- Women's Health
Prevention Tips for Yeast Infections
Prevention of Candida Albicans Overgrowth (Thrush or Yeast Infection)
Yeast – also known as 'Thrush' – is an overgrowth of the naturally occurring fungus Candida albicans.
It's an opportunistic infection. It can't be 'cured' as such, because we all – both men and women – already have it as part of our natural flora, along with the friendly and beneficial bacteria that helps break down the food in our digestive system.
Many tips on how to get rid of an overgrowth focus on 'special' diets, hygiene, or keeping the affected area relatively dry, or even using old wives' tales folk cures like applying natural live yoghurt in the hope that the probiotics will kill off the fungus. But scientific research and personal experience tells me that these are measures that will only provide a bit of temporary relief at best.
The real answer to this annoying condition is a bit more complicated, but many times more effective.
Immune System and Opportunistic Infection
Whenever your immune system is low, opportunistic infections get the upper hand. So colds and flu often come with cold sores; yeast infections often occur around the time of your menstrual period; and stress or poor diet can make you more prone to illnesses like chest infections. None of these are entirely unrelated – when your body is coping with one infection, or if it isn't receiving the right amount of nutrition, it just hasn't got the resources to fight.
The old wives' tales about thrush are in many ways both right and wrong. Eating processed sugar hasn't been shown to actually bring on a yeast overgrowth, but if your diet contains a lot of sugar, over time it can be bad for your immune system function and it causes unhealthy blood sugar levels, so if you're a little out of balance eating bags of candy every day might well tip things in favour of the opportunist infections. Likewise drinking alcohol, or not getting enough exercise can depress your immune system and make it harder to keep your natural flora in balance or fight infection.
The Root Causes of Candida Albicans Yeast Overgrowth
'Yeast' is an opportunistic infection – it takes advantage of a low immune system, so be as healthy as you can with diet, moderate exercise and stress relief, and don't ignore any signs that you have an underlying condition.
Iron and other deficiencies – are you getting enough essential vitamins and minerals like iron, vitamin C, B-vitamins and so on in your diet? Or do you have any signs that might indicate you need more?
Deficiencies don't necessarily cause you to have a lower immune function, but it's something worth checking if you aren't feeling at your best. Whilst you'll probably be able to trace where your diet might be improved, the following three deficiencies are worth highlighting because they are ones that might have other causes than insufficient diet:
Lack of iron is common in women of child-bearing age, and many women get anaemia and need supplementation at some point. Iron deficiency can cause (among many other symptoms):
- Hair loss
- Fatigue and apathy
- Angular cheilitis (cracked corners of the mouth)
- Pale skin
- Breathlessness or 'air hunger'
We get vitamin D from sunshine mostly, so in colder, cloudier climates people may have a mild deficiency. Not enough vitamin D can cause
- Aches and pains
- Possibly it is the cause of SAD (seasonal affective disorder), which causes very low mood during the winter months.
Vitamin B-12 Deficiency can be caused by insufficient absorption, called pernicious anaemia, which can be difficult to diagnose because of its vague syptoms
- A deficiency of B-12 causes a certain type of anaemia - enlarged red blood cells that don't function well, which leads to symptoms of tiredness and lethargy.
Stress – stress can be a direct or indirect factor (whether cause or effect) in nutritional deficiencies, chronic infections, depression and lots of other non-obvious things as well as obvious life events or overwork. It can be quite a vicious circle too, with stress bringing on physical symptoms that cause further stress, which causes more symptoms – and so on. Again, exercise and diet can affect how you and your body deal with stress, so find a little time to spend on some relaxation, and keep yourself healthy and in shape.
Underlying illness – keep up-to-date with medicals and routine tests, and don't ignore changes to your overall health.
Antibiotics – antibiotics upset the balance of our systems because they kill both friendly and unfriendly bacteria indiscriminately. But not everyone who takes antibiotics gets an increase in yeast infections. Be aware that antibiotics can negatively affect the immune system, and make secondary and opportunistic infections more likely - especially if a long-term course is used, so if you already have an under-performing immune system because of stress, infection or dietary deficiency, antibiotics might well make things worse and tip the balance just enough to cause an increase of thrush infections. If you need to have a course of antibiotics, it's important to look after your health especially well during and after the time you are taking them.
Half-Myths, Unknowns, and Old Wives' Tales
Things that might help or make things worse, and which are often falsely blamed, or may be ignored, but which are all worth knowing about.
Irritation – scented soap, nylon underwear – these might exacerbate the discomfort of existing yeast overgrowth and make things worse, but there is no evidence that they directly cause it. Wearing cotton underwear and using mild specialist soaps will help to keep the affected area more comfortable, but probably won't alleviate it completely.
Hygiene – showering every day, using soaps that are meant for feminine intimate areas, and drying yourself gently and thoroughly afterwards is sufficient hygiene. Remember your mother's advice to always wipe from front to back when you use the lavatory. Again, for most women hygiene is rarely, if ever, the cause thrush – and overdoing it can make things worse! Keep your intimate hygiene simple and regular.
Yoghurt – Some women eat yoghurt in the hope that it will restore the natural balance of flora in their digestive system; others apply it topically to the affected area. It hasn't been shown to help when applied externally, but what eating yoghurt does do is improve immune system function, and it has been shown that eating some yoghurt every day can ward off both minor and chronic illnesses and improve immune response.
Fruit – there is no evidence that eating fruit, even sweet fruit, will make yeast infections worse. However, there is a potential link between blood sugar levels and yeast infections, since they are more common in people with diabetes. Blood sugar levels are affected by carbohydrates in fruit (and other foods) so eating sweet fruits are not necessarily 'bad' either for diabetics or those prone to thrush. If you believe that blood sugar levels affect your own tendency to yeast infections you may want to follow the mayo clinic guidelines for fruit and diabetes and keep fruit serving sizes down to 15g of carbohydrates.
Systemic candida – this is a serious complication of immunocompromised individuals such as people receiving chemotherapy, AIDS patients, and transplant patients, and occasionally it is a problem encountered after having antibiotic therapy. If you suspect in any way at all that you have a condition that could be causing immunocompromisation, you should get to your doctor at once. It is unlikely to be a problem for healthy or moderately healthy individuals.
Processed sugar, alcohol – there is not much evidence that sugar or alcohol cause yeast infections, but they can negatively affect the immune system indirectly, and can cause blood-sugar spikes. If you have signs, like thrush flare-ups, that your immune system is for some reason not at its best, it would be better to cut these out entirely for at least a while.
Things That Do Help Comfort
Antifungal creams, pessaries and oral medication – prescription and over-the-counter medications are available that will help, but they treat the symptoms, not the underlying cause. For one-off episodes of yeast infection they can be marvellous, but if your symptoms are severe or recurring they might only work for a short time, and may become ineffective if used regularly. Address the underlying causes of infection, even if you use these helpful medications to get some relief.
Wear Cotton Underwear – although it won't cause the yeast infection, nylon and other man-made fibres create ideal warm, damp conditions in which candida might flourish, whereas cotton underwear will be more comfortable for you. Likewise, avoiding 'tights' might help, and if you exercise at the gym or play sports, go for baggier workout clothes like cotton shorts instead of skin-tight lycra.
Use Specialist Feminine Hygeine Soaps – ordinary soaps, especially scented or harsh ones can sting and irritate intimate areas when you have a yeast infection, but there are specialist, mild, pH-neutral cleansing gels for women that won't hurt a bit. Look for them in pharmacies or supermarkets; and if you're prone to recurring yeast infections they can be worth using even between flare-ups, because intimate areas are very sensitive and need a little extra special care.
Can You Pass on a Yeast Infection to Your Partner?
Yes – through sexual intercourse, but it is not a STI and transmission between partners is actually quite unlikely. But sex can and does irritate those sensitive areas, so you may want to abstain when you have severe symptoms, and use condoms even if your symptoms are mild.
Final Quick List – Steps to Take and Things to Check to Help Get Rid of Candida Albicans Yeast Overgrowth
There are many things that are under-researched and unknown about yeast infections and why they affect us, or why they affect some more than others. But what is becoming more and more clear is that a healthy immune system more than anything else is responsible for keeping candida albicans in check, and your best defence is a healthy lifestyle with plenty of high-quality nutrition, exercise and sleep. So here's the final checklist
- Low iron is very common in women of child-bearing age, so if you haven't reached the menopause yet and have recurring thrush, get your iron and ferritin (stored iron) levels checked by your doctor, and ask him or her about any other possible dietary deficiencies too if you have concerns.
- Make sure you are getting a healthy balanced diet, with lots of fruit and vegetables, protein, iron and sufficient carbohydrates. Try including a few immune-boosting foods in your diet like plain natural live yoghurt.
- If you notice that you tend to get lots of minor illnesses like coughs, colds or coldsores (which are also opportunistic and often break out only when your immune system is low), speak to your doctor about the possibility of an underlying condition like an infection or nutritional deficiency.
- Balance your immune system by getting sufficient exercise, sleep and nutrition, and avoid stressful situations wherever possible - or if it's unavoidable find ways to deal with stress effectively.
- Avoid processed sugar and alcohol for a while – they can negatively affect health and immune function and can contribute to nutritional deficiency, and even a small amount of alcohol can cause low-quality sleep.