Thrush is an infection caused by the species of yeast called Candida. We all have small amounts of candida living harmlessly in our body and it is normally kept under control by our beneficial bacteria and our immune system. However, Candida is an opportunistic organism and, in the right conditions, numbers rapidly multiply and cause symptoms. An abnormal overgrowth of Candida is then classified as a Candida infection or infestation (sometimes also called Candidiasis). The environment most conducive to Candida growth is warm, moist, airless parts of the body, hence the vagina being a common site for a Candida infection.
Other areas of the body that are particularly prone to infection include the groin, the mouth, the intestines and the nappy area in babies. Widespread infection can occur in immuno-compromised people. Candida overgrowth in the intestines is thought to, in some cases, penetrate the intestinal wall, causing the yeast and other unwanted particles to travel to other areas of the body via the bloodstream (known as “Systemic Candidiasis”). This causes the immune system to react, resulting in fatigue, headache, mood swings, poor memory and concentration, and cravings for high-sugar foods. Systemic Candidiasis has also been linked to conditions such as fibromyalgia; although most conventional doctors think this systemic condition is overdiagnosed and many disagree with the diagnosis.
Most cases of thrush are caused by Candida albicans but sometimes other types of the Candida species, such as Candida Glabrata or Candida Tropicalis, are the cause.
- Use of oral contraceptives, HRT, steroids, antacids, anti-ulcer medications, or frequent or long-term use of antibiotics
- High-sugar diets
- Multiple allergies
Thrush is the second most common cause of a vaginal discharge. (The most common cause being bacterial vaginosis). The discharge from thrush is usually creamy white and quite thick, but it may also appear watery. It can cause itching, redness, discomfort, or pain around the outside of the vagina (the vulva). The discharge from thrush does not usually smell. It is often accompanied by pain or discomfort during intercourse and/or whilst passing urine. Thrush does not damage the vagina, and it does not spread to damage the uterus.
“Natural” remedies for thrush include:
- live yoghurt inserted into the vagina
- adding vinegar or bicarbonate of soda to a bath to alter the acidity of the vagina
- tampons impregnated with tea tree, manuka or neem oil
Whilst there is limited scientific evidence to show that these remedies actually cure the infection, women will generally find that they help soothe their symptoms.
Some important things to be aware of:
- Thrush is not a sexually transmitted infection
- Male sexual partners do not need treatment unless they have symptoms of thrush on their penis
- Women do not catch thrush from men who have asymptomatic Candida infections
Diet is an important part of the Candida cleanse. The length of time on the Candida cleanse depends on the length of time a person has had symptoms, symptom severity (including how localized or widespread the symptoms are), and the person’s overall health. People may notice improvement after strict adherence to the diet for two to four weeks. For others it takes months.
Once symptoms are gone and lab tests show significant improvement, foods from the restricted list can be slowly incorporated back into the diet.
Foods to totally exclude
Sugar – refined sugar feeds the yeast and facilitates its growth. Exclude: all forms of sugar and syrup, chocolate, sweets, cakes, biscuits, ice cream, jams, fizzy drinks. (Read labels carefully because there are many hidden forms of sugar. When reading the label, words to watch out for include: sucrose, fructose, maltose, lactose, glycogen, glucose, mannitol, sorbitol, galactose, monosaccharides, polysaccharides)
Dried fruit and commercial fruit juice – dried fruit has a very high content of sugar; commercial fruit juice may be made with older, damaged fruit which is not fit to be sold as fruit
High yeast-containing foods – this includes beer and champagne, marmite and vegemite, bread (use pitta or unleavened bread as alternatives)
Vinegar – this includes all types of vinegar and any food made with vinegar, such as mayonnaise, commercial salad dressing, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, and other commercial sauces
Mushrooms – mushrooms are typically not allowed on Candida diets
Peanuts, peanut butter, and pistachios – all tend to have high naturally occurring mould contamination
Alcohol – tends to contain high sugar content
Coffee, black tea – including filter and instant coffee, decaffeinated coffee, and all types of black tea
Aged, mouldy and processed cheeses
Packaged, processed, and refined foods – canned, bottled, packaged, boxed, and other processed foods containing yeast, refined sugar, refined flour, chemicals, preservatives, or food colouring.
This list is not exhaustive and not everyone actually requires this level of exclusion in order to eliminate a candida infection. For that reason, it is always better to follow an exclusion diet under the guidance of a suitably qualified practitioner and be led by them as to your own specific needs.
Nutritional supplement treatment options
Commencing an anti-candida diet and a regime of supplementation may lead to a “die-off” or Herxheimer reaction – which is essentially a short-term exacerbation of symptoms. This is caused by the dying candida releasing protein fragments and toxins that can trigger a response from your immune system. For this – and other – reasons, it is essential to combine an anti-candida diet with an anti-mycotic (a substance that will treat a fungal infection), along with probiotics. This can be either a prescription drug from your GP or a naturopathic alternative prescribed by a healthcare practitioner.
Lactobacillus acidophilus – is a probiotic that exists naturally in our gut and genitourinary system. As a supplement it can be taken orally and can also be administered vaginally. Controlled trials have shown its efficacy in the treatment of thrush. Acidophilus is thought to control Candida by making the intestinal tract more acidic, discouraging the growth of Candida, and by producing hydrogen peroxide, which directly kills candida. Research has shown that supplementing with a hydrogen peroxide-producing strain of acidophilus, DDS-1, greatly reduces the incidence of antibiotic-induced yeast infections.
Boric acid – capsules inserted in the vagina have been used successfully as a treatment for vaginal yeast infections. One study demonstrated that 85% of women who used boric acid vaginal suppositories were cured of chronic recurring yeast vaginitis. These women had all previously failed to respond to treatment with conventional antifungal medicines.
Caprylic acid – also known as octanoic acid, is a naturally occurring fatty acid. Due to its fat solubility, it is believed to penetrate the cells in the intestine to exert beneficial effects on the gut microbiome.
Undecyclenic acid – works by preventing Candida Albicans from developing into fungus. It is also believed to have fungicidal activity, so can also help to bring an active infection under control.
Grapefruit seed extract – is a highly effective anti-fungal and anti-microbial agent.
Botanical treatment options
Cinnamon – contains various chemicals that exhibit extremely potent antifungal properties.
Garlic – the action of garlic on yeast and fungi is positively dramatic. One study showed that growth of all soil fungi was totally inhibited by an aqueous garlic extract. Medically-important fungi and yeasts (such as Candida albicans) are also inhibited and then killed by increasing concentrations of garlic.
Barberry – (berberine) has been shown under controlled medical trials to inhibit the growth of Candida, even strains that are resistant to pharmaceutical drugs.
Other herbs that are well-known for their anti-fungal activity include Pau d’arco, Alfalfa, Ginkgo, Ginger and Thyme.
Article contributed by Dr Tracy S Gates, DO, DIBAK, L.C.P.H., Consultant, Pure Bio Ltd. Copyright © Pure Bio Ltd 2022. All rights reserved. Pure Bio Ltd are a leading UK supplier of the highest quality PURE nutritional supplements, based in Horsham, West Sussex. Visit www.purebio.co.uk for all your nutritional supplement needs