Scratching the Surface

Persistent yeast infections may indicate a body out of balance.

By Lisa James

September 2006

Say the words “yeast infection” to the average woman and she’ll probably start to squirm. The burning, the itching—we’ve all been there. Yeast’s miseries drive millions of desperate women to seek relief each year.

Yeast infections (also known as yeast vaginitis) start when Candida albicans, a naturally occurring fungus, starts growing excessively, producing itchy discomfort and a whitish discharge. Most every woman will endure a vaginal infection at least once during her lifetime, and many of these episodes will be caused by candida. (Bacteria or Trichomonas vaginalis may also be to blame; to be sure have the necessary testing done.)

When yeast strikes repeatedly you should look for an underlying cause. One of the biggest is the extended use of certain prescription drugs, particularly antibiotics, birth control pills or steroids. Another is the presence of undiagnosed diabetes. If you’ve been on meds, or have other diabetes symptoms such as excessive thirst or fatigue, see your practitioner.

A number of alternative health authorities—though by no means all—see recurring yeast vaginitis as part of a systemic candida infection, also called candidiasis. They believe it occurs when intestinal yeast overgrowth causes the bowel wall to “leak” partially digested food and toxins into the blood, causing such symptoms as depression, digestive woes, fatigue, irrit­ability and rashes—even weight gain. The solution lies in a diet that tightly restricts sugar and other carbohydrates. (To learn more, visit www.yeastconnection.com.)

Ditching the Itch

In addition to addressing the underlying causes of persistent yeast infection you should also tame the beast where it lives. Fortunately, there are safe, natural therapies that can make life a lot more comfortable. Tea tree oil, a natural antiseptic available in both liquid and suppository form, may help, and aloe vera gel can provide welcome itch relief. To bolster the effects of these topical treatments, some herbalists suggest taking cinnamon or the rainforest herb pau d’arco in supplemental form. Garlic, known for its antifungal properties, is another time-tested option.

After disposing of the harmful critters, replace them with helpful organisms. Organic plain yogurt, both eaten and applied directly, is a good source of these beneficial bacteria, especially when you add acidophilus or other probiotic supplements. Cutting down on your sugar consumption is always a good idea no matter what, as is upping your fiber intake (oat bran is a good source).

To help keep things cool and airy, a little wardrobe management may be in order. Avoid tight, synthetic fabrics (sorry, but those cute spandex pants have just got to go) in favor of looser garments made with natural fibers, especially white cotton underwear. If swimming’s your thing, don’t spend too much time sitting around in a damp suit—change into something dry as soon as possible.
If you have got an itch that won’t go away, don’t just scratch. Learning what’s really going on is the best way to experience sustained relief.

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