In this blog post I will be unpacking a very controversial topic. The information I am sharing in this blog post is to the best of my knowledge, meaning my education and what I was able to find through my own research. Every few months I revisit my dietary approach to candida, investigate the research, and make any necessary changes. Over the last few months I decided to investigate dairy as my entire view on this particular food has changed over the last year.
The 411 on dairy and candida overgrowth
Historically it has been thought that because dairy contains lactose, which is a sugar, then all dairy contributes to feeding candida, and therefore must be removed from the diet while candida cleansing. I have not been able to find any studies that prove the lactose in particular feeds candida so I believe that this statement has been made based on inference. I believe this assumption comes from knowing that candida feeds on sugar. However, there is research that indicates Candida Albicans uses sugars such as glucose, mannose, and galactose to provide energy to synthesize the cell wall (Pellon et al., 2022). Galactose is present in dairy, but it is the lactose containing dairy products are the main source of galactose.
We also know that we do not need to cut out all forms of sugar to rebalance an overgrowth of candida. Rather its best to focus on removing poor quality sources of sugar, reduce overall sugar consumption, consume natural, healthy forms of sugar in moderation, as well as focus on how foods with sugar are paired with other macronutrients (protein, fat, and fiber) to ensure that blood sugar stays regulated, which also ensures there is less available sugar to feed pathogens like candida.
We have also been told that dairy is pro inflammatory and mucus forming, and therefore must be removed from the diet when candida cleansing. This is a heavy loaded statement, which I would like to unpack.
Leaky Gut & Lactose Intolerance
Dairy is one of the most common foods that people develop sensitivities, intolerances, or allergies to. Dairy can be inflammatory for those who have a compromised gut lining (i.e leaky gut) which plays a role in not digesting or breaking down certain components of dairy properly, mainly lactose. This is otherwise referred to as a lactose intolerance, which is an intolerance to the sugar found in dairy (lactose) because the body is not producing enough of the enzyme, lactase to break it down. A damaged gut mucosa cannot secrete lactase. Therefore, when dairy is consumed, it doesn’t get broken down properly, and this undigested food creates inflammation and can serve as food for pathogens like candida.
Leaky Gut & Histamine Intolerance
The second component to having an impaired gastrointestinal lining and candida overgrowth is an increased susceptibility to developing a histamine intolerance. When candida becomes pathogenic it wreaks havoc along the lining of the gut, contributing to intestinal permeability (leaky gut) and damage to the enterocytes and microvilli that line the gut wall. Enterocytes are cells that secrete an enzyme called DAO which functions to break down histamine. If enterocytes are damaged, DAO is not being produced, and histamine is not getting broken down properly, leading to elevated levels of histamine. When a histamine load develops, dairy can be a food that triggers symptoms and inflammation in the system. Since dairy products are considered one of the top histamine trigger foods, if you are dealing with this cascade of imbalances (leaky gut, candida overgrowth, and a histamine intolerance) you may find relief and great benefit from minimizing or removing dairy from your diet temporarily while you work on your gut health.
A1 vs. A2 Dairy
Dairy can also be inflammatory for those who have a protein sensitivity/allergy to whey or casein. Whey and casein are the two major proteins that dairy contains. There are also two forms of casein - A1 and A2. A1 casein is known to contribute to digestive discomfort, inflammation, flatulence (gas), etc. A2 casein protein is more comparable to those found in human breast milk, as well as goat and sheep milk. Therefore, A2 dairy products are more preferable as they are typically easier on digestion than dairy products with A1 casein. The protein structure of casein is also very similar to gluten. So if you are dealing with a gluten sensitivity/allergy it is likely that you may also have a dairy sensitivity as well.
There is a major difference between consuming conventional, pasteurized dairy vs. organic, raw, grass-fed dairy. Its best to consume dairy from cows that have been organically raised and grass-fed, and to choose products that are unpasteurized, when possible. These dairy products won't have antibiotics or added hormones, contain more nutrients, are typically digested better, and have more benefits for the gut microbiome.
Raw dairy products are often digested better than pasteurized dairy products. One of the reasons being, the pasteurization process removes the vital enzymes needed for digestion and absorption. Raw dairy also contains more than one hundred different strains of beneficial bacteria, in addition to prebiotics, which is the food that the beneficial bacteria needs to stay alive and healthy. Due to the wonderful benefits raw dairy offers, people who have an intolerance to lactose may be able to tolerate raw dairy without any gastrointestinal symptoms (Perkins, 2018, p. 266).
In sum, when it comes to candida cleansing, dairy is in the grey zone, meaning it can be beneficial for some people, and not for others. If you are not sure if dairy is a problem for you, you could consider cutting out all dairy products for 3 weeks and then start a reintroduction process. It takes roughly 3 weeks for the antibodies, which are the proteins the immune system makes in reaction to the food causing the sensitivity, to dissipate. So the idea is to remove dairy in full for 3 weeks, then reintroduce certain categories of dairy one at a time and observe to see what happens throughout the process with your symptoms (keeping a food journal can be helpful here). If this is something that you would like support with, feel free to reach out as I would be happy to help by creating a structured reintroduction process for dairy.
If you feel you are reacting to dairy, before cutting it out of your diet, consider focusing on switching the quality of the dairy that you are consuming first as sometimes that is simply the issue/reason why you are not tolerating dairy well. Also some people tolerate certain types of dairy better than others. So its not always that ALL dairy products need to be removed, sometimes its just certain forms of dairy.
TIPS for consuming dairy during a candida cleanse:
Check the label and ensure there is no added sugar, it should say unsweetened.
Opt for lactose free dairy products as these will not contain the galactose that can feed candida. If you are looking for yogurt, greek yogurt in general is typically lower in lactose than other types of yogurt.
Hard, aged cheeses don't contain lactose so if you wanted to try having cheese, I'd recommend a hard cheese like cheddar or feta.
When looking for a brand of goat cheese, you want to look for a brand that does not have a ton of unnecessary additives. So the ingredients should say goat milk (pasteurized or raw), salt, cheese cultures, and enzymes.
If you are lactose intolerant, try incorporating Ghee. This is clarified butter, meaning that the 'bad' fat and lactose has been removed. Keep in bind butter is an fungus fighting food due to the butyrate contents so if you can tolerate this, there are benefits to it.
As mentioned above, dairy should always be obtained from cows that have been organically raised and grass-fed. These dairy products won’t have antibiotics or added hormones which are not ideal to be exposed to when fighting candida overgrowth.
Opt for unpasteurized dairy products, if available. When the product is unpasteurized, it will often say ‘raw’ on the label (its easy to find raw Parmesan cheese). As I mentioned above, people who are lactose intolerant may do better with raw milk products since it’s unpasteurized and contains enzymes to help with its digestibility.
When it comes to milk, I recommend opting for goat milk, sheep milk, raw milk, or A2 dairy.
Goat milk doesn’t contain A1 casein, rather it contains A2 casein, which is not allergy forming and composition wise, it is very close to human milk. It contains antibacterial and anti-fungal properties, healthy fats, vitamin E, and lactic acid (a prebiotic).
Sheep’s milk encourages the production of lactobacillus in the small intestine (a beneficial bacteria that fights candida), contains good levels of minerals and fats, and is minimally allergy forming.
For A2 dairy, it often specifies on the label.
Always check to see if there are any added synthetic ingredients as we do want to avoid those as best as we can.
Organic Meadow - organic cheese, grass-fed milk, and more
Organic Olympic - greek yogurt
L'ancetre - high quality cheese
Rolling Meadow - grass-fed milk, sour cream
Alexandre Farms - grass-fed yogurt and grass-fed A2 milk
Stonyfield - grass-fed greek yogurt
Strauss Organic - greek yogurt and pasture-fed milk
Summer Hill goat milk
Nancys probiotic grass-fed yogurt
Maple Hill Organic - grass-fed milk
Pellon, A., Begum, N., Sadeghi Nasab, S. D., Harzandi, A., Shoaie, S., & Moyes, D. L. (2022). Role of Cellular Metabolism during Candida-Host Interactions. Pathogens, 11(2), 184. https://doi.org/10.3390/pathogens11020184
Perkins, C. (2018). Healing Chronic Candida (pp. 264–271). Turner Publishing Company.