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Combating yeast infections

Published:Tuesday | April 5, 2011 | 12:00 AM

The common yeast infection is caused by a type of fungus called candida. Sometimes called monilia, this ubiquitous candida organism is one of many germs normally found in the digestive tract and the vagina of healthy women. Usually, these different organisms live together in harmony and cause no problems. Sometimes, this delicate balance is disturbed, the yeast rapidly overgrows and an infection results.

WHO GETS INFECTED?

Women get infected more often than men and pregnant women, diabetics and obese people are particularly prone to Candida infections. Medication like antibiotics, the family-planning pill, some hormones and steroids, including skin creams, can also promote the growth of Candida.

In some women, hot, sweaty conditions or the use of tight underwear made from synthetic materials may trigger off yeast infections. In others, stress and emotional factors like a dysfunctional sexual relationship may be the underlying cause of recurrent vaginal yeast infections. Still, others tend to have infections at the time of their menses, which suggests a hormonal cause. Any condition with immune-system impairment, for example, HIV infection, predisposes the individual to fungal infections.

AREAS AFFECTED

Vagina: The vagina is the most common site of candida infections. Most women will have a few episodes of a vaginal yeast infection during their lifetime, but in the high-risk group the problem may recur frequently. Typical symptoms include a thick, cheesy, white or yellow vaginal discharge, with burning, itching and redness on the vaginal walls and the vulva.

Skin folds: This includes areas under the breasts, in the groin, the navel and the anus. Symptoms include a patchy, itchy rash that may ooze when scratched.

Mouth: A candida infection of the mouth is called thrush. Creamy white patches may appear on the tongue or sides of the mouth. Oral thrush can appear in a healthy child, but when it appears an adult it may be a symptom of a more serious disorder such as diabetes or HIV/AIDS. Candida infections may also occur at the corners of the mouth, creating painful cracks.

Nail beds: Candida infections of the nail beds of the fingers and toes may cause pain, swelling and secretion of pus. Infected nails may become disfigured, and discoloured and can even separate from the underlying nail bed. Diabetics and people who frequently have their hands in water are particularly at risk.

Penis: Uncircumcised men who have diabetes or whose sexual partner has a vaginal candida infection may get infected. A red, itchy, scaly, often painful rash appears on the head or the underside of the penis. However, an infection of the penis (or vagina) may not always cause obvious symptoms and partners may unknowingly continue to reinfect each other.

In some instances, candida can even invade the bloodstream and deeper tissues, causing a variety of serious systemic problems.

CONVENTIONAL TREATMENT

Treatment depends upon anti-fungal drugs, either as topical creams, vaginal inserts or as oral medication. The distressing problem of recurrent vaginal yeast infections that responds poorly to medication is very common and exposes the sufferer to repeated courses of expensive and potentially toxic drugs. This situation often responds better to a more holistic approach.

CORRECT PREDISPOSING FACTORS

These include diabetes, hormone imbalance, drugs, immune dysfunction, poor nutrition and stress. Careful attention to personal hygiene and the involvement and treatment of your sexual partner is important.

You can help to prevent vaginal yeast infections by making sure that your genital area stays dry and well ventilated. Wear cotton, rather than nylon, underwear, and avoid tight-fitting pants and pantyhose. Change out of a wet swimsuit right away and avoid frequent douches, feminine sprays, scented toilet paper and tampons containing deodorant.

CHANGE YOUR DIET

This is critical. If you have a chronic yeast problem, failure to change your diet will result in failure to resolve the issue. Just taking a drug is not enough. Removal of sugar, including the sweet fruits and their juices, along with the refined carbohydrates from the diet, cannot be overemphasised, as candida thrives on sugar.

Many people suffering from this problem have serious sugar and carbohydrate cravings and this must be dealt with. Avoid dairy products and yeast-containing products (that includes all baked goods like breads, cakes and biscuits).

I suggest you eliminate these foods entirely during the recovery period and possibly reintroduce them slowly after you have been free of infections for at least three months. If you have food allergies, those foods need to be avoided also. I strongly recommend supplementing your diet with the cellular nutrition programme.

SUPPORT YOUR IMMUNE SYSTEM

Strengthening the immune system is crucial. The natural antioxidants, vitamins A, C and E, and the mineral selenium (the ACES), along with herbs like schizandra, rosemary and medicinal mushrooms, are excellent immune-system boosters. Adequate rest and good stress management are equally important.

USE NATURAL ANTI-FUNGALS

Probiotics: These healthy bacteria are beneficial in the prevention and treatment of yeast infections. They normally live in the intestines and vagina and are called probiotics (in contrast to antibiotics). The most popular of these are the acidophilus and lactobacillus bacteria. Laboratory studies have found that lactobacilli can block the growth of candida in the vagina. I use a probiotic tablet called FloraFiber as a healthy way to restore the natural balance to the body without the use of powerful drugs.

Herbs: Garlic has a direct yeast-killing effect and should be used liberally in cooking. Garlic cloves may be inserted directly into the vagina. Goldenseal (as a tea) and oregano (as an oil) also have anti-fungal properties while aloe vera helps heal the infected intestinal tract. Tea tree oil, when diluted and applied to the vaginal area, is an effective natural remedy for yeast infections.

You may email Dr Tony Vendryes at tonyvendryes@gmail.com or listen to An Ounce of Prevention on POWER 106FM on Fridays at 8 p.m. His new book - An Ounce of Prevention, Especially for Women addresses these matters.