Natural remedies for thrush: How to treat a yeast infection the natural way

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  • Most women will suffer with vaginal or oral thrush at some point in their lives however there are some natural remedies for thrush which might just clear it up…

    If you visit your GP with the symptoms of thrush they are likely to prescribe oral thrush remedies, including antifungal medication or pessaries – a special pill that you insert into your vagina. However, lots of women want to choose natural solutions to treat the Candida fungi that cause thrush, by rebalancing the natural yeast in the vagina and not resorting to drugs.

    We’ve gathered a selection of natural remedies for thrush, including yogurt, tea tree essential oil, underwear, and even some dietary changes.

    What are the causes of thrush?

    Dr Sarah Brewer, Medical Director of Healthspan and author of Overcoming Candida explains that thrush is a fungal infection caused by the yeast, Candida albicans.

    ‘This yeast lives happily on or in the body of just about everyone. It usually exists in a placid state, in happy balance with other micro-organisms without causing any obvious harm. But when conditions are right, Candida changes from its less invasive form, in which it exists as simple yeasts cells, to produce threads (germ tubes, or hyphae) that burrow in between your cells.’

    Here’s a brief lowdown on thrush…

    She adds that three out of four women experience vaginal thrush at least once. Between one in ten and one in twenty women are plagued with frequent recurrences.

    ‘Candida yeast thrives in conditions that are warm and moist. This includes the groin area, especially after exercise, or if you wear tight clothes and nylon underwear. When the vagina maintains a healthy acidity, yeasts remain relatively inactive.

    ‘Around the time of your period, however, vaginal acidity reduces and hormonal changes also mean vaginal glucose levels increase. As glucose acts as a fuel for yeast cell growth, many women find recurrences are common around the time of menstruation, and during pregnancy. Vaginal thrush is also more common in women with poorly controlled diabetes, who have raised glucose levels, and in women who are under a lot of physical or emotional stress. This is because stress hormones increase blood glucose levels to provide instant fuel for muscle cells in case you need to fight or flee from dangerous situations.’

    The causes of thrush continued…

    Dr Brewer also explains that many women develop Candida after a course of antibiotics.

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    ‘The most common culprits are so-called broad-spectrum antibiotics (eg tetracycline, amoxycillin, cephalosporins). These wipe out the healthy probiotic bacteria found in the vagina, as well as the infection they are designed to treat. These healthy bacteria (especially Lactobacillus) keep Candida at bay by competing with it for nutrients and by secreting acids and other chemicals that inhibit yeast cell growth. As a result, women taking antibiotics are three times more likely to have detectable yeast cells in their vagina than those who are not on antibiotics, and these yeast cells are more likely to overgrow.’

    Plus, lack of iron is another important factor.

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    ‘White blood cells need iron to make the powerful chemicals used to combat infections such as Candida. Even a mild iron deficiency can result in reduced immunity. This is even if iron stores are not low enough to cause anaemia.

    ‘If you have recurrent thrush, ask your doctor to check your blood levels of an iron compound called ferritin. If it is low, treatment with an iron supplement often solves the problem. Your doctor will need to investigate exactly why your iron levels are low such as poor diet or heavy periods. ‘

    What are the symptoms of thrush?

    Dr Sarah Brewer says thrush causes inflammation with redness, soreness and itching.

    ‘The yeast overgrowth can also produce white clumps on the lining of the vagina. These are said to resemble the speckled breast of the garden song thrush bird – hence the peculiar common name for Candidiasis.’

    She explains that candida can also affect the mouth and intestinal tract.

    Itchy vagina? This might be why…

    ‘Infection that produces symptoms is usually only a problem for people with low immunity. This can include young infants, the elderly, and people taking certain drugs (eg steroids, chemotherapy, immune suppressants) or with a serious illness such as cancer or AIDS.

    ‘Many complementary therapists readily diagnose Candida infection. In my experience, it is more likely that symptoms such as bloating and tiredness are due to irritable bowel syndrome or to food intolerances. An astonishing 178 different proteins that can trigger immune reactions have been identified in Candida species, including proteins in their outer wall and enzymes that they secrete. Although their role is unclear, a review published in the European Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology suggested this might explain why symptoms of IBS can worsen after eating mould-containing foods.’

    This might explain why many with IBS – and those with recurrent Candida – find probiotic supplements helpful.

    ‘Probiotic bacteria secrete lactic acid which suppresses yeast growth. They compete for available nutrients and attachment sites on intestinal walls. They also reinoculate the bowel with friendly digestive bacteria and surpress the gas-forming bacteria that have bene associated with some cases of irritable bowel syndrome.’

    How long does vaginal thrush last? 

    It won’t go overnight but Dr Brewer says that once antifungal treatment has started, symptoms quickly improve.

    The problem can resolve after a few days. However, Dr Brewer does add that you should keep using cream/pessaries/oral capsules as long as recommended to prevent it rebounding.

    Does thrush go away on its own? 

    Possibly but often just keeps getting worse, which is far from ideal!

    ‘Researchers have discovered that vaginal lining cells play a role in regulating Candida growth,’ says Dr Brewer.

    How so?

    ‘By sending out chemical signals that attract immune cells into the area to fight infections and keep thrush at bay. Some women with recurrent vaginal thrush appear to have vaginal lining cells that are less able to send out this alarm call for help, and are more susceptible to vaginal thrush as a result of the genes they have inherited.’

    Young woman in underwear sitting on a toilet with her white panties around her knees in a close up side view of her body

    Added to this,  Candida is sometimes passed on sexually.

    ‘Candida spores can survive under the male foreskin. So some women may experience a recurrence after sex as a result. Men do not usually have problems with Candida. They may develop a rash and irritation of the penis (Candida balanitis) after intercourse if their partner has thrush and condoms were not used. These symptoms are usually self-limiting and improve with salt bathing and careful drying. If you experience recurrent symptoms it’s worth asking your partner to use an antifungal cream on his penis for five days to see if this helps.’

    What will happen if thrush is left untreated? 

    It’s certainly best to treat thrush.

    Dr Brewer explains that if you don’t treat it, soreness, itching and white clumps will increase.

    She adds: ‘You may develop swollen lymph nodes in the groin. Don’t ignore symptoms – see a pharmacist for antifungal treatments which are available over the counter.’

    Natural remedies for thrush

    Dr Brewer recommends using natural remedies to help keep Candida at bay, but once symptoms are present you will need antifungal medication from a pharmacy to eradicate the infection before it gets worse.

    Live yogurt


    It’s not just an old wives’ tale, natural yogurt could be one of the natural remedies for thrush.

    However, don’t smear it around or into your vagina.

    Dr Brewer says this could get messy. However, eating live yogurt is great for a probiotic boost.

    Try to avoid sugary, flavoured yogurts and look for ones with specific live cultures.

    Garlic clove

    Researchers have found that garlic extracts work at a genetic level by switching off yeast gene activity. This inhibits protein and nucleic acid synthesis in Candida cells and completely arrests the formation of lipids (fats). When garlic extracts were tested against 18 strains of Candida albicans and 12 other Candida species, garlic was as effective as the antifungal drug, ketoconazole, in killing all yeasts present.

    Dr Brewer warns against eating garlic cloves though. Instead opt for a garlic tablet which is more concentrated.

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    ‘A paper published in the British Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology in 2014 showed that taking garlic extracts reduced the number of Candida yeasts in the vagina of women with recurrent thrush, especially during the second half of the menstrual cycle.’

    She recommends aiming for at least 900 mg standardized garlic powder tablets a day. This should be either in one dose, or as 300mg three times a day.

    ‘Look for supplements containing concentrated extracts equivalent to at least 1,200mg (1.2g) fresh garlic (supplying 2mg allicin).’

    Turmeric

    Added to the list of natural remedies for thrush, is the golden spice.

    ‘Recent research suggests that curcumin disrupts Candida cell walls to make them leakier. At the same time, curcumin stabilises human cell membranes to improve their resistance against infection,’ says Dr Brewer.

    ‘Studies have shown that curcumin extracts are effectiveagainst 38 different strains of Candida, including those that were resistant to the anti-fungal drug, fluconazole. Curcumin also appears to have a synergistic action with many antifungal drugs and supplements may help to increase yeast sensitivity to medical treatments.’

    Why not try Healthspan Opt-Turmeric.

    Tea Tree Essential Oil


    Tea Tree Essential Oil might seem like a strange recommendation for treating thrush. Especially as often perfumed oils and lotions are what cause thrush in the first place. But tea tree oil is a naturally occurring product unlike many shower gels and soaps that are not PH balanced.

    We recommend adding a couple of drops to a hot bath (without bubbles in case the bubble bath products are making the problem worse) and enjoy the heat of the water as a short-term relief while the essential oils help with the thrush infection.

    Reducing sugar in your diet


    Dr Brewer recommends  a healthy Mediterranean-style, low-GI diet with plenty of fruit and veg. Avoid sugary and ‘beige’ carb foods. However, you don’t need to be fanatical.

    ‘Laboratory research shows that Candida albicans grows quite happily in the relatively low concentrations of glucose (100mg/dl equivalent to 5.5mmol/l) found in normal blood and tissues. So trying to starve yeasts of sugar in the intestines is not going to prevent its survival.

    ‘In fact, immunologists now know that when you are under stress, your intestinal lining cells actually produce extra sugar to promote the growth of healthy, probiotic bacteria, to help keep Candida at bay. So, starving yourself of healthy sugar sources may have adverse effects against your protective intestinal microbes. The best anti-Candida diet is one that boosts immunity rather than one that deprives you of adequate nutrition.’

    Why not try a low-sugar diet and replace high sugar snacks with healthier alternatives – even consider changing your fruit choices for those with less naturally occurring sugar content.

    Use a mild, non-perfumed soap

    Thought soap was on the list of natural remedies for thrush? Think again.

    The verdict is out. Dr Brewer warns against using soap as this causes irritation and changes skin acidity.

    ‘This then makes the inflammation and infection worse. Clean the area with a feminine wash instead.’

    Her finals warming?

    ‘NEVER DOUCHE!’

    Wear silk knickers


    They might look fantastic. BUT, Dr Brewer says it’s best to swerve the silk and opt for cotton undies instead.

    ‘These allow your skin to ‘breathe’. Wash at 60 degrees or above to kill yeast spores. You can also hot iron cotton gussets to kill spores.’

    Avoid perfumed toilet paper and menstrual products

    There’s only a need to avoid these if you find that they cause irritation. Dr Brewer says that don’t actually cause or worsen Candida symptoms.

    Avoid tight fitting clothes

    We’re looking at you, gym leggings. Tight clothes can increase heat and moisture in the skin crevices and folds, which can cause thrush.

    Try to keep the time wearing tight clothes to a minimum and when you get back from the gym, change into something baggy and breathable.

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    Probiotic supplements

    ‘Probiotic lactic-acid producing bacteria that are naturally found in the gut are believed to inhibit the growth of Candida yeasts, improve IBS-like intestinal symptoms and to reduce the chance of yeasts being transferred to the genital tract to cause vaginal thrush. Studies show, for example, that taking both probiotics and the anti-fungal drug, fluconazole, can significantly improve treatment response with less discharge and lower presence of vaginal yeast,’ explains Dr Brewer.

    She recommends looking for supplements supplying Lactobacillus acidophilus. This can increase the number of beneficial bacteria in the bowel and can help keep Candida at bay.

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    ‘As the bowel acts as a reservoir for yeast cells, this can reduce recurrences of vaginal candida, too.’

    Coconut oil

    Not just good for your stir fry, this is one of the natural remedies for thrush.

    Dr Brewer says: ‘Caprylic acid is a medium chain fatty acid found naturally in coconut oil, palm oil and breast milk. It has a natural anti-fungal action that helps to eradicate Candida albicans from the gut without affecting the level of healthy probiotic bacteria.

    ‘It is fat soluble, and appears to work by entering yeast cell walls so they disrupt. In patients with urinary catheters who experienced Candida urinary infections, taking either one dose of the antifungal drug, fluconazole, or one dose of caprylic acid both rapidly reduced symptoms, but caprylic acid was described as superior and less expensive.’

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