Experts think that more than 100 million Americans suffer from yeast overgrowth, commonly called candida. Women often experience it as a vaginal yeast infection, and it’s one of the most common reasons women go to the doctor. It’s also one of the most common health complaints we see at Pharmaca.
Yeast overgrowth occurs when candida, a single-cell fungus that is nearly impossible to keep out of our bodies, gets out of balance. Our intestinal flora (or “probiotics” such as Lactobacillus acidophilus), usually do a good job of keeping candida in check. But when our flora is compromised, yeast can overpopulate our systems.
Long-term antibiotic use is one of the most common causes of yeast imbalance, but certain prescriptions (e.g. birth control, steroids or cortisone drugs), and stress, poor diet and chlorinated water can all contribute, too. Pregnancy, diabetes and HIV infection can also be a factor.
When candida becomes overgrown, it releases toxins into the blood, leading to a yeast infection that may be localized (i.e. vaginal or oral, which is known as Thrush) or systemic (i.e. candidiasis or Yeast Syndrome). Symptoms include itching, irritability, fatigue, allergies, depression, immune dysfunction, chemical sensitivities, irritability, dizziness and mental fog, loss of memory, digestive upsets and weight gain or loss.
Doctors often recommend over-the-counter anti-fungals such as clotrimazole (Lotramin, Gyne-Lotrimin 3), miconazole (Micatin, Monistat-7) or prescriptions such as Nystatin, Fluconazole or Ketoconazole.
But I think that treating yeast infections naturally is a much better option, especially when you’re looking to maintain proper flora balance throughout your system. Here are some options I like:
Lactobacillus acidophilus. Supplement with this vital probiotic to strengthen your defenses against candida. Some of my favorite probiotics are Femdophilus by Jarrow Formulas, Udo’s, Megafood Megaflora, Pharmax HLC Maintenance and New Chapter Probiotic All-Flora.
Candex by Pure Essence. An enzyme formula that works to break down the fibrous wall of the yeast.
Candidastat by Vitanica. Containing caprylic acid, garlic, Oregon grape root, grapefruit seed extract, lactobacillus acidophilus, milk thistle and vitamin E, this formula inhibits candida overgrowth, promotes intestinal balance and provides immune support.
Tea tree. Provides relief for localized infections. Try suppositories from Tea Tree Therapy for vaginal infections, or dilute tea tree oil for use as a mouth rinse for thrush (speak with a practitioner about proper dilutions for this type of application.)
Boric acid suppositories. These have long been used to treat chronic vaginal yeast infections. Try Yeast Arrest by Vitanica.
If you have problems with candida, the best first step is to work toward bringing your flora back in balance. If you’re on antibiotics, which wipe out the good flora along with the bad, I always recommend taking probiotics, too. (Note that there are differing opinions about this—some doctors feel that taking probiotics can diminish the effectiveness of antibiotics, but I’ve always found them to be helpful. As always, people should follow the advice of their individual practitioners.) Nevertheless, after your course of antibiotics is finished, it’s important to repopulate your intestines with good flora. And, as always, make sure you’re getting a well-balanced diet that’s low in fats, sugars, refined carbohydrates and alcohol.
Kate Brainard earned her degree as a naturopathic doctor from Bastyr University. She currently manages Pharmaca’s La Jolla store.