Since starting the Out-Thinking Parkinson's Project, I have managed to markedly reduce my symptoms, especially pain and rigidity. However, one of the more persistent problems I encounter regularly (daily) are episodes of severe brain fog, during which "Gary has left the building", my breathing becomes very shallow and I can only lie down due to my balance going completely. These episodes typically occur in the early evenings and/or after my main meal, when my stomach is full - but note, importantly, that this is not due to the standard problem of protein interfering with the Parkinson's medication, because my main meal is always vegetarian (we will come back to my diet below).
Conversely, I have recently encountered a new "symptom" that I've never had before. This turned out to be a fungal infection called "jock itch". Thankfully, the "Dr Axe" website provided the answer to this in the form of application of an apple cider vinegar solution, which is (slowly) getting rid of the problem.
However, I have been pondering the questions "why did this infection appear now?" and "what is feeding the fungus?", since this eruption only occurred after I had converged on the strict type of diet so beneficial to people with compromised neurological systems and auto-immune issues, as espoused by the nutrigenomics expert, David Spry, who has PD himself, and which I have found instrumental in my own recovery.
While I never knew there was any obvious link between the persistent cognitive dysfunction episodes and the fungal infection, I sat up and took notice when Glen Macpherson mentioned, in a comment on an seemingly unrelated group discussion in the Parkinson's Disease Fighters United (PDFU) Think Tank, that candida causes brain fog! So I've been following this train of thought, investigating links between fungal infections and Parkinson's Disease. Here is what I've unearthed so far.
CANDIDA AND PARKINSON'S DISEASE
The direct links between candida and PD have indeed already been identified in the scientific literature:
To find out more, I turned once again to the Dr Axe website to look up the symptoms of candida infection without any context to Parkinson's Disease, to see if indeed there was a good match. Here is what Dr Axe lists:
- Cravings for sweets
- Brain fog
- Hormone imbalance
- Joint pain
- Loss of sex drive
- Chronic sinus and allergy issues
- Digestive problems
- Weak immune system
Interesting, nearly all of these always appear high up in lists of the non-motor issues associated with Parkinson's Disease too. I myself experienced most of them, including for many years prior to my PD diagnosis.
Dr Axe lists two additional symptoms which made me take even more notice:
- Bad breath
- White coat on tongue
Both of these actually plagued me for years and years prior to my PD diagnosis. I have often pondered how it only was when I started using coconut oil as part of my therapy, especially melted in cups of tea throughout the day, that these oral hygiene issues largely went away for me. Indeed, coconut oil changed the whole "feel" of my mouth and teeth, from a perpetually dry mouth, with rough feeling surfaces of my teeth when I ran my tongue over them, to a nice "smooth & slick" mouthfeel. Again, we will come back to the diet, and especially coconut oil, below. Recently, however, on a few occasions, family members have told me that my breath smells. For some reason, the halitosis is making a comeback!
CANDIDA AND THE BRAIN
Dr Axe goes on to say that "Candida Albicans is the most common type of yeast infection found in the mouth, intestinal tract... if the immune system is not functioning properly, the candida infection can migrate to other areas of the body, including the blood and membranes around the heart or brain."
The direct link to the membranes of the brain rather surprised me, but would explain the brain fog connection revealed to me by Glen. So I did a little research on how candida gets to the brain.
It turned out that the fact that candida can indeed damage the brain has been known since at least 1970:
More recent research shed light on how candida gets into the brain:
Furthermore, candida has also been be found to cause cognitive dysfunctions common to PD too:
It seems one of the major mechanisms is via spores breaking through the intestinal walls and getting into the rest of the body, including the to brain.
CANDIDA AND THE VAGUS NERVE
For those that follow my articles regularly, you might at this point be thinking "hang on, just last week, Gary was telling us how a poor functioning of the Vagus Nerve and a weak 'Vagal Tone' provided a simple and robust unified explanation to Parkinson's Disease, yet now he is saying it could be candida!". However, the two are strongly linked, and it appears candida can indeed be one of the causal factors for the Vagus Nerve dysfunction:
"By disrupting gut health, candidiasis also affect the vagus nerve – a major nerve that connects the digestive system and major organs including the heart and lungs, to the limbic system in the brain, as it’s part of the parasympathetic nervous system."
CANDIDA AND LIGHT THERAPY
Next, I wondered whether the candida link would fit in with the picture that light therapy is perhaps the single most effective strategy for alleviating Parkinson's symptoms, and I quickly learned that both red light and blue light therapies are well proven methods to combat candida.
CANDIDA AND LEAKY GUT
Returning to Dr Axe, candida can not only get through the intestinal wall itself, but by damaging it can also allow other toxins through, causing a so-called "leaky gut" - something David Spry has found to be strong implicated in the descent into Parkinson's Disease and many other conditions.
CANDIDA AND FOOD
So what can be done? As usual, I would always first and foremost seek a naturopathic, food-as-medicine course of action. In fact, the Dr Axe article provides a lot of information on how to beat candida. Most interestingly, the dietary regimes provided has a remarkable resemblance to the type of strict nutritional regime which David suggests for PD, and which others have also found instrumental in their recoveries from conditions like MS. This is basically the diet which I have myself converged on through trial and error, research, David's advice, and my own food diary of what helps/worsens my symptoms - with one exception!
Another useful website provides the 10 top foods and supplements to combat candida.
CANDIDA AND SUGAR
So let us now return to the question above, as to why, given my dietary changes, has "jock itch" only appeared on the scene very recently? By implication, this would also suggest, if I do have a decades long overgrowth of candida in my gut, vagus nerve and brain, which I now strongly suspect given all we've discussed above, that whatever is feeding the external skin fungus will all also be feeding my internal infestation! This would explain also why my bouts of severe brain fog have been getting worse again lately.
Sugar seems to be the worse culprit for feeding the fungi. However, when I went gluten free. and also started using coconut oil as my main brain fuel, over a year ago now, I essentially went [refined] sugar free too. So what changed? Dr Axe once again provided the answer with the recommendation to avoid fruit during candida cleansing. Ah ha! Recently, I have been eating lots of raspberries and blackberries, for breakfast and supper, along with my probiotic, bio-live goats milk yoghurt. I introduced the berries as part of a healing strategy for leaky gut! I have also been eating a good helping of grapes pre-breakfast as these are high in the flavanoid fisetin, which has been found to be excellent for brain health.
Unfortunately, and very ironically perhaps, both the berries and the grapes are high in natural fructose sugar. In hindsight, my "jock itch" appeared shortly after I introduced the berries into my dietary regime! It seems I have been overdoing my fruit intake...
CANDIDA AND MANNITOL
I have been recommending people with PD try Mannitol supplementation as part of their PD recovery plan, because the addition of this into the diet at the level of one to two tablespoons a day is being found to benefit many PD, medium term. I have it daily and remain convinced that this is one of the ingredients which is helping me to slowly recover. But, given the potential candida issue, I began to worry that Mannitol, being a type of "diabetic" sugar, might actually be feeding the fungi too! It seems that when there is no glucose, candida can indeed feed on Mannitol:
and some candida websites recommend avoiding it too.
This is unfortunate since Mannitol does appear to be beneficial. The only recourse to action I can suggest here, if you have signs of a candida infection, is a cautionary approach and try to determine if the benefits of Mannitol outweigh any risks of sustaining the candida's attack. More research needed on this one!
CANDIDA AND COCONUT OIL
Interestingly, coconut oil comes top of the lists of food to combat candida. This may be one more reason why coconut oil is proving to be so beneficial in the treatment of many neurological conditions such as Parkinson's and Alzheimers
There is a strong overlap between the symptoms & treatments of severe and prolonged candida infestation, and those of neurological diseases like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.
Personally, the corresponden of candida overgrowth match so closely the symptoms I've experienced persistently during many years, even before my PD diagnosis, that I believe this is something I need to consider very seriously.
I hope the below further wisdom from "Dr Axe" is the reason why I'm feeling really terrible after a couple of days of implementing my anti-candida strategy, and that this does indeed indicate I am right about the candida infestation, and it is just what I'm doing is working a bit too well. David Spry calls this the "Dam Buster Effect" - when the body/brain is so full of years of toxic build up and one starts detoxifying a little too fast, the system gets overloaded.
Things I've added which might be causing rapid detox:
Milk Thistle Oil
Bed time drink containing chopped ginger & tumeric root, thick slice of lemon, apple cider vinegar and coconut oil
Holding off of consuming berries and grapes for a while
"Pukka" brand "detox" and "cleanse" herbal infusions
Here is what Dr Axe has to say on this:
"Rapidly killing off candida in your body creates a metabolic reaction that releases over 70 different toxins into your body. Symptoms that show the candida cleanse and the candida diet are working include:
- Impaired brain function
- Intestinal distress including bloating, gas, constipation and nausea
- Sweating and fever
- Sinus infection
- Skin breakouts (not limited to face)
- Typical flu-like symptoms
When you start experiencing the candida die-off symptoms, rejoice! These symptoms usually clear up in seven to 10 days. The candida is leaving your body, and within just a few weeks, you will notice an increase in energy and focus, as well as relief from other symptoms you have experienced."