Natural treatments for yeast infections

By: Dr. Claudia Truglia, Sep 14, 2012
  Question

Can you treat yeast infections naturally?

Three important steps to treat yeast infections.

Candida, more commonly known as yeast, is a normal inhabitant of the body. It is found in minute quantities along with millions of beneficial bacteria (lactobacilli) in a healthy body. There are several species of candida, however Candida albicans tends to be the most common cause of symptomatic infection.

Women, men, children, elderly and the immunocompromised are all susceptible to the invasion of yeast but its presentation varies among age groups and genders. Frequent antibiotic use increases the risk of candida because antibiotics kill both good and bad intestinal bacteria. When good bacteria are killed it allows room for bad bacteria, such as yeast, to multiply and invade. A round of antibiotics should always be followed by probiotics to prevent the chance of yeast overgrowth.

Sometimes candida can spread throughout the whole body as in the case of Erica. Erica, 27, came to the clinic worried about heartburn, indigestion, gas, bloating, nausea, irregular bowel movements, recurrent yeast infections and major sugar cravings. She was on the birth control pill, which increases her risk of yeast overgrowth, and also had a strong history of repeated antibiotic use. Her diet was high in carbohydrates — starch and sugar — which feeds the yeast and helps it to grow and multiply. Erica suffered from systemic candida. Yeast usually begins causing symptoms in the gastrointestinal tract and as it proliferates and releases toxins it interferes with digestion. The yeast enters the blood stream and spreads throughout the body, leading to an overwhelmed immune system. This can lead to more severe symptoms such as depression, fatigue, mental confusion, mood swings, PMS, impaired thyroid function, susceptibility to infections, muscle aches and joint pains and environmental sensitivities. Diagnosis can usually be made by assessing symptoms and history of the patient or using skin scrapings, vaginal swabs, cultural and antifungal susceptibility testing.

After confirming Erica’s diagnosis we discussed the three most important steps to treatment:

Decrease the amount of candida in the body. This can be achieved by using natural antifungals. Oral probiotics (good bacteria) are prescribed as well as intravaginal treatments, if necessary. The male partner should also be treated as they can sometimes be a silent carrier of candida and the couple may simply pass it back and forth. This stage causes die off of the yeast, which can lead to the need for more rest, flu-like symptoms, headaches and diarrhea, along with a surge of cravings for sugar, starches or alcohol. I prefer a natural treatment because anti-yeast pharmaceuticals often produce new, resistant strains of these microorganisms. This can lead to recurrent infections that are resistant to treatment and become a debilitating health problem.

Strengthen the immune system. It is important to support the immune system so the yeast won’t be able to invade again. Supplements such as vitamin D, vitamin C and echinacea, as well as exercise and acupuncture are used in this phase to boost immune function.

Rebuild the health of the intestinal tract. Inflammation and improper digestion cause abnormal ‘holes’ in the intestinal tract that need to be repaired. Probiotics, digestive enzymes, L-glutamine and fibre will get this done.

Throughout the entire treatment process, clients need to follow a special diet that eliminates foods that feed on yeast. Sugar-containing foods should be avoided. This includes bread, pasta (high starch and carbohydrate), fruit (canned or dried and some fresh), alcohol, caffeine, vinegar and fruit juices, to name a few. Patients are advised to eat vegetables, quinoa, brown rice, nuts and seeds, animal protein (ocean fish, antibiotic-free poultry, beef, lamb, pork), onion and garlic, ginger tea and water with lemon.

Erica’s gastrointestinal symptoms and vaginal yeast infections have resolved and she is doing exceptionally well. Systemic candida can present with such a broad range of symptoms that it may be misleading at times, so be careful not to self diagnose. If you suspect you may have systemic candida, see a health care provider as soon as possible to begin proper treatment before it becomes a chronic, long-term issue.

Dr. Claudia Truglia practices Naturopathic Medicine at the Stoney Creek Natural Health Clinic, a multidisciplinary clinic in Stoney Creek, Ontario. She has an eclectic practice treating a broad range of health conditions with an emphasis on diabetes, mental health, cardiovascular health, woman's health and gastrointestinal conditions. Dr. Truglia also works as a Naturopathic Consultant for CanPrev Premium Natural Health Products and as a columnist for the local Hamilton Spectator. She is a member of the BDDT-N and CAND.