Yeast Infections – Recent Learnings2017-11-14T22:00:25+00:00

Yeast Infections – Recent Learnings

Dr. Chris D. Meletis, ND

A yeast infection is just that, an infection caused by an overgrowth of yeast.  It has long been argued that yeast can exist in small quantities within a healthy body without causing any symptoms. Yet, with excess stress, too much sugar, changes in hormones or body pH, or after a course of antibiotics, yeast can start to multiply, and begin to wreak havoc on the body. Yeast overgrowth can occur locally – in the vagina or the rectum, or under the breasts; or induce a whole-body experience leading to symptoms that can include and are not limited to:

  • Coated white tongue
  • Fatigue
  • Bad breath
  • Brain Fog
  • Sugar cravings
  • Abdominal Bloating
  • Indigestion
  • Body aches

Vaginal Yeast Infections vs. Bacterial Vaginosis

Most of the time, it is pretty obvious when things aren’t going well down under. However, it is not always easy to determine the source of the problem – is it a yeast infection or bacterial vaginosis?  Below is a chart comparing symptoms of yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis. Of course, checking with your healthcare provider for a solid diagnosis is always important.

  Vaginal Yeast Infection   Bacterial Vaginosis (BV)
  Itch and Irritation Common   Often Little or No Itch/Irritation
  No Definite Odor/Discharge May Be Yeasty   Typically, Fish-Like Odor
  Thick, Whitish Discharge/Can Be Consistency of Cottage Cheese At Times   Thin Watery, White or Gray Discharge
  Often Causes Notable Soreness   Generally, No Soreness
  Cause: Yeast Overgrowth and Sub-Optimal Balance of Good Bacteria to Bad   Cause: Bacterial Infection with Dominance of Bad Bacteria Over Good
  pH May Be Inside Normal Range But Not Optimal to Control the Yeast   pH is Elevated Above Normal Range

How Did I get a Yeast Infection?

Candida albicans, the most common cause of yeast infections, can be found in the mouth, GI tract, skin and vaginal tissues.  If yeast is present in your GI tract, it is possible that you are the source of the yeast that has colonized your vaginal tissues.  Elevated vaginal pH, use of antibiotics that kill off good bacteria which help keep yeast overgrowth in check, menopause, diarrhea, sweating, diabetes that can lead to sugar being in your urine and some even argue the wearing of thong underwear may increase the risk.  The latter has been proposed by gynecologists as a source as the string can wick fluids and yeast towards the vaginal tissues.

Common Causes of Increase Risk for Yeast Overgrowth
  • Too High Vaginal pH  (should be in the acidic range of 3.8 to 4.5)
  • Imbalance of bad bacteria to good bacteria in GI and Vagina
  • Antibiotic Use
  • Yeast Overgrowth in GI Tract
  • Menopause (due to tissue changes)
  • Diabetes (due to spilling of sugar in urine and body pH changes)
  • Sweating and Diarrhea
  • Possibly wearing Thong Underwear or Non-moisture absorbing fabrics

Important Tools to Fortify the Body

Here are tools to help you ward off yeast infections, which for some women can become a recurrent issue for months or sometimes years from my clinical experience.

#1 Minimize stress and stay mindful.  Stress lowers an immune protective secretion naturally made by your body called sIgA.  You can think of sIgA, which is an immunoglobulin, as a health promoting barrier to invasion.  Bottom line, don’t let stress win. There are many sources of stress in our day to day lives, so take care to control the newsfeeds and don’t sweat the small things.  Yoga, Tai Chi and practicing mindfulness are all great tools to help cope with stress.

#2 Keep your vaginal pH in a healthy range. Your vaginal pH is a measurement that describes the level of acidity or alkalinity of your vaginal tissues. When there is healthy balance of good bacteria, the vaginal pH is between 3.8 and 4.5 – this acidic environment is created by the production of lactic acid by the friendly flora. Sadly, optimal vaginal pH can be difficult to maintain. When vaginal pH is elevated it sets the stage for yeast overgrowth, and when yeast takes hold your pH is likely to continue to go up – a vicious cycle of sorts. There are products available over the counter to test your pH and vaginal balancing gels that can help you restore your pH to the proper pH range. Ultimately it is essential to establish an optimal pH to reset the vaginal tissues healthy ecology.

#3 Probiotics. Often called the “friendly bacteria”, probiotics such as Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacterium bifidum, and the often overlooked and very important especially for women Lactobacillus reuteri and other specific “female targeted” probiotics are a must.  Women have different needs when it comes to certain probiotics; the female body needs to be nurtured and tended to meet its chemistry and anatomy.  There are some interesting studies even showing the L. reuteri can help women in menopause that are seeking healthier vaginal tissues.

Oral ingestion of probiotic supplements can help re-populate friendly bacteria, and in turn support sustaining a lower vaginal pH, all of which leads to a healthy vaginal ecosystem and reduces the chance that yeast and bad bacteria will take hold.  Additionally, the use of oral probiotics can support GI health by promoting bowel regularity, immune function and detoxification.

#4 Keep the sugar down.  If you think you might be dealing with yeast overgrowth, it is essential to reduce the foods in your diet that yeast thrives on.  Just like beer and wine are made from the fermentation of carbohydrates by yeast; the yeast in or on your body like sugary foods too. If your blood sugars run high as is the case with pre-diabetes, diabetes and the occasional excess carb load, then you can spill sugar in your urine.  It is said if you spike a blood sugar above 200, then sugar spillage into the urine can occur.  Sugary urine leaving sugary moisture is definitely encouraging to yeast growth.

#5 Anti-fungal Creams or Boric Acid Suppositories. Using an anti-fungal remedy to tamp down the yeast population will often provide short term relief from symptoms such as itching and soreness.  To keep the yeast overgrowth from recurring, it is important to follow steps 1 through 4 to ensure your good bacteria are in charge of your nether regions.

Take Home Message

Our bodies are always communicating with us and giving clues as to how to sustain optimal health and wellness.  It is essential to take time out of our busy schedules to listen to the body and nurture it and bring it back into balance, so that we can thrive and not just survive.

References:

Bizanz, et al. A Systems Biology Approach Investigating the Effect of Probiotics on the Vaginal Microbiome and Host Responses in a Double Blind Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial of Post-Menopausal Women. PLOS One. 2014; 9(8): e104511

Petricevic L, et al. Randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study of oral lactobacilli to improve the vaginal flora of postmenopausal women. Eur J Obstet Gynecol Reprod Biol 2008 Nov; 141(1):54-7.

Eda N, et al. Yoga stretching for improving salivary immune function and mental stress in middle-aged and older adults. J Women Aging. 2017 Apr 3:1-15.

Babu G., et al. Comparative Study on the Vaginal Flora and Incidence of Asymptomatic Vaginosis among Healthy Women and in Women with Infertility Problems of Reproductive Age. J Clin Dagn Res 2017 Aug; 11(8):DC18-DC22

Sherrington, SL, et al. Adaptation of Candida albicans to environmental pH induces cell wall remodeling and enhances innate immune recognition. PLoS Pathog 2017 May 22;13(5):e1006403

de Vos P. et al. Lactobacillus plantarum Strains Can Enhance Human Mucosal and Systemic Immunity and Prevent Non-steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drug Induced Reduction in T Regulatory Cells. Front Immunol. 2017 Aug 23;8:1000.