As it turned out, much of my suffering the past three months was due to yeast overgrowth, a fact that I didn't figure out until about a month ago. I wanted to share my recent experiences with you in the hopes that perhaps it might help some of you.
Yeast (aka candida) are a type of fungus that normally live in small amounts in your mouth and digestive tract. Problems occur when the yeast increases and/or good bacteria in your gut that normally keeps it in check decreases. One common cause of this yeast overgrowth is taking antibiotics - they kill off all the bacteria in your system, including the good stuff that lives in your digestive tract, allowing the yeast to take over. This is what happened to me this time. Back in September, I took 5 days' of Zithromax for bronchitis. Under normal circumstances, such a small amount of antibiotics wouldn't bother me (especially since I take probiotics every day - see below), but ever since I was treated for Lyme disease (over 3 years of antibiotics every day), I've had occasional flare-ups of yeast overgrowth.
For those of us who have ME/CFS, we don't even need antibiotics to cause yeast overgrowth. Since immune system and GI dysfunctions are an integral part of our illness, yeast overgrowth is a very common occurrence, though one that is often missed or not diagnosed.
How did I know I had a problem with yeast overgrowth? Well, it took me many weeks to figure it out, even though I've experienced it before. My symptoms included fatigue that was much worse than usual and severe flu-like aches all over my body; in fact, the aches these past few months were some of the worst I have experienced in my 12 years with ME/CFS. Increased brain fog is also common with yeast overgrowth. At one point, I looked back at my records and saw that of the past 60 days, I'd only been well enough to leave the house 14 days. That's far worse than is normal for me. For a long time, I assumed that the virus that triggered my crash initially (and started my bronchitis) was the reason for the prolonged crash.
I finally figured out that yeast was responsible when I noticed that my tongue hurt, especially when I ate certain foods (anything bitter, sour, or sugary). The light bulb finally went off at that point, and I ran to the bathroom mirror. Sure enough, I had active thrush on my tongue. Thrush is one sign of a yeast overgrowth - when you stick your tongue out, it looks like a whitish or yellowish fuzz on the back of your tongue and mouth. It generally makes your mouth hurt or feel sore, as mine was feeling, though sometimes it's your throat that feels sore - something easily excused by "normal" CFS symptoms! While I usually get thrush in my mouth when I have yeast overgrowth, some people get vaginal yeast infections or an itchy feeling around the vagina or anus.
So, what do you do about it? Well, I should have gone directly to my doctor, but instead I tried to treat it myself first (and lost another month to the couch!). There are lots and lots of herbal remedies and supplements that can help, as well as dietary changes, but I wasn't making much progress with those approaches. They definitely helped, but I found that if I had even the tiniest bit of sugar, my symptoms returned. I finally went to see my doctor a couple of weeks ago, and she prescribed an anti-yeast medication (the two most common ones are Diflucan and Nyastatin). This time, it had gotten so bad that it took me a full 10 days on Diflucan before I finally began to feel better...and then it was like someone had flipped a switch!
Here are all the remedies that my son (who is currently being treated for Lyme disease) and I have tried for yeast overgrowth:
And, please, let me know if you have some tips or remedies for yeast overgrowth that I didn't mention here. I am still relying on Diflucan at the moment and still unable to eat any sugar (plus my son is constantly battling yeast overgrowth), so any information is greatly appreciated!
* P.S. Please see my later post on Timing of Supplements as to when to take the anti-yeast supplements and probiotics. I had it all messed up at first!