LAST WEEK, we discussed mushrooms - fungi that may be used for food or medicine. There is another kind of fungus called candida, the organism commonly responsible for yeast infection.
The candida organism is one of many germs found in the human digestive tract and in the vagina of healthy women. Usually, these organisms live together harmoniously with other germs and cause no problems. However, this delicate balance may be disturbed and the yeast overgrows and an infection results.
Who gets infected?
Women get infected more often than men, and pregnant women, diabetics, the obese and people with a compromised immune system are particularly prone to candida infections. Medication like antibiotics, some steroids, including skin creams, can also promote growth of candida.
In some women, hot sweaty conditions or the use of tight underwear made from synthetic materials may trigger yeast infections. In others, stress and emotional factors like a dysfunctional sexual relationship may be the underlying cause of recurrent vaginal yeast infections. Other women tend to have infections just before their menses, which suggests a hormonal imbalance. Any condition with immune-system impairment e.g. HIV infection or tuberculosis, predisposes you to fungal infections.
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 very frequently. Typical symptoms include a thick, cheesy, white or yellow vaginal discharge, with burning, itching and redness on the walls and the lips of the vagina.
Skinfolds: This includes under the breasts, in the groin area, the navel and around 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 in an adult it may be a symptom of a more serious disorder such as diabetes or AIDS. Candida infections may also occur at the corners of the mouth, creating cracks and a condition called angular stomatitis.
Nail beds: Candida growing in the nail beds of the fingers and toes may cause pain, swelling and secretion of pus. Infected nails may become disfigured, discoloured and separate from the surrounding skin. Diabetics and people who constantly have their hands in water are particularly at risk. Doctors of old called this problem washerwoman's finger.
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 blood and deeper tissues causing a variety of serious internal problems known as systemic candidiasis.
Conventional treatment depends upon anti-fungal drugs, either as topical creams or lotions, vaginal inserts or as oral medication. The distressing problem of women with recurrent vaginal yeast infections that respond poorly to conventional drug is, sadly, all too common. A viscous cycle of reinfection and repeated medication develops. This situation often responds to the more holistic approach outlined below. Some of the oral anti-fungal medicines may cause liver problems.
The holistic approach seeks to address the underlying causes. These include diabetes, hormone imbalance, drugs, immune dysfunction, poor nutrition, and stress. These problems must be corrected as a part of the treatment plan for candida. Careful attention to personal hygiene and the involvement and treatment of your sexual partner is very important.
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 an anti-fungal drug is not enough. The importance of removal of sugar, including the sweet fruits and their juices, from the diet, cannot be overemphasised as candida thrives on sugar.
Many people suffering from this problem have serious sugar and carbohydrate cravings that seem addictive. Avoid dairy products and yeast-containing foods (that includes all baked goods like breads, cakes, biscuits, etc.)
I suggest that you eliminate these foods entirely during the recovery period and possibly reintroduce them in a limited way 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), vitamin D along with herbs like schizandra and rosemary 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. 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 is another powerful anti-fungal agent that may be applied topically as well.
You may email Dr Tony Vendryes at email@example.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' is available locally and on the Internet.