent antifungal will not be effective or bring lasting relief. If the body is still under siege from mold-laden air or sugary and processed foods, then benefits of any supplement or nutraceutical intervention may be negligible, unfortunately.