WHAT IS A YEAST INFECTION?The vagina contains a balance of beneficial bacteria and yeast. When yeast overgrows in the vagina, a yeast infection results. Yeast infections can result from the overuse of antibiotics (which can be common in women suffering from chronic urinary tract infections), the use of oral contraceptives, and can be more common in certain patient populations such as pregnant women, diabetics, and immunocompromised patients.
Symptoms of a vaginal yeast infection include:
- Itching and irritation of the vagina
- Burning during intercourse
- Thick white vaginal discharge that is similar in appearance to cottage cheese
- Redness and swelling of the vagina
Occasional yeast infections are often easily treated with various over the counter antifungals. In some women however, yeast infections can be difficult to clear or can be re-occurring. When antifungal medications are no longer cutting it, naturopathic medicine can often be of help. It is important to first determine through vaginal swabs whether the infection is in fact caused by yeast.
WHAT INCREASES SUSCEPTIBILITY TO YEAST?A susceptibility to yeast can exist in women for a variety of reasons:
- Chronic antibiotic use will kill good bacteria in the vagina thus allowing for yeast overgrowth. Recurrent urinary tract infections may lead to chronic antibiotic use and subsequent yeast infections.
- Pregnancy: Higher levels of estrogen in vaginal secretions result in greater susceptibility to yeast overgrowth.
- Birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy: Increased estrogen levels can increase a women’s susceptibility to yeast overgrowth.
The normal PH of the vagina is between 3.8 and 4.5. An elevated vaginal PH may allow yeast overgrowth.
- Menses: Some women experience yeast overgrowth on a monthly basis during their period. Menstrual blood has a PH of 7.4 and therefore its presence in the vagina increases vaginal PH.
- Vaginal douches, soaps, sprays: These can alter the vaginal PH and bacterial balance in the vagina.
- Sugar intake: Yeast feed off sugar therefore excess levels of dietary sugar create an ideal environment for yeast to proliferate.
- Diabetes: High blood sugar can feed yeast overgrowth.
- HIV: HIV suppresses the immune system thus making it difficult to fight yeast overgrowth.
Naturopathic treatments for vaginal yeast infections:
- Probiotics: Specific probiotic strains administered in the appropriate dose may be beneficial in killing yeast in the vaginal tract and rebalancing vaginal flora.
- Vaginal suppositories: Natural vaginal suppositories kill yeast and rebalance vaginal PH.
- Dietary counseling: A reduction in sugar and refined carbohydrate intake may reduce yeast from growing.
Why seek advice from a Naturopathic Doctor for yeast infections:
- An ND may test a patient through vaginal swab to confirm the presence of excess yeast. There are other infections that can mimic a yeast infection.
- Treatment plans focus on the entire person, not just on vaginal yeast infections. Treatment may include supplements, acupuncture, and dietary or lifestyle changes. All supplements prescribed will be checked against current medications to ensure safety.
- Treatment will focus not only on killing excess yeast but also on re-balancing the vaginal flora and preventing future infections from recurring. Prevention tactics will be dependent on the root cause of recurrent yeast infections.