This OB/GYN Shares Natural Treatments for Vaginal Yeast Infections

This OB/GYN Shares Natural Treatments for Vaginal Yeast Infections

Raise your hand if you’ve ever experienced a vaginal yeast infection?

Women around the world are raising their hand right now, especially if they struggle with hormonal imbalance.

Written by Anna Cabeca, DO

There are many issues that women commonly face; and through all of our ages and stages, vaginal yeast infections consistently rank at the top of that list of concerns!

Truth is, it is estimated that nearly 75% of women in the US will have had at least one yeast infection in their lifetime!

Especially for those experiencing an issue of hormone imbalance (estrogen dominance, thyroid disease, adrenal dysfunction, etc.), the issue of yeast overgrowth – throughout the body – is common.

As an Emory University trained board certified Gynecologist and Obstetrician, I have treated thousands of women over the years.

In that capacity I have learned that vaginal yeast infections…while common, should never be overlooked. Vaginal yeast infections can often be a symptom of a deeper problem; and a growing number of thyroid experts also believe that yeast infections can be a trigger for autoimmune diseases such as Hashimoto’s disease.

Here’s one patient’s story…

Meet Carrie

Carrie was 39 years old, married, with 3 children and in overall good health her entire life. Her main issue had been recurring yeast infections over the past year. She had been self-treating with over-the-counter formulas including Monistat, but while that gave her some temporary relief, nothing really solved the itching and irritation longer term. She said that along with this she had, for the first time in her life, started feeling “off”, more sluggish and had also gained 10 lbs.

As part of her workup I did her blood work and her TSH was 3.9, with low free T3 and normal T4. This told me she was experiencing some hypothyroid symptoms with poor conversion of T4 to T3. She hadn’t had hypothyroid issues previously.

Her cholesterol also came back as elevated at 226, which for her was high as well. Typically when I see high cholesterol, I first ask why.  Could it be heavy metal toxicity?

But when I see recurring yeast issues, high cholesterol and, high or borderline TSH, I highly suspect heavy metals.

With questioning, I found that 2 years previously she had 3 dental amalgams removed with no biohazard precautions. Well, that was a clue as her symptoms started 6 months later.

So here was a classic case of a yeast infection being a symptom of a deeper problem. The root cause of her symptoms was identified as a triad of heavy metal toxicity that I have seen many times: lingering yeast, high cholesterol and thyroid symptoms.

We embarked on a plan for a slow and steady detox; we addressed the yeast infection with both prescription and natural treatments. Carrie hasn’t had a recurrent yeast infection since! She lost her 10 lbs and her TSH at 6 months was 1.4, and her cholesterol was down to 201 without any meds.

As you can see, a “simple” yeast infection may be a sign of something more…but getting to the root cause and a comprehensive approach can solve the problem.

The 411 on Vaginal Yeast Infections…Let’s Begin

In this article you’ll learn,

  • Why discharge, bacteria and smell is normal “down there”! (And how you can know when there is a problem…)
  • What your hormones and the health of your gut have to do with yeast problems
  • Preventative steps, self-treatment options you can take, and when to call your doc
  • Why yeast infections are important even if you aren’t having sex! (if my case study didn’t illustrate this point!)

I’ll also share my favorite DIY vaginal yeast treatment recipe below!

“Normal” can still mean discharge, bacteria and smell!

Vaginal discharge is normal, although what is normal for each individual may fluctuate as we age. This is especially true if we are still ovulating as discharge will fluctuate with our cycle. For most women normal discharge is clear to pale white, or creamy.

Within our vagina women have glands that constantly secret fluid. The lining of the vagina is called the mucosal layer and is made to be kept moist like the inside of our mouth. Our body is constantly shedding cells from our vagina, cervix, vulva and surrounding areas. This shedding is under the control of estrogen, so women who are menopausal normally have less discharge for this reason.

When we ovulate our discharge can appear as if it has some elasticity to it; it can become thicker and stringy. This is all about our hormone fluctuation at this time as our bodies prepare for our fertility.

Having bacteria in the vagina is normal too! A woman’s vagina typically has a lot of “good” bacteria in place which thrives in the vagina’s low, acidic pH environment. A healthy vagina is usually between 3.5 and 4.5 in terms of pH.

We often see pH changes in the vagina occur at times of hormone fluctuation. Some examples of this being: during menses, pregnancy, when having underlying disease such as diabetes, during times of stress, menopause, etc.

The main healthy bacteria found in the vagina are from the Lactobacillus species. Lactobacillus produces lactic acid which helps maintain the vagina’s acidic pH levels. This acidic environment keeps unhealthy bacteria – as well as yeast – from taking up residence in a healthy vagina.

Don’t obsess about the smell! The vagina has a natural body odor that shouldn’t smell fishy or overly sweet. Your scent will be different than someone else’s…and what you are eating can affect it as well.

A fishy odor can mean a bacterial infection. Some women may experience a fishy odor and perhaps some discharge after sex.  What happens is that a man’s sperm and seminal fluid are alkaline. With the alkalinity introduced into the vagina, any established (bad) bacteria may start to thrive.  For this reason it’s a good idea to simply take a bath within 24 hours of having intercourse, with no soap or use of other chemical irritants, please!

A sweet odor may indicate a yeast infection. We’ll talk more about that.

What about vaginal douching? Some women fret over the smell or discharge. Even so, I seldom recommend douching as the vagina is very self-cleaning! If you douche you can kill off the good bacteria!

Meet Candida albicans

If you experience a thick white cottage cheese discharge and/or a sweet odor you likely have a yeast or Candida infection. There are many species of Candida yeasts but the most common is Candida albicans. Note that Candida is not a bacterial infection; it is a fungal infection.

A lot of people hear the word Candida, and think about yeast overgrowth issues in the intestinal tract or gut. If you go to a functional medicine practitioner you may already have been tested or treated for this! Between antibiotic use killing our healthy bacteria and our highly refined and sugary diet supplying yeast with their favorite foods, many people get yeast overgrowth in their gut which can lead to leaky gut syndrome and other problems. This is a very common issue with people having Hashimoto’s and other immunocompromised conditions.

Leaky gut, in turn, can lead to further thyroid issues as key thyroid nutrients such as Selenium, Vitamin D3, and Zinc may not be adequately absorbed.

I view the vagina as an extension of the gut, so when one is unhealthy you are likely to find issues in the other as well! So candidiasis can also occur in the vagina, where it is usually referred to as a “yeast infection”.

A lot of us have candida in our bodies, including the vagina, and it can usually live there without causing any problems. Researchers have estimated that some 20% of women normally have candida in the vagina without having any negative symptoms.

The problem is when there are hormone changes, changes in the immune system or other factors (use of antibiotics is a common culprit) that change the vagina in a way that encourages candida to thrive and multiply.

When I had my practice yeast infections was a very typical complaint, especially with my pregnant patients. Yeast infections are the second most common complaint for abnormal vaginal discharge, after bacterial infections.

Symptoms of yeast infections can include:

  • Cottage cheese-like discharge (some women may not have this)
  • Soreness including vaginal itching
  • Discomfort or pain during urination
  • Discomfort or pain during sexual intercourse

What your doctor may observe:

  • Redness, swelling or cracking of the vaginal walls
  • Sweetish odor with low pH
  • A wet prep or vaginal smear under the microscope that shows fungi

Why we may get a yeast infection

The vagina has many hormone sensitive receptors, so it is no wonder a woman’s risk of getting a yeast infection increases during times of hormone fluctuations.

High estrogen (ovulation/pregnancy) in particular provides an enhanced feeding ground for yeast due to an increase in glycogen production, which yeast will thrive on. On the flip side of that, low levels of estrogen – which occurs naturally as we age – can cause problems, too!

Yeast infections are more common:

  • During pregnancy
  • While menstruating/ovulating
  • When using oral contraceptives (particularly if using high estrogen)
  • During the transition to perimenopause and menopause
  • When stressed or having a weakened immune system (poor sleep, poor diet, environmental toxin exposures, etc.)
  • Having diabetes with uncontrolled blood sugar issues
  • After menopause when using hormones or creams
  • When the vagina’s healthy bacteria is compromised (due to douching or the use of antibiotics, etc.)

Along with impacting the microbiome of the vagina, the hormone changes discussed in the linked article can be another concern for women having thyroid issues. Estrogen Dominance, as one example, can occur, increasing inflammation and worsening hypothyroid symptoms! Estrogen dominance increases the activity of TBG (Thyroxine Binding Globulin) which can further reduce levels of free thyroid hormone our bodies can use.

The vagina is an extension of our gut (really!)

As previously mentioned, I consider the vagina to be part of our body’s gastrointestinal tract (GI tract or gut). It is important to get things healthy in your gut in order to get things healthy in your vagina.

Diet and lifestyle important to your gut health (keeping a healthy digestion, detox and immune system) is also relevant to the vagina. In all of my women’s restorative health programs we follow a Keto-Alkaline® Diet for this reason. This type of diet will support both a healthy gut and a healthy vaginal microbiome. Keep in mind that different parts of the body have their own unique pH. The vagina is healthiest as an acidic environment. But your body’s overall net pH is healthiest when it is alkaline.

Preventative steps you can take

First, eat a Keto-Alkaline diet which focuses on the avoidance of foods such as sugar and carbs (and removes common food sensitivities) that yeast loves and needs to thrive! I also recommend a daily probiotic.

Special note: When on antibiotics, it is especially important to take probiotics during treatment or soon after. You might even consider vaginally inserted probiotics if you have a history of yeast infections.

There are also many “hygiene” things you should do, such as avoiding sitting in a moist condition for an extended period of time, such as with sweaty gym clothes or a wet bathing suit.

Are there perfumes and chemicals in your detergent that could be causing a problem? And clearly be careful what chemicals you are using in your bathtub. Women’s sanitary products can also sometimes be culprits. Tampon trauma can occur, and some sanitary products contain bleaches, perfumes or other chemicals.

Should you begin to feel “off”, there are things you can do to self-treat the problem.

Self-treat for a week (then call in your doc)

You can self-treat vaginal yeast infections with over the counter treatments such as Monistat, Terconazole or herbal preparations. Also, check out my DIY vaginal Yeast Treatment recipe and other self-treatment suggestions.

Note that if you are being treated for another condition, such as diabetes, pregnancy or thyroid disease, please discuss any self-treatment options with your physician.

My favorite DIY Vaginal Yeast treatment:

  1. Warm coconut oil to liquid – 4 oz
  2. Add essential oils – 3 – 5 drops tea tree oil, thieves, and lavender (or rose) oils. (Other essential oil options are oil of oregano and myrrh)
  3. Mix together well
  4. Massage warm mixture on to external vulvar area – and gently to vaginal tissue – if it is too strong as indicated by irritation or burning feeling, dilute with more coconut oil
  5. Pour remaining mixture into small ice cube trays and freeze
  6. You’ve now created your own vaginal suppositories to use twice daily – you may need to use for 7-10 days
  7. To make it stronger you could add 1 tbsp. of boric acid to the mixture if needed

A few more self-treatments you can try include,

  • Probiotics, inserted vaginally (either using probiotic yogurt or even a capsule).
  • Oil of oregano – a great antifungal, I suggest an oral (by mouth) dose daily
  • Caprylic acid – also contains antibacterial and antifungal properties. Take this orally to help naturally address yeast growth in the gut.
  • Coconut oil – One of the reasons I used coconut oil in my women’s restorative cream for the vulva, Julva, is for its natural anti-fungal properties! There are studies that show coconut can reduce Candida albicans infections.
  • No vaginal intercourse – give things a rest down there.

When to call your doc

Call your doctor after one week of self-treatment if you don’t feel any relief! Or, if infections are recurring…or if there is discomfort, pain or bleeding. These could be a sign that there is something else going on. Don’t let the yeast infection linger on. Use medication and get rid of it so it won’t cause additional inflammation and potential new issues.

If secretions become colored (yellow, grey, green can point to an infection), bloody or abnormally smelly, you should discuss with your doctor right away.

It is worth mentioning that yeast infections are frequently self-diagnosed incorrectly (meaning the issue may be something else requiring additional care)!

Your doctor may want to get a culture to determine the yeast’s specific DNA strand so that a specific prescription can be prescribed for you that will eradicate it.

If your doctor doesn’t want to do a culture for some reason you can ask your local compounding pharmacist for a more holistic doctor or check out the IFM link for finding a functional medicine practitioner in your area.

Take care of your vaginal health! (it’s not just about having sex!)

Remember, having a vaginal yeast infection isn’t just an issue for women having sex!

Things can get worse, besides being uncomfortable. Like the earlier case study, a vaginal yeast infection – especially if it lingers on – can be a symptom of a deeper issue. And if you have yeast in your vagina you may have it in your gut as well, needing a more comprehensive plan to get rid of it.

Focusing on your vaginal health is important! Along with yeast infections, vaginal dryness is a big concern as women’s hormones fluctuate and as we age, as is incontinence and other issues. Have you tried Julva, my women’s restorative cream for the vulva? Not a yeast infection treatment, but can help restore moisture and comfort “down there”. You can try Julva for free (just pay shipping)!

About Anna Cabeca, DO

Dr. Anna is a Triple Board Certified OB/GYN. Dr. Anna has been featured on NBC, CBS, ABC, The Huffington Post, Style, American College of Osteopathic Family Physicians, and The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

References:

https://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/vaginitis/conditioninfo/risk#f3

https://www.cdc.gov/fungal/diseases/candidiasis/genital/index.html#two

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2662373/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10946407

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27568869

http://msphere.asm.org/content/1/1/e00020-15

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About Dana Trentini

I founded Hypothyroid Mom October 2012 in memory of the unborn baby I lost to hypothyroidism. Hypothyroid Mom is for informational purposes only and should not be considered a substitute for consulting your physician regarding medical advice pertaining to your health. Hypothyroid Mom includes affiliate links to favorite resources including the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program. Connect with me on Google+

Comments

  1. Nice article its very helpfull thanks for sharing

  2. M. A. White says:

    Love, love your site! We have a bachelor, so, we hope to find more info on from the male patient perspective. Thank you so much for all you have done in sharing your story.

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