Can These Natural Treatments Help Fight Yeast Infections?

Homemade yogurt
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Yeast infections are a common condition caused by a microorganism called Candida, which is normally found in small amounts in the vaginal area. An overgrowth of the yeast, which causes symptoms, can be caused by factors such as a weakened immune system, hormonal imbalance, antibiotic or oral contraceptive use, pregnancy, stress, and uncontrolled diabetes. Symptoms can include itching, burning, discharge, and pain during sex.

Natural Treatments for Yeast Infections

Although yeast infections are typically treated with prescription or over-the-counter antifungal creams or ointments, some women turn to natural treatments. Here's a look at some of the more popular treatments and home remedies:

Yogurt

Eating yogurt or kefir (or applying plain yogurt vaginally) is sometimes used to relieve yeast infection symptoms. Many types of yogurt contain live bacteria that are also naturally present in the body. These beneficial bacteria, also known as probiotics, help to maintain the bacterial-yeast balance in the intestines and vagina and suppress the overgrowth of organisms such as Candida.

A report published in the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy examined the role of probiotics for the prevention of recurrent yeast infections and found that certain probiotic strains (taken orally or through topical products or suppositories) may fight Candida albicans.

However, the researchers noted that due to the quality of the studies, it is difficult to draw definitive conclusions.

Although the probiotic content of yogurt varies, one study found that 150 mL (over 1/2 cup) of L. acidophilus-enriched yogurt was associated with an increase in L. acidophilus in the vagina and rectum.

Some people (such as those with suppressed immune systems or recent gastrointestinal surgery) may need to avoid acidophilus or probiotic supplements.

RelatedAcidophilus and Other Probiotics

Coconut Oil

One of the latest foods to get increasing attention, coconut oil is said to have antimicrobial properties that may help fight yeast infections.

There hasn't been research on coconut oil's effectiveness at eradicating yeast infections, however, a laboratory study found that coconut oil was active against Candida compared to fluconazole (a common antifungal medication). The researchers suggest that it has potential in the treatment of drug-resistant Candida species.

Boric Acid Suppositories

A chemical substance with mild antiseptic and antifungal properties, boric acid is sometimes used as a suppository for chronic vaginal yeast infections or treatment-resistant yeast infections.

A research review published in the Journal of Women's Health analyzed 14 previously published studies on intravaginal use of boric acid for recurrent vaginal yeast infections. The researchers concluded that "boric acid is a safe, alternative, economic option for women with recurrent and chronic symptoms of vaginitis when conventional treatment fails because of the involvement of non-albicans Candida spp.

or azole-resistant strains".

Boric acid, however, is toxic and should never be taken orally or used on cuts, open wounds, or broken skin. It shouldn't be used for a prolonged period of time, or in amounts greater than what's recommended. It should not be used by pregnant or breastfeeding women or applied to the skin of infants or children. Side effects of the suppositories may include vaginal burning and irritation. Boric acid is not a standard treatment for yeast infections, so it should be discussed with your healthcare provider prior to use.

Essential Oils

Essential oils such as oregano oil (Origanum vulgare), tea tree oil (Melaleuca alternifolia), and mint (Mentha piperita) are said to have antifungal properties.

Several laboratory studies have found that essential oils can stop or slow the growth of Candida in the lab, but there haven't been clinical studies (in humans) on the use of essential oils for yeast infections.

If you're considering using essential oils, talk with a professional to guide you on how to use them safely. Most essential oils should not be ingested, and they should be used in very small, diluted amounts.

Garlic

In a number of lab studies, garlic has been shown to fight Candida. Women sometimes take fresh garlic or use garlic supplements to prevent or fight yeast infections.

A study published in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, however, suggests that garlic may not change Candida levels in the vaginal tract. For the study, 63 asymptomatic women whose lab tests indicated that they were colonized with Candida took three garlic tablets or a placebo orally, twice daily for 14 days. Results revealed that there was no difference between the two groups in Candida counts or in symptoms.

People with bleeding disorders and those taking blood-thinning medication or supplements or have an upcoming surgery should avoid garlic supplements. Pregnant or nursing women should consult their care provider before using garlic supplements.

Getting a Diagnosis

Although there are many over-the-counter products and natural treatments, it's important to consult your healthcare provider if think you may have a yeast infection before trying to treat it at home. You need to be sure that it's a yeast infection and if it is, your care provider can work with you to identify the cause. Following up is also important to be sure that the treatment worked.

If you are pregnant, you shouldn't try any natural treatment unless you have talked with your physician.

Bottom Line

Yeast infections can be extremely bothersome, especially if they recur. Whether it's for cost savings, a desire to go all-natural, or another reason entirely, it can be tempting to want to try a natural treatment to ease your symptoms. While some of these remedies, like eating yogurt, pose few risks when used correctly, it's important to speak with your healthcare provider to be sure that it's properly diagnosed and treated. Also, keep in mind that many of these natural treatments have been shown to be helpful in lab studies, but there is no definitive evidence yet.

Sources:

Falagas ME, Betsi GI, Athanasiou S. Probiotics for prevention of recurrent vulvovaginal candidiasis: a review. J Antimicrob Chemother. 2006 Aug;58(2):266-72. 

Iavazzo C, Gkegkes ID, Zarkada IM, Falagas ME. Boric acid for recurrent vulvovaginal candidiasis: the clinical evidence. J Womens Health (Larchmt). 2011 Aug;20(8):1245-55. 

Shalev E, Battino S, Weiner E, Colodner R, Keness Y. Ingestion of yogurt containing Lactobacillus acidophilus compared with pasteurized yogurt as prophylaxis for recurrent candidal vaginitis and bacterial vaginosis. Arch Fam Med. 1996 Nov-Dec;5(10):593-6.

Watson CJ, Grando D, Fairley CK, et al. The effects of oral garlic on vaginal candida colony counts: a randomised placebo controlled double-blind trial. BJOG. 2014 Mar;121(4):498-506. 

Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.

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