Natural Dietary Tips For Yeast Infections

Wednesday, October 11, 2006 - 12:30pm

By Wendy Hodsdon, ND

Do you experience vaginal itching, white discharge, and discomfort on urinating? Is your sex life plagued by painful intercourse? Vaginal soreness, irritation, burning sensations, inflammation and swelling of the vaginal walls and external genital tissue are tell-tale signs of a yeast infection. What causes this infection and what's the best way to treat it?

"Good" vs. "bad" bacteria

First, it is important to properly diagnose the vaginal infection. Many women assume they have a yeast infection, when, in fact, they have a bacterial infection, most often gardnerella vaginalis or trichomonas, a small protozoan. These infections can present similar symptoms, such as vaginal itching and discharge. However, the smell, thickness of the discharge and acidity in the vagina is different with each infection, and each requires a different treatment. The difference among these infections is easy to see under a microscope.

"Good" bacteria occur regularly and normally in the vagina and are very important to vaginal health. Lactobacillus is the main strain of bacteria in the vagina which helps maintain an acidic environment and keeps unwanted bacteria and yeast from growing. Bacteria in the vagina change as a woman's hormones shift with her menstrual cycle as well as when she uses contraceptive devices and hygiene products. Bacteria are also influenced by her general health and dietary habits.

Conventional vs. naturopathic treatments

Most conventional, over-the-counter therapies look at killing the offending organism to rid the body of the infection. Naturopathic doctors take an alternative approach. They seek to improve the vaginal immune system, support the whole body's immune system, restore the normal microflora (bacteria) in the vagina and adjust the vaginal acid/base balance, as well as to kill the problem organism. The goal here is to make the tissue in the vagina healthy and restore its normal defenses so that yeast, "bad" bacteria and trichomonas are unable to live in the vagina and cause problems.

How diet prevents yeast infections

Nutrition can affect what happens in the vagina and make a huge difference in how the immune system works. To prevent yeast infections, a diet low in refined carbohydrates and sugars is important. Yeast feed on simple sugars and grow more readily when blood sugars are high. To keep the cells in the vagina healthy, it is best to eat a whole foods diet that is high in vegetables, whole grains, lean meat and small amounts of fruit. Avoiding alcohol, trans-fatty acids, sugar, refined foods and highly processed foods will help the body's immune system prevent infections. Eating garlic may be helpful in acute or chronic yeast infections because of garlic's antifungal properties. To boost the good bacteria in the vagina, eat unsweetened acidophilus yogurt daily or take a good quality acidophilus supplement. Acidophilus (also known as lactobacillus) makes the vaginal environment healthier and works with the immune system in the intestines to help the body fight infections more effectively.

In cases of chronic yeast infections, avoiding fermented foods may be beneficial. Fermented foods contain yeast which can increase the yeast population in the body when ingested. Testing to see if yeast is present in the stool, blood, and vaginal secretions will confirm whether there is a systemic yeast infection. Avoiding yeast and mold-containing foods-such as alcoholic beverages, cheeses, dried fruits and peanuts-is often a helpful treatment when yeast proteins (i.e. yeast antigens) are present systemically.

Warning signs of yeast infections

If yeast infections occur four times or more in a year, this can signal a more severe problem. Women with diabetes, Cushing's disease, Addison's disease, high or low thyroid levels, leukemia, or who are immune-compromised are more prone frequent yeast infections. Some drugs and high-estrogen hormones can also cause them. See your doctor for an accurate diagnosis of vaginal infections and appropriate treatment suggestions.