In the late 1970s and 1980s, a pair of doctors in the United States promoted the idea that an allergy to a common fungus, Candida albicans, was behind a host of symptoms. The long list of symptoms they pinned on Candida includes:
- abdominal bloating
- bladder infections
- cravings for sugar or alcoholic beverages
- difficulty concentrating
- menstrual problems
- mood swings
- muscle and joint pain
- respiratory and ear problems
- unexpected weight gain
- "feeling bad all over"
According to doctors C. Orian Truss and William G. Crook of Birmingham, Alabama, and Jackson, Tennessee, it was difficult to find any symptom that couldn't be traced back to Candida albicans, which they called “candida-related complex.” They suggested that one out of three Americans suffered from a yeast allergy. An entire supplement industry sprung up around “the yeast problem.”
However, the real problem wasn't yeast — it was that the science behind the allergy turned out to be mostly bogus. State and medical boards began fining and suspending the licenses of the doctors involved in promoting and treating Candida allergy.
Does that mean yeast allergies don't exist? No, they do — they're just not nearly as common as these doctors proposed. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, over 50 million Americans have some type of allergy.
Yeast allergies make up a tiny fraction of these allergies. Sources of a yeast allergy include:
- bread and cereal products
- beer, wine, and some ciders
- stocks and gravies
- vinegar and foods like pickles that contain vinegar
- fermented foods such as ripe cheeses and sauerkraut
- anything that has been opened and stored for an extended period of time
A yeast allergy may present as a yeast infection. They share many of the same symptoms. One big difference is that people who have a yeast allergy will usually become noticeably tired after eating yeast. Symptoms of a yeast allergy can vary from person to person, but they may include one or more of the following:
- abdominal swelling
- breathing difficulties
- joint pain
There is a common misconception that a yeast allergy is the cause of the red, blotchy skin that some people develop after drinking alcoholic beverages. This rash is actually most often related to sulphur dioxide. Sulphur dioxide is a common ingredient in alcohol, which may activate reactions to other allergens such as wheat and sulphites. Sometimes histamines and tannins will trigger rashes as well. A yeast allergy will typically not cause a rash.
There are several tests available to confirm yeast (or any type of food) allergies, including:
- Skin prick test: A small drop of the suspected allergen is placed on the skin and pushed through the first layer of skin with a small needle.
- Intradermal skin test: A syringe is used to inject the suspected allergen underneath the skin.
- Blood or RAST test: This test measures the amount of the IgE antibody in the blood.
- Food challenge test: A person is given increasing amounts of a suspected allergen as a clinician watches for a reaction. This is considered the best way to test for most food allergies.
- Elimination diet: A person stops eating the suspected allergen for a period of time and then slowly introduces it back into the diet while recording any symptoms.
Yeast allergies are not very common and there isn’t a lot of scientific research behind them. But some people do experience reactions. Talk to your doctor if you think you may have a yeast allergy. They can refer you to an allergist who can properly diagnose and confirm the allergy. The main treatment for any food allergy is to avoid the food causing the reaction. Your doctor and allergist can also help you to find healthy ways to remove yeast from your diet.