If you’ve ever experienced the uncomfortable symptoms of a vaginal yeast infection, you’re not alone: approximately 75% of all women will
experience at least one episode throughout their lifetime, and 40-50% of them will have at least one recurrence. Yeast infections are one of the most common vaginal infections, particularly in women of childbearing age. The most common culprit is the fungus Candida albicans, which normally exists in harmony with the other microorganisms that make up the vagina’s natural flora. However, under certain conditions Candida may grow uncontrollably and cause the symptoms of a yeast infection, which may include intense itching, redness, soreness, a thick white vaginal discharge, and/or a breadlike odor. There are many potential causes of yeast infections identified in the medical literature, including:
- Increased estrogen levels (e.g. from pregnancy, high-dose oral contraceptives, or during
- certain phases of the menstrual cycle)
- Recent use of broad-spectrum antibiotics
- Suppression of the immune system (e.g. from corticosteroid treatment, HIV)
- Poorly controlled diabetes mellitus
Wearing tight underwear in non-breathable fabrics, poor hygiene, and routine douching have also been linked to an increased risk for developing yeast infections. While a yeast infection is generally not a serious illness, it can cause significant discomfort. Fortunately, many over-the-counter and natural remedies are available to help resolve the infection or alleviate symptoms.
Disclaimer – Other types of organisms may cause symptoms resembling that of a yeast infection. If you have thin, foamy, grey or yellowish discharge without much irritation, notice a fishy odor, or have abdominal pain, be sure to see your physician to rule out a bacterial infection or other condition requiring prescription medication treatment.
A variety of anti-fungal drugs are available without a prescription, taken orally or as a cream to be applied vaginally. Either approach is highly effective, with an 80% cure rate. The intravaginal anti-fungals may cause some local irritation, burning, or itching as side effects, while oral preparations may be slightly more expensive and cause systemic effects such as gastrointestinal discomfort or headache. Treatment courses of 1, 3, or 7 days are available, and all are equally effective. However, the CDC does recommend the longer treatment courses for pregnant women, in order to keep a lower average concentration of medication.
- Canesten (clotrimazole)
- Eckerd (clotrimazole)
- Equate (tioconazole, micoconazole)
- Gyne-Lotrimin (clotrimazole)
- Monistat (micoconazole)
- Vagistat (tioconazole)
Vaginal Anti-Itch Creams
Several vaginal creams also available to help relieve the intense itching associated with yeast infections. Unlike the antifungals, these products
are not curative and will only provide symptomatic relief while your body clears the infection. Still, these products are an option to help manage discomfort for women who do not want to use antifungals.
- Equate vaginal cream (benzocaine, resorcinol)
- Summers Eve (paramoxine, glycerin)
- Vagi-gard (benzocaine, benzalkonium)
- Vagisil (benzocaine, resocinol)
These over-the-counter homeopathic products targeting yeast infections have less evidence supporting their use than the antifungal regimens, but are relatively inexpensive to purchase and may be an option if you are looking for a remedy that is not medication based.
- Yeast-Away (Borax, Calendula officinalis, Candida albicans)
- Yeast Guard (Pulsatilla, Candida parapoilosis, Candida albicans)
- Azo Yeast Tablets (Boneset, mistletoe leaf , Lactobacillus sporognes)
Certain foods may contribute to a yeast infection by 1) promoting the growth of Candida by increasing amount of sugar in your bloodstream, 2)
suppressing your body’s immune system, or 3) altering vaginal flora.
If you have recurrent yeast infections, you may consider avoiding:
Sugars (including artificial sweeteners, honey, fruit juice, and maple syrup)
- Dried fruit
- Meat, poultry, and milk (from antibiotic-fed livestock)
Deficiencies in nutrients such as vitamins A and B6, zinc, magnesium, and essential fatty acids may also contribute to the overgrowth of fungus. Talk to your doctor if you think you may require the addition of a supplement. Unsweetened cranberry juice may also help prevent uncontrolled fungal growth by acidifying vaginal secretions.
Generally, a well-balanced diet rich in whole foods and vegetables will help ward off and combat infections by building a strong immune system for your body.
Probiotics may be helpful in yeast infections, curbing Candida growth by promoting the colonization of the vaginal tract by “good” bacteria such as Lactobacillus acidophilus and certain Bifidobacterium species and restoring a healthy acid-bacteria balance.
Here are some ways probiotics may be used to help fight or prevent yeast infections:
- Eating yogurt containing live cultures (Remember to choose a brand low in sugar!)
- Taking Lactobacillus acidophilus capsules or powder either orally or inserted vaginally like a suppository
- Inserting 1 – 2 tablespoons of plain yogurt containing live cultures into your vagina, or diluting it with warm water to create a douche
There are many herbal remedies and supplements that have been proposed for use in yeast infections to fight off excess fungus, strengthen the
immune system, or relieve symptoms.
Generally, the evidence supporting such therapies is limited, but the following herbs and supplements have shown the most promise:
- Caprylic acid
- Echinacea (purple coneflower)
- Garlic (1-2 raw cloves daily; if you are taking anticoagulants, do not take without first consulting your doctor)
- German chamomile
- Goldenseal (do not use if pregnant)
- Grapefruit seed extract
- Tea tree
- Thyme (as a tea using 1 teaspoon dried thyme per 1 cup boiling water)
- Undecenoic acid
They can be taken in the form of capsules, extracts, or teas, and some may be used in douches.
Other Prevention Strategies
The following strategies may also help prevent the growth and spread of Candida:
- Wear breathable cotton underwear and loose-fitting pants
- Dry your vaginal area thoroughly after showering, bathing, or swimming
- Avoid spending prolonged periods of time in wet clothing (e.g. swimsuits)
- Wash your hands frequently with soap and water
- Wash clothing in hot water
- Avoid routine douching and harsh soaps and feminine hygiene products that alter the vagina’s natural pH balance
- If you are having recurring yeast infections and are taking oral contraceptives or using contraceptive sponges, discuss the possibility of switching to an alternative birth control method with your doctor.