Most women experience occasional bouts of a common yeast infection known as vaginal thrush.
You will certainlY know the signs: itching, irritation and swelling of the vagina and surrounding area, sometimes with a creamy white cottage cheese-like discharge.
It is not medically serious, but certainly can be upsetting and uncomfortable, and unfortunately it can keep returning – this is known as recurrent (or complicated) thrush.
What causes it?
We have millions of bacteria and small numbers of yeast cells that normally exist in the vagina. Thrush occurs when there is a change in the normal balance of these bacteria and yeast cells.
Unfortunately it is all too easy to upset this balance and although medication or certain medical conditions can be a factor, more than 85 percent of yeast infections are caused by a strain of yeast called Candida albicans.
Thrush is very common in women and it is generally caused by overgrowth of the Candida albicans fungi and linked to women at menopause through high levels of oestrogen through HRT.
Candida normally lives in our skin, but under certain circumstances it can divide excessively and the large numbers of fungal cells will then produce the signs and symptoms of thrush.
What can make it grow?
– diabetes mellitus
– antibiotic use
– corticosteroid drugs
– HIV infection
– low immunity
– pregnancy (particularly in the third trimester)
– use of oral contraceptives/HRT
– high sugar consumption
Signs and symptoms
– irritation of the vulva (the entrance to the vagina and the surrounding area)
– discharge from the vagina that may be a thick, whitish-coloured fluid.
– inflammation of the vulva
How to help yourself
Oestrogen is a factor, so ensure good hormone balance, and likewise having a strong immune system will minimise your risk and that means a good diet, low stress levels, and regular exercise.
Have a look at your regular diet as what you need to do is minimise the growth of yeast in the bowel which, in turn, reduces the likelihood of Thrush.
These simple tips will all help:
– avoid foods high in simple carbohydrate such as refined sugars as thrush thrives on sugar. This means fruit juices, sucrose, biscuits, cakes made from white flour and sugar, honey, white breads and pastries and biscuits
– eat plain bio ‘live’yoghurt (not with any additives such as fruit or honey) and check it contains live cultures of acidophilus. This can also be applied directly to the vagina to relieve itchiness
– have plenty of high fibre foods such as wholegrain cereals, fruit and vegetables, psyllium and oat bran either in food or supplements
– limit (but don’t exclude) foods high in carbohydrates such as potatoes, and fruit such as oranges, kiwi fruit, pineapple, lemons and limes, grapefruit, tomatoes. Re-introduce these foods slowly after about 1 month of treatment
– garlic is a natural antibiotic and can be included in the diet every day. It is best to have garlic at a separate time to acidophilus as the antibiotic activity of garlic may interfere with the acidophilus organism
– certain supplements can help as they feed and promote the growth of good bacteria. These include Vitamin C and bioflavonoids to promote the immune system, and the herb Golden Seal may soothe and decrease inflammation of the mucous membranes.
If you are experiencing thrush, and are not on HRT, then it is always best to consult your doctor to see exactly what you have and how to treat it.
At menopause when vaginal dryness or atrophy can occur you may also find that the topical oestrogen that is often prescribed may also trigger it, particularly if you have a previous history of it.