To prevent yeast infections naturally, start with diet
Just as an apple a day keeps the doctor away, so does a healthy diet help keep yeast infections at bay.
Of more than 150 types of yeast that flourish in the body, Candida albicans is the most common cause of infection. Yeast infections are the result of an imbalance of “good” and “bad” bacteria that thrive on the surface of moist, mucous membranes, particularly those in the intestinal tract, vaginal tract and skin folds. Although most often found in the vaginal tract, candida can also appear in the mouth as thrush, in the warm moist environment under a diaper, causing diaper rash, and other areas of the body.
Yeast infections may be triggered by excess weight, diabetes, antibiotics and oral contraceptives—all of which cause yeast populations to grow to abnormally high levels.
“Women who are overweight, diabetic or who take antibiotics are especially vulnerable to yeast infections,” says Gerson Weiss, MD, an obstetrician and gynecologist at the New Jersey Medical School in Trenton. Excess weight, which can increase body heat, and diabetes, which can increase sugar levels in the body, create an ideal environment for candida growth. And unnecessary use of antibiotics that target the “bad” bacteria in your body also kills the “good” bacteria, allowing yeast to grow unchecked. In fact, increased use of both antibiotics and oral contraceptives is believed to be a major reason why the occurrence of yeast infections has doubled since the late 1960s.
In addition to the above causes of yeast infection, personal care—or the lack thereof—can also be a culprit, Weiss says. That's why it's important to keep all areas of your body cool and dry by wearing breathable cotton undergarments and loose clothing. In addition to vigilant personal care, you also need to follow a sensible diet to thwart the conditions that allow yeast to thrive.
Elisabeth Jones[*] is one of many women who have suffered bouts of yeast infections throughout her lifetime, but with dietary modifications, she is symptom free.
“After recent gall bladder surgery, I contracted a yeast infection, even though I didn't know what it was,” says Jones, 31, who was 25 at the time of her operation. “All I knew was that one week after I got home from the hospital, I was feeling so irritable I had to take long soaks in the tub. I finally talked with a friend, who told me I had candida, caused by the antibiotics in my IV.
“Since then, I've been very susceptible to yeast infections—particularly since I also take birth control pills,” says Jones. “I want to remain on the Pill, so I'm studying other ways to prevent these outbreaks.”
There are, indeed, numerous ways to prevent yeast outbreaks. Unfortunately, it's not possible to eliminate candida permanently. No matter how successful a treatment may be, as soon as it's stopped, candida will return. However, probiotics—friendly bacteria—ensure that yeast regrowth will be minimal.
One way to introduce probiotics into your diet is with daily supplementation of super strains of beneficial bacteria —particularly Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifido-bacterium bifidum and Lactobacillus bulgaricus, which can be purchased at your natural health food store.
Another way to introduce friendly bacteria is by eating yogurt, which contains Lactobacillus acidophilus—a dietary change Jones has embraced.
Heidi Reichenberger, RD, a registered dietitian in Boston, concurs with Jones about the importance of eating yogurt. She says the most valuable nutritional advice she gives women who have yeast infections is to make yogurt a part of their daily regimen. But make sure the yogurt you buy contains live cultures of Lactobacillus acidophilus.
Like many women, Jones has discovered that diet plays a huge role in whether candida thrives or merely exists in your body.
Build your diet around fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds and unprocessed oils, whose nutrients can keep the candida population at bay.
Unfortunately for gourmands, the list of foods that stimulate candida growth is long. Foods that contain simple carbohydrates such as sugar not only promote poor health, they help create conditions in which candida thrives. Avoid refined sugar, corn syrup, white bread and other white flour products, and say no to soft drinks and sugar-coated, ready-to-eat cereals. Instead, focus on getting whole-grain baked goods, fresh produce and grain alternatives such as amaranth, quinoa and buckwheat.
Foods that contain hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils also stimulate candida growth. As a healthier alternative, replace them with unrefined varieties such as flaxseed, canola and olive oils.
Cut out yeasty foods and beverages. That means nixing dried fruits, mushrooms, condiments, canned or bottled juices, leavened breads, pastries, pretzels, pizza and rolls.
Alcohol stimulates candida growth, so avoid wine, beer, hard alcoholic drinks, fermented apple cider and root beer. Also stay away from any liquids, cereals and candy containing malt products—a kiln-dried grain used in the preparation of many processed foods and drinks.
While this diet may seem spartan, author William G. Crook, MD, points out in The Yeast Connection and the Woman that a restricted diet to ward off yeast infections doesn't have to be long-term. “After a few weeks or months, you may be able to relax a bit,” Crook says. “But, until you show significant improvement, stick to your diet.”
If you're going to place yourself on a restricted diet, be sure to get the nutrients your body needs. When selecting multivitamin, mineral and herbal supplements, look for yeast-, sugar- and color-free varieties. Flaxseed oil—a rich source of omega-3 and omega-6 compounds—is another important supplement. However, flaxseed oil isn't the only oil that contains these essential fatty acids, which have strong antifungal properties. Evening primrose oil, borage and black currant seed oils are also sources of omega-6 fatty acids.
And don't rule out herbal remedies. Make a trip to your natural foods store to stock up on calendula tea, which has antibacterial and antifungal properties; aloe vera juice, an immune-system booster; hot ginger tea, to soothe inflammation; and goldenseal, which promotes the growth of “good” bacteria.
Jones, like many women whose histories of candida infections are similar, has spent hundreds of dollars on doctors' bills and topical prescription creams over the years. But she says she has finally gotten her yeast infections under control with such simple solutions as jump-starting her day with a breakfast of acidophilus-rich yogurt and low-fat granola.
Eating yogurt every day isn't the same as munching on the light, air-puffed, yeasty glazed donuts she loves, says Jones, “but when I consider the alternative, I'll stick with it.”
By Marshall Norton Jr.
THE CANDIDA CHECKLIST
Candida overgrowth—particularly vaginal infections that may cause irritation, a discharge and discomfort—causes many women to report feeling a general malaise. Other symptoms include:
Poor memory or fuzzy thinking
Severe stomach bloating
Tired, aching muscles
Depression, irritability and anxiety
If you're experiencing any of these symptoms, talk to your physician, gynecologist or naturopath to find out more about the treatment options available to you.