CANDIDA AND NATURAL REMEDIES FOR YEAST INFECTIONS
What’s with our vaginas?
The normal healthy vagina is an incredible ecosystem that includes diverse communities of various micro-organisms. Hundreds of species and families of vaginal flora have been identified in recent years and research is still in its early stages (no surprise there). The vaginal flora is made up of different dominant types of bacteria (such as lactobacillus), fungi, and viral entities. They all play an important role in maintaining the healthy functioning of the “vaginal microbiome”.
Normal (cervical and vaginal) secretions keep our vaginas clean, moist and welcoming to sperm at certain times of the month. Vaginal secretions help maintain a slightly acidic pH environment, in the range between 3.8 and 4.5. Healthy vaginal pH helps inhibit and reduce the growth of yeast. This range can vary by age, during the menstrual cycle, as well as during pregnancy and menopause. Lactobacilli help to keep the vagina healthy by producing lactic acid, hydrogen peroxide, and other substances that inhibit the growth of yeast and other unwanted organisms. This mildly acidic environment helps protect against infection. So do the other substances they produce. Dozens of families of bacteria also play an important part in maintaining a healthy vaginal ecosystem.
What’s a yeast infection?
There are different theories about the candida/yeast infection phenomena and the intricate interplay between the microbiota in the vaginal ecosystem. The most commonly accepted (and evidence-based) theory maintains that C. Albicans (Candida Albicans) is a fungus (one of many) that colonizes the vaginas of about 20 percent of women and 30 percent of pregnant women. And while this “colonization” doesn’t cause symptoms, symptomatic yeast infections can develop when the balance of microbial communities within the vagina (and the gut) body gets ‘thrown off’ balance by medications (antibiotics, hormonal birth control/HBC, spermicides), hormonal changes (pregnancy, diabetes), poor diet (too many carbs and sugars), prolonged stress, insufficient sleep, weakened immune system and the use/overuse of feminine hygiene products.
Regarding hormones, although still controversial, studies show that while HBC does not directly harm the microbiota in the vagina, and can actually reduce the prevalence of BV (bacterial vaginosis) it does promote yeast colonization in healthy women. The synthetic hormones in HBC can increase your susceptibility to developing a yeast infection.
In my experience, working with nearly 3,000 clients who learn to identify their infertile and fertile secretions (read: normal and healthy) during the menstrual cycle, a sizable number experience other, unusual secretions (read: abnormal and unhealthy). Going off HBC often resolves the issue (together with vaginal dryness, sexual pain, mood swings, and more). When a person learns to recognize their normal, healthy secretions, it becomes very easy and obvious to recognize unfamiliar secretions. When our natural secretions change in color, smell, and sensation, this could be a sign of infection. Unhealthy secretions are those that cause vaginal itching, burning, soreness, redness, discomfort during intercourse, a cottage-cheesy looking discharge with a mild yeast smell (although not everyone with candida overgrowth sees a distinct discharge, and if they do, the discharge can also be watery and odorless). Vaginal yeast infections are typically caused by an overgrowth of a fungus that lives naturally in the vagina. Candida albicans can cause an imbalance that triggers inflammation and the symptoms just mentioned.
Types of Infections
There are two primary, common types of candida infections. In the first type, infections are very infrequent (even once in a lifetime) they occur less than once a year or once in five years. When caught early, these infections can be nipped in the bud with either traditional medications or with natural remedies. Physicians typically prescribe antifungal medications which come in different forms: creams, ointments, tablets, and suppositories. Common brands that do not require a prescription are: Miconazole (Monistat), tioconazole (Vagistat), and clotrimazole (Gyne-Lotrimin). Another common prescription-only medication is Diflucan (fluconazole).
With the second type, the infection is persistent and more frequent. It comes and goes and does not completely resolve. As a result, it can take months and even years to cure because the problem lingers, undiagnosed and untreated, on many levels, for a prolonged period. This enables the candida to spread and affect other parts of the body. This type of infection requires a more serious and rigorous approach.
For the severe cases that do not respond to the usual anti-fungal medications, physicians will resort to more extreme treatments like boric acid or sulfa-based antibiotics (super drugs) like sulfonamide and fluconazole (Diflucan). If someone in this situation truly wants to heal, naturally, there is another way; it involves a lifestyle make-over. Excellent results can be achieved by working with an experienced naturopath who will prescribe a very specific diet (for up to six months on average), together with herbal formulas and supplements. Working with a body-mind practitioner can also lead to long-term healing and recovery.
Diagnosis is critical
The importance of diagnosing a yeast infection cannot be understated. Many women self-diagnose and many others will be given a prescription by their gynecologist who doesn’t bother to perform a proper vaginal culture.
Note: If you experience symptoms for the first time, get checked by your gynecologist and insist on a vaginal culture. Sometimes other strains of candida will be resistant to the medication you are given. Sometimes, a bacterial infection can coincide together with a fungal infection so a culture is necessary to accurately diagnose and treat the full situation. And perhaps most importantly, if someone is not having safe sex or sex with multiple partners- what one thinks is just a yeast infection could in fact be a symptom of a sexually-transmitted infection. In other words: No one should use anti-fungal medications without a proper diagnosis.
Natural Remedies for occasional candida infections:
For those seeking non-pharmaceutical solutions to their occasional yeast infection, the following remedies can be tried. Many are anecdotal and many swear by them, but most have not been fully researched or been found to be effective. It is best to begin a treatment regimen with an experienced practitioner who can guide you in how to use these substances, in what doses, and for how long a time. One can find recipes on the internet but try to confirm that the source of information is professional and reliable.
- High-quality probiotics that contain millions of different bacteria, including lactobacillus acidophilus
- Douching with plain and/or mixed with probiotic power
- Essential oils- oregano, tea tree (soaked in wet tampon). Never apply undiluted oils to your skin or vaginas.
- Organic coconut oil
- Apple cider vinegar- (can be used to soak in the bath or used in a douche device mixed with water
- Vits C for strengthening the immune system
- Herbal anti-yeast capsules or herbal suppositories (contact me for ingredients)
Prevention is the best strategy
If you are prone to yeast infections or want to ward them off before they cause havoc, follow these suggestions:
- Maintain a healthy diet and limit sugar & processed foods. Yeast thrives on sugar (all carbs you eat convert to sugar!) (Easier said than done)
- Get more carbs from vegetables
- Eat some fermented food and limit alcohol (including beer and wine)
- Limit or avoid antibiotics when possible
- Avoid commercial vaginal douches, deodorants, powders, and sprays (these can affect the microbial balance of the vagina and also cause irritation to the vulva)
- Avoid synthetic panty liners. Use organic cotton, reusable pads instead. Read more.
- Keep your genital area clean and dry
- Wear loose-fitting underwear and pants to prevent sweating and irritation which can contribute to a yeast infection. Likewise, after a sweaty workout or swim, change into dry clothing.
- Watch your blood sugar levels
- Manage and reduce your stress (yoga, meditation, body and abdominal massage, spend more time in nature and making time for the people and things you love)
- Make sure you get enough sleep (at least 7-8 hours per night)
- If you are using a treatment, avoid intercourse and oral sex until you finish the treatment
- (Last but not least: Listen to your body (It will communicate back). Instead of seeing your yeast infection as an inconvenient nuisance, remember that your body is highly intelligent; it does not develop symptoms out of nowhere. Often, the answers lie within. If you have recurring vaginal issues/pain symptoms and are in a sexual relationship- do the following exercise:
Sit quietly and close your eyes. Take five deep breaths and be aware of how you follow your breath – for three minutes. Then meditate, observe yourself, in a non-judgmental way, while asking yourself this question: “If my vagina could talk, what would it say”? Ask your vagina why it is giving you such a hard time. Ask your symptoms, “Why are you here and what do you want from me?” Connecting to your intuitive self and subconscious can allow thoughts, ideas, and associations to surface which can surprise. Often, unhealthy relationship dynamics will manifest themselves through “sexual” symptoms. I have known countless women who have healed from chronic candida who can confirm this body-mind connection.
La-bruit. To your health.
- KhoudiaDiop, Jean-Charles Dufour et al. Exhaustive repertoire of human vaginal microbiota.
- Human Microbiome Journal. Volume 11, March 2019. (Science Direct)
- Fosch, S.E., Ficoseco, C.A. et al. Contraception: Influence on Vaginal Microbiota and Identification of Vaginal Lactobacilli Using MALDI-TOF MS and 16S rDNA Sequencin. Open Microbiol J. 2018. (PubMed)
- L.Latéy Bradford and Jacques Ravel. The vaginal mycobiome: A contemporary perspective on fungi in women’s health and diseases. Virulence 2017; 8 (3): 342-351. (PubMed)
- McKenna C Eastment 1, Jennifer E Balkus et al. Association Between Vaginal Bacterial Microbiota and Vaginal Yeast Colonization. J Infect Dis. 2021 (PubMed)
- Brett A Tortelli , Warren G Lewis et al. Associations between the vaginal microbiome and Candida colonization in women of reproductive age. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2020, May; 222(5):471 (PubMed)
- Candida and other yeast infections. Goop. Nov. 2019.