Q: I’ve been plagued by yeast infections for four years, and nothing seems to make them go away permanently. Am I going to be on this roller coaster for life?
A: Since vaginal infections are easily misdiagnosed, it’s important to get confirmation that yeast is indeed the cause of your symptoms. Ask your health care provider to swab the affected area for culture and analysis by a microbiology laboratory. If possible, work with a lab, such as Genova Diagnostics (www.gdx.net), that can also test the organism for sensitivity to natural products, since that could help streamline your treatment.
The primary culprit in situations like yours is often a type of yeast called candida albicans; however, recent studies have shown an increasing incidence of candida glabrata, a related strain. C. glabrata tends to be hardier than C. albicans and may be more resistant to typical antifungal drugs, so it frequently causes recurring infections. The layer of mucus that coats the vaginal walls contains an elaborate ecosystem that includes a complex mixture of immune proteins along with numerous bacteria, predominantly Lactobacilli. In addition, various strains of candida can be found in up to 25 percent of healthy, asymptomatic women. This doesn’t cause a problem until something throws the ecosystem out of balance, which allows the yeast to overgrow and invade the delicate membranes that line the vagina.
Antibiotic use, diabetes mellitus, and suppressed immunity significantly increase the risk for vaginal–as well as intestinal–yeast overgrowth. Antibiotics kill off lactobacilli and other healthy bacteria that normally keep candida under control. The persistently high blood sugar that occurs with diabetes actively fuels the growth of yeasts, and diabetes often suppresses the immune system. People with HIV can also have weak immune systems, as can people taking corticosteroids or immune suppressive drugs. Chronic emotional or physical stress can suppress immunity as well. Studies have found that a subgroup of otherwise healthy women with recurrent vaginal yeast infections may have a localized immune disorder involving deficient secretion of a protective protein called immunoglobulin A. This makes it difficult for them to eradicate yeast from their mucous membranes.
If you haven’t already been checked for diabetes or HIV, get tested. Even if you aren’t diabetic, it’s still a good idea to minimize your intake of foods and beverages that raise blood sugar, especially alcohol, white potatoes, fruit juices, white sugar, and other refined carbohydrates. Cut back on dairy, too, since yeast loves lactose. Unsweetened yogurt is an exception since it contains insignificant amounts of lactose and is also a good source of lactobacilli. Another exception: Bovine colostrum. It contains immune-boosting substances that have been shown to increase the secretion of immunoglobulin A, which may fight off vaginal infections. Take it in powder form in a dose of 5 to 15 grams per day.
You can also restore balance and enhance vaginal health by taking powdered Lactobacillus acidophilus as a supplement and using it as a douche. For optimal results you should consume at least 30 billion organisms a day, typically one to three capsules of a high potency product. (Remember to keep it refrigerated to maintain potency.) Yogurt douches have long been a popular and effective remedy for vaginal yeast infections. However, now that L. acidophilus is available in suppository form, most women prefer the convenience of this method over douches. A typical course is to insert one suppository nightly for one to two weeks. Repeat as often as necessary.
I recommend that women with recurrent yeast infections supplement long-term with freeze-dried garlic and olive-leaf extract. Both have potent antifungal properties but do not inhibit the growth of healthy lactobacilli. Take 1,500 mg of garlic daily (about two cloves) and 1 to 2 grams of olive leaf extract a day. Ingesting 1 to 3 teaspoons of extra-virgin olive oil a day would also help.
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