If you have ever had a yeast infection, you are not alone. Approximately 3 in 4 women, or 75 percent of the female population, will deal with that uncomfortable itching and burning sensation in the most sensitive area of their body at least once in their lifetime. (1, 2) Despite how common vaginal yeast infections have become and the relative ease at which they can be treated, many women suffer over and over again.
Thankfully, there are ways to not only get rid of yeast infections naturally but also to prevent them from reoccurring. This is everything you need to know about how to get rid of them, and how to never get another again.
What is a Yeast Infection?
A vaginal yeast infection, also known as vaginal thrush, is a fungal infection of the vagina and vulva. It is a type of vaginitis (inflammation of the vagina) that occurs when a change in the environment of the vaginal area promotes an overgrowth of certain yeasts, most commonly candida, which is already present in the body. (1, 2, 3)
Symptoms of a Yeast Infection
The most common symptoms of a vaginal yeast infection are: (1, 2, 3)
- Vaginal irritation
- Vaginal itching/burning
- Unusual discharge
Depending on the severity of the infection, some may also experience: (1, 2, 3)
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- Pain or discomfort when urinating
Your vaginal area will be red and swollen, and will often have little white spots left over from the cottage cheese-like discharge. (1, 2, 3)
What Causes a Vaginal Yeast Infection?
There is always a mixture of bacteria and yeasts, including candida, present in your vagina. The bacteria and yeasts work together to maintain a proper balance in the body. When they become unbalanced, the yeast becomes overgrown and cause problems. (1, 2, 3)
There are many reasons for an imbalance, including:
When you are pregnant, the levels of estrogen in your body are increased. This change in hormone levels in your body can change the bacteria-yeast balance to change, leading to a yeast infection. (1, 2, 3)
High-estrogen dose birth control pills or hormone therapies will also increase the amount of estrogen circulating in your body, which can affect the balance of bacteria and yeasts in your reproductive area. (1, 2, 3)
Broad-spectrum antibiotics not only kill the bad bacteria causing infection, but they also kill off the good bacteria that your vagina needs to be healthy. This decrease in healthy bacteria allows for an overgrowth of yeast in your vaginal area. (1, 2, 3)
Uncontrolled Diabetes or High Blood Sugar Levels
Poorly controlled blood sugar create an optimum environment for yeasts to grow. This is why women with uncontrolled diabetes are at a much higher risk of vaginal yeast infections than those who have blood sugar properly regulated. (1, 2, 3)
Compromised Immune System
Women who have an impaired immune system are at a greater risk of developing yeast infections. This is most commonly seen in those with HIV or who are on corticosteroid therapy. (1, 2, 3)
Yeast infections are not sexually transmitted, however, they can be passed along via oral sex. Women who are not sexually active can still get yeast infections. (1, 2, 3)
Traditional Treatment Options
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Conventional treatments are accessible and can be prescribed or purchased off the shelf at your local drug store. These include:
Antifungal creams, ointments, and tablets: These treatment regimens can be one, three, or seven days long. The most common of these include Gynazole- 1, Gyne-Lotrimin, Monistat 3, and Terazol 3. Diflucan, a single-dose medication, may be prescribed by your doctor, and over the counter creams and tablets are highly effective for most women and are safe to use while pregnant. (1, 2, 3)
Side Effects: Slight burning or itching during application and may decrease the effectiveness of latex condoms and diaphragms. (1, 2, 3)
Long-course vaginal therapy, multi-dose medications, and maintenance plans: For more severe or re-occurring yeast infections, longer and more aggressive treatment options are available. Your doctor may prescribe a 14-day azole medication or two or three doses of an oral fluconazole. If you experience frequent infections, then you may be put on a maintenance therapy immediately following your last infection. This can be oral fluconazole tablets once a week for 6 months or a once a week vaginal suppository clotrimazole. (1, 2, 3)
Side Effects: Again, you may experience a slight burning or itching during application of creams or suppositories. Also, oral fluconazole is not safe for use by pregnant women. (1, 2, 3)
While all of these treatments are effective, most treat the symptoms of a vaginal yeast infection instead of attacking the actual root of the problem, which often lies in a person’s gut and how they treat their body. Moreover, the effects of long-term or chronic use of many of these medications are not necessarily known or well understood and can result in drug-resistant strains of the fungi. (1, 2, 3)
Thankfully, there are several natural ways you can both treat and prevent yeast infections from reoccurring.
How to Prevent Yeast Infections Naturally
Vaginal yeast infection prevention is not complicated, and with a few minor lifestyle tweaks and proper self-care, you can avoid ever having one again.
1. Low Glycemic Diet
Whether you have diabetes or not, one thing is clear: Yeasts thrive on sugars. So while those with diabetes are certainly at a higher risk than those who don’t have the disease, if your diet is high in sugars (especially refined, processed ones), you are providing yeast with optimal conditions for growth.
Foods to avoid or minimize include:
- Processed foods or snacks
- Refined grains
- Conventional dairy products
- Sweets and baked goods, other high sugar foods and drinks
If you are in the process of clearing up an infection, you may need to temporarily avoid unprocessed grains, starchy vegetables, and even fruits. In general, you should be focused on eating plenty of lean proteins, vegetables, healthy fats, and drinking plenty of clean, filtered water.
2. Include Probiotics
Probiotics are beneficial bacteria for your gut and vaginal area that help to re-balance the microbiota of those areas. Include fermented foods such as kimchi, saurkraut, kombucha, and kefir in your daily diet. You may also want to consider taking a probiotic supplement to boost your levels that much further. (4, 8)
3. Check for Allergies
Many chemical products can cause irritation and affect the normal growth patterns of yeasts and bacteria in your vagina and vaginal area. If you have any unknown allergies, you may also have difficulty keeping your bacteria-yeast balance in order.
Items that may cause irritation include:
- Tampons and Pads
- Latex condoms
- Bath oils
- Certain soaps and other hygiene products
Avoid using all products that have chemical ingredients such as fragrance and dyes.
4. Proper Cleaning
Yeasts thrive in optimal conditions, which can easily be achieved when the vagina and vaginal area is not taken care of properly. Thankfully, your vagina is like a self-cleaning oven: It does not need much external help. Proper cleaning and care should include:
- Washing your vaginal area with warm water and a clean cloth, or even just your clean hand. If you do wish to use soap for that area, choose a natural, gentle, unscented version.
- Dry the area well with a clean towel after showering. Yeasts thrive in warm, moist environments, so keeping the area dry is extremely important for overgrowth prevention.
- Do not use a vaginal douche. As mentioned already, your vagina does not need help to be cleaned, it does that on its own. Douching will upset the balance of bacteria and yeasts present in your vagina and will more quickly cause a yeast infection than prevent it.
- Wipe from front to back (vagina to the anus) when using the washroom to prevent the spread of germs and bad bacteria.
5. Wear the right clothes
Wearing clean underwear made of breathable fabrics goes a long way for preventing yeast infections. Natural fabrics such as organic cotton will allow for proper air flow to the area and prevent favorable conditions for the fungus to grow. If you can, avoid wearing tight-fitting clothing as often as possible. If you are a frequent exerciser, be sure to shower immediately after working out, and avoid working out with pads or even panty liners on, as they can trap moisture and heat and allow for the yeast to grow.
Following these tips and tricks will certainly help you avoid developing future yeast infections, however, they can still happen from time to time. Continue to follow the already mentioned steps, and then consider the following natural treatments for yeast infections.
How to Get Rid Of A Yeast Infection Naturally
There are a number of at-home, natural treatment options for vaginal yeast infections that may help you find relief without having to resort to drugs or medicated creams. That being said, be sure to visit your doctor if your symptoms don’t clear up within a couple of days or get worse.
Plain yogurt has shown to be beneficial in fighting vaginal yeast infections thanks to its probiotic content, however sample sizes have been small to date and the results slightly inconsistent. One such study showed that daily ingestion of 8 ounces of yogurt containing Lactobacillus acidophilus decreased both candidal colonization and infection over a period of 6 months. (4, 5, 14)
2. Boric Acid
Boric acid is prescribed as a vaginal insert and is used against azole-resistant fungal strains, less common strains, and chronic infections. (10) Boric acid can be fatal if ingested and is only used vaginally twice daily for two weeks. It may also cause some minor skin irritation. (1,7)
3. Essential Oils
There are several essential oils that may be beneficial in fighting infection-causing yeasts, including:
Tea Tree Oil: A study out of the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy found that tea tree oil given intravaginally to rats infected with several strains of candida yeast infections was effective at clearing the problem.(8)Though no studies have been done in humans, to use tea tree oil, you can try to dilute 5-6 drop of oil in 1 tablespoon of aloe gel or a carrier oil. Gently apply this onto the itchy, rashed areas of the vagina. (8)
- Oregano Oil: Though not tested specifically for vaginal yeast infections, oregano oil has been shown to improve both systemic and superficial candida albicans infections.(9) Oregano oil can be both consumed to fight candida and other bacterial infections, as well as used on the skin. For use on the skin, dilute 1 or 2 drops of oregano oil per teaspoon of coconut or olive oil and gently rub into the effected areas. To consume oregano oil, your best bet is to purchase it in capsule or tincture form from a health food store and take it over a short period of time, as it kills both bad and good bacteria. Do not take oregano oil if you are iron deficient or pregnant, and stop use if you experience a rash. (12)
Note: To use essential oils, you must always dilute them with a carrier oil such as coconut oil or a gel like aloe to avoid irritating or burning the skin.
A build-up of medications and synthetic hormones from birth control can cause yeast infections to occur.
- Milk thistle is an herb that helps support the liver, which will help to clear up existing infections and prevent future ones. These can be drank as teas or taken in supplement form.(10)
- Fresh garlic extract has been shown to be effective against candida, inhibiting its growth and changing its structure. (13) This does not mean, however, that putting a clove of garlic up your vagina overnight will cure your yeast infection. Should you wish to explore the option of garlic extract for yeast infection treatment, go and visit a naturopathic doctor.
5. Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar helps to balance your skin’s pH levels, which will help to keep your yeast-bacteria balance in order. It has been shown to be effective against several strains of candida, though again has never specifically been tested for vaginal yeast infections. (11)
Apple cider vinegar can be applied to the skin by making a mixture that is 1 part ACV and 3 parts clean, filtered water. You may also want to consider taking a 20-minute apple cider vinegar bath, by adding a half a cup of ACV to a bathtub full of lukewarm water.
The Bottom Line
Yeast infections are annoying, uncomfortable, and can prevent you from going about your day normally. While you may find yourself with an infection no matter how well you take care of yourself and your genitals, it is not hard to both lower your risk and treat infections naturally. As with any natural remedy, however, it is wise to first talk to your doctor or naturopath, and be sure to see your doctor if your symptoms do not go away in a few days.
(1) Yeast infection (vaginal). (2015, September 18). Retrieved September 18, 2017, from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/yeast-infection/basics/definition/con-20035129
(2) Fungal Diseases. (2017, August 04). Retrieved September 18, 2017, from https://www.cdc.gov/fungal/diseases/candidiasis/genital/index.html
(3) Vaginal Yeast Infection – Are you Treating the Cause or The Symptoms. (2017, September 16). Retrieved September 18, 2017, from http://candidaspecialists.com/vaginal-yeast-infection/
(4) Jeavons, H. S. (2006, March 09). Prevention and Treatment of Vulvovaginal Candidiasis Using Exogenous Lactobacillus. Retrieved September 18, 2017, from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1177/0884217503253439/full
(5) Hu, H., Merenstein, D. J., Wang, C., Hamilton, P. R., Blackmon, M. L., Chen, H., . . . Li, D. (2013, August 08). Impact of Eating Probiotic Yogurt on Colonization by Candida Species of the Oral and Vaginal Mucosa in HIV-Infected and HIV-Uninfected Women. Retrieved September 18, 2017, from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11046-013-9678-4
(6) No items found – PubMed – NCBI. (n.d.). Retrieved September 18, 2017, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=Abdelmonem%2Byogurt
(7) Sobel, J. D., MD, Chaim, W., MD, Nagappan, V., MD, & Leaman, D., BSN. (2003, November 21). Treatment of vaginitis caused by Candida glabrata: use of topical boric acid and flucytosine. Retrieved September 18, 2017, from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0002937803007269
(8) Mondello, F., Bernardis, F. D., Girolamo, A., Salvatore, G., & Cassone, A. (2003, May 01). In vitro and in vivo activity of tea tree oil against azole-susceptible and -resistant human pathogenic yeasts | Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy | Oxford Academic. Retrieved September 18, 2017, from https://academic.oup.com/jac/article/51/5/1223/784261/In-vitro-and-in-vivo-activity-of-tea-tree-oil
(9) Manohar, V., Ingram, C., Gray, J., Talpur, N. A., Echard, B. W., Bagchi, D., & Preuss, H. G. (n.d.). Antifungal activities of origanum oil against Candida albicans. Retrieved September 18, 2017, from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1023%2FA%3A1013311632207?LI=true
(10) Abenavoli, L., Capasso, R., Milic, N., & Capasso, F. (2010, June 07). Milk thistle in liver diseases: past, present, future. Retrieved September 18, 2017, from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ptr.3207/full
(11) Mota, A. C., Castro, R. D., Oliveira, J. A., & Lima, E. O. (2014, September 14). Antifungal Activity of Apple Cider Vinegar on Candida Species Involved in Denture Stomatitis. Retrieved September 18, 2017, from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jopr.12207/full
(12) N.D., E. B., Says, E., Says, H., & Says, L. (2015, February 18). Home. Retrieved September 20, 2017, from https://www.yeastinfection.org/everything-you-need-to-know-about-oregano-how-can-it-help-against-candida/
(13) Lemar, K., Turner, M., & Lloyd, D. (2002, August 12). Garlic (Allium sativum) as an anti‐Candida agent: a comparison of the efficacy of fresh garlic and freeze‐dried extracts. Retrieved September 20, 2017, from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1046/j.1365-2672.2002.01707.x/full
(14) Hilton, E., Isenberg, H. D., Alperstein, P., France, K., & Borenstein, M. T. (1992, March 01). Ingestion of Yogurt Containing Lactobacillus acidophilus as Prophylaxis for Candidal Vaginitis. Retrieved September 20, 2017, from http://annals.org/aim/article/705341/ingestion-yogurt-containing-lactobacillus-acidophilus-prophylaxis-candidal-vaginitis
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