Getting to the Root Cause of Recurring Yeast Infections
Most women experience yeast infections in their lifetime. The symptoms of vaginal Candida include:
- vaginal itching
- irritation and
- white chunky discharge.
There can even be more systemic symptoms including fatigue, brain fog, skin rashes, groin rashes, thrush, bloating, folliculitis, IBS, and leaky gut issues.
A one-off yeast infection is no big deal. You just head to the nearest pharmacy, grab some over-the-counter yeast treatment, and Bob’s your uncle. But, there are many women for whom the OTC treatments just don’t work. Or, they only work temporarily. The yeast infection comes back within a few weeks or months. If you are one of the ones that yeast is driving batty, here are some ways to get at the root of this fungal infection for good.
First off, is it really a yeast infection?
If yeast treatments don’t work, this is the first thing we have to ask ourselves. Did vaginal swabs show yeast or come back clear of it? If they came back clear then here are some options.
Repeat the swab
Lab tests aren’t fool-proof, sometimes mistakes are made and sometimes yeast fails to show up on a particular swab but does show on the next one.
Irritation from another cause
Itching, burning, irritation, and discharge signify vaginal irritation. But, not necessarily from yeast. Such vaginal irritation and inflammation can also be caused by:
- bacterial overgrowth (bacterial vaginosis)
- food sensitivities
- allergies to latex condoms or spermicides
- vaginal dryness
- hormone imbalances and
- allergies to semen
Of these, food sensitivities are extremely common and often something that women don’t realize they have. Vaginitis, inflammation of the vagina, may be the only obvious symptom. Gluten and dairy are common triggers for this, but it could be literally anything you eat.
They are Yeast Infections
Vaginal swabs did show yeast and symptoms improved with yeast treatment but the infection came back. Then we have to ask, why is your system so receptive to yeast?
Hormones influence your susceptibility to yeast infection. Pregnancy is an altered hormonal state. So, you might be more susceptible to yeast infections while pregnant. Also during pregnancy, your immune function is somewhat altered. This is in order to protect the developing baby from rejection by your immune system.
Birth control pills1 and HRT2
Many of my patients got frequent yeast infections while on birth control pills. Estradiol (estrogen), down-regulates the immune system response to Candida albicans.9
Antibiotics kill not only the bacteria that is causing your infection but also the good bacteria that live in your digestive tract and vagina. These good bacteria create an environment that is inhospitable to yeast growth. They produce a vaginal biofilm that hinders persistent yeast infections7. This is why we always recommend taking a good quality probiotic any time that you have to take antibiotics. Good bacteria prevent the overgrowth of Candida.
Low progesterone production3
Progesterone reduces the ability of C. Albicans strains to form biofilms and to colonize and invade vaginal cells. You can improve your body’s own progesterone production through measures like taking vitamin B6 and zinc and dietary adjustments that optimize hormone balance.
Disordered glucose metabolism6and diabetes4
What would diabetes have to do with Candida? Lots. Higher blood sugar means that sugar is transported by your bloodstream to the vagina and feeds yeast. Sugar also suppresses your immune system. So, if you’re consuming lots of sugary or refined carbs, you make a perfect environment for yeast to thrive.
A weakened immune system
HIV-positive women have been found to be at much greater risk of Candidiasis5. We expect this given their low resistance to infection. If you do not have HIV, you are not as extremely immune-compromised as an HIV patient. But, if you’re:
- under high amounts of chronic stress
- not sleeping enough
- not exercising and
- eating junk
Then your immune system will be weakened and potentially incapable of fending off yeast.
Use of vaginal hygiene products, such as douches and bubble bath that alter the vaginal pH6.
The normal vaginal pH in menstruating women is about 4.0, rising to 4.5 at menstruation. Good bacteria like Lactobacillus acidophilus produce an acidic environment. When the pH is shifted even slightly higher than 4.5, Candida converts from a mild yeast form into a stronger, infection-causing form.10
A healthy hormone balance helps to maintain a healthy vaginal pH.
Iron Deficiency Anemia
Some research suggests that iron deficiency anemia shifts the balance of the two arms of the immune system. It moves you away from Th1 (the microbe-killing portion) and toward Th2 (the allergy portion). This means that your immune system defenses don’t work as well to kill the yeast. And, you are more prone to allergies.8
The more you have to use anti-fungal treatment, the more opportunity for the yeast to develop a resistance to it. The treatment works initially to reduce the yeast numbers, but only temporarily. However, if some of the yeast is resistant to the treatment, they can bounce back as soon as the treatment is complete.
Changes in vaginal pH throughout the menstrual cycle
Some women will get a yeast infection around their period every month. The vaginal pH increases around your period. Even a slight increase in pH may allow yeast overgrowth. Your good bacteria help to maintain a healthy vaginal pH. Balancing your hormones helps to maintain a normal vaginal pH throughout your cycle.
If you suffer from repeated vaginal yeast infections, the possibility of transmission from your partner needs to be considered. Research on recurrent vaginal yeast suggests that there is no association between recurring infection and Candida in a male sexual partner. However, the limitation of this research is that yeast culture was obtained superficially from the male11. Superficial testing isn’t enough because yeast infection has been found in males as high as the prostate12. So your partner could still have it but test negative.
How Natural Treatment for Yeast Infections Helps
As a naturopath, for 20+ years I have helped women:
- balance their hormones
- restore healthy vaginal and digestive tract bacteria
- correct iron deficiency and
- improve immune function for lasting improvement from recurring yeast infections.
Book an appointment here or call the clinic at 416-481-0222 for more information.
Authored by Dr. Pamela Frank, BSc(Hons), ND
Yeast Infections References
1 Anis Ahmad, Asad U. Khan “Prevalence of Candida species and potential risk factors for vulvovaginal candidiasis in Aligarh, India” European Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Reproductive Biology, Volume 144, Issue 1, May 2009, Pages 68–71.
Post-Menopause and HRT
2. Fischer G1, Bradford J., “Vulvovaginal candidiasis in postmenopausal women: the role of hormone replacement therapy”. J Low Genit Tract Dis. 2011 Oct;15(4):263-7.
3. Alves CT, Silva S, Pereira L, Williams DW, Azeredo J, Henriques M, “Effect of progesterone on Candida albicans vaginal pathogenicity Int J Med Microbiol. 2014 Jul 25. pii: S1438-4221(14)00086-1.
4. Gunther LS, Martins HP, Gimenes F, Abreu AL, Consolaro ME, Svidzinski TI “Prevalence of Candida albicans and non-albicans isolates from vaginal secretions: comparative evaluation of colonization, vaginal candidiasis and recurrent vaginal candidiasis in diabetic and non-diabetic women.” Sao Paulo Med J. 2014;132(2):116-20.
5. Apalata T, Longo-Mbenza B, Sturm A, Carr W, Moodley P, “Factors Associated with Symptomatic Vulvovaginal Candidiasis: A Study among Women Attending a Primary Healthcare Clinic in Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa” Ann Med Health Sci Res. 2014 May;4(3):410-6.
6. Donders GG1, Bellen G, Mendling W., “Management of recurrent vulvo-vaginal candidosis as a chronic illness.” Gynecol Obstet Invest. 2010;70(4):306-21.
7. Murina F1, Graziottin A, Vicariotto F, De Seta F, “Can Lactobacillus fermentum LF10 and Lactobacillus acidophilus LA02 in a Slow-release Vaginal Product be Useful for Prevention of Recurrent Vulvovaginal Candidiasis?: A Clinical Study”, J Clin Gastroenterol. 2014 Nov-Dec;48 Suppl 1:S102-5.
8. Naderi N1, Etaati Z, Rezvani Joibari M, Sobhani SA, Hosseni Tashnizi S, “Immune deviation in recurrent vulvovaginal candidiasis: correlation with iron deficiency anemia”, Iran J Immunol. 2013 Jun;10(2):118-26.
9. Lasarte S, Elsner D, Guía-González M, Ramos-Medina R, Sánchez-Ramón S, Esponda P, Muñoz-Fernández MA, Relloso M., “Female sex hormones regulate the Th17 immune response to sperm and Candida albicans” Hum Reprod. 2013 Dec;28(12):3283-91.
10. C Monteagudo, A Viudes, A Lazzell, J P Martinez, J L Lopez-Ribot, “Tissue invasiveness and non-acidic pH in human candidiasis correlate with ‘‘in vivo’’ expression by Candida albicans of the carbohydrate epitope recognised by new monoclonal antibody 1H4” J Clin Pathol 2004; 57:598–603
11. Lisboa C, Costa AR, Ricardo E, Santos A, Azevedo F, Pina-Vaz C, Rodrigues AG. “Genital candidosis in heterosexual couples.” J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereol. 2011 Feb;25(2):145-51.
12. Mayayo E, Fernández-Silva F. “Fungal prostatitis: an update”. Anal Quant Cytopathol Histpathol. 2014 Jun;36(3):167-76.
DISCLAIMER: The information provided here may not apply precisely to your individual situation. Diagnostic and therapeutic choices must always be tailored to the individual patient’s circumstances, and consultation with a licensed naturopathic physician should be undertaken before following any of the treatment strategies suggested on this website.