Dear Annie. Do you have any natural suggestions for a vaginal yeast infection? I am diabetic and my medication causes me to urinate sugar. Anything the doctors suggests or prescribes like steroids and other antifungal medications disrupts my blood sugar control.
Thank you for reaching out. Yeast infections, also called vulvovaginal candidiasis (VVC), are very common in women. Did you know that more than 75% of all women will have a problem with yeast infections at some point in their lives? Between 40% and 50% will have reoccurring or episodic infections. Holistic therapies, including herbal remedies, dietary modifications and nutritional supplements can be very helpful in resolving the problem.
Let’s begin by reviewing what yeast infections are and how they happen. Then we can get to the herbs, recipes and suggestions.
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About Yeast Infections
Vaginal yeast infections are most commonly caused by the fungus Candida albicans. However, other Candida strains can be involved. In fact, some of the other species such as C. tropicalis and C. Glabrata, are becoming more frequent. This is probably because of the increased use of over-the-counter antifungal and anti-inflammatory medications. It is interesting to note that the other Candida strains tend to be more resistant to antifungal treatment.
Most yeast infections happen as a single acute occurrence. That means that it comes on strong, but it doesn’t come back. When treated immediately these types of VVC infection usually last about 7 days. If you have, what you think is a yeast infection, but it does not respond to treatment, or lasts longer than 7 to 10 days, go to your doctor. Vaginal yeast infections share symptoms with other, nastier infections. Your doctor will be able to tell you what is going on. Once the kind of infection is established, successful treatment is much more likely.
Recurring vaginal yeast infections
Recurring vaginal yeast infections are defined medically as those that happen 4 or more times in a year. For some, they are more frequent. When VVC is re-occurring, there is almost always looking at a larger picture of imbalance. When that’s the case, it’s important to track down the cause or treat the underlying condition. In that case, we will want to look at each person individually.
Remember, each person is unique. What works for one person with the same diagnosis may not work for another. Even though the diagnosis is the same, the cause or groupings of causes may be quite different. We all have our own way of life. Our job as an herbalist is not to “KILL” the infection. Our job is to reduce the problem, while at the same time, create an environment inhospitable to the offending pathogen. This is done by vitalizing the system and helping the body find harmony. In the case of a vaginal yeast infection, that means normalizing vaginal flora. It also means eliminating factors that might cause vaginal flora to become unbalanced.
Causes of Yeast Infections
It is true that an overgrowth of the fungal species Candida is responsible for yeast infections. But what causes it to overgrow? Candida spp. is a normal part of most vaginal flora. Yet, it’s an overgrowth of the fungus that causes uncomfortable symptoms. The answer is that anything that causes a disruption in the normal balance of vaginal flora can create a hospitable environment for a yeast infection to grow.
Some typical reasons that might alter the balance of Vaginal Flora:
- Recent or repeated antibiotic use
- Diabetes or diabetic medication
- Increased estrogen or progesterone levels
- A candida overgrowth in the colon that overflows to the vagina
- Some medications.
Other causes of a vaginal yeast infection might include an unusual period of stress and excessive sugar consumption. Increased sexual activity or intercourse with a condom and/or spermicide have also been causes of VVC for many women.
Interestingly, yeast infections are not considered an STD (sexually transmitted disease), at least not unless its reoccurring. I find this interesting because in the older books, it is standard to treat the sexual partner anytime there is a problem with sexual anatomy. I have also seen recurring infections that refused to resolve until the partner was treated. Again, there can be lots of reasons you might develop a vaginal infection. Trust your instincts. If you feel like your partner might be part of the problem, involve them in the solution. If the infection is a singular event, it might be best to abstain from intimate relations until it is resolved.
Symptoms of a vaginal yeast infection
It is important to understand that other conditions can cause the same symptoms as a vaginal candida infection. Vaginal pH will be on the high end of normal, or more or less 4.5. When vaginal pH rises above 5, a different infection is likely the cause. Most other types of infections are treatable using holistic methods; however, it is always nice to know what is happening. Plus, some STD’s need to be treated with antibiotics or other medications.
Symptoms of a vaginal yeast infection may include:
- Mild to severe itching
- A curd-like vaginal discharge reminiscent of thin cottage cheese
- Vaginal discharge with a mild yeast-like odor
- Red, swollen and inflamed vulva
- Vaginal thrush (a white coating that will not wipe away)
- Swollen raw vaginal tissue
- An incredible desire to itch, even to the point of rawness.
Natural Solutions for Vaginal Yeast Infections
When working with a yeast infection our goals are to relieve symptoms and discomfort, reduce inflammation and promote healing. At the same time, we want to bring harmony to vaginal flora, thereby creating a healthy environment, one where VVC is unlikely to flourish.
First, let me say that natural methods, including herbal remedies, lifestyle modifications and nutritional supplements are usually quite effective for resolving vaginal yeast infections, especially if they are of the single occurrence variety. When someone has reoccurring yeast infections (4 or more in a year), treating the symptoms is bound to offer relief. Yet without addressing the underlying causes, there will undoubtedly be another occurrence. Now, understand that if symptoms are caused by medication, the main avenue of natural therapy may be diet. A study of the offending medications and its action may also yield a tonic type herb to counter act negative side effects. Again, this is all personalized and beyond the scope of this writing. Herbal remedies and holistic therapies are not one size fits all. They are not take this for that; each person must be taken individually.
That said, let us take a look at some possible treatment strategies for relief of vaginal yeast infections.
Treatment Strategies for vaginal yeast infections
The original question was about how to resolve re-occurring VVC due to diabetes and diabetes medication. Know that for any lasting resolution, you will have to address the whole of your person. We will need to look at the diabetes, lifestyle, food choices and the drugs prescribed to control your blood sugar. However, I think there may be a few things we can do right away to get you feeling better. Then, we will be able to address the underlying problems.
Quick Suggestions you can use at home to decrease or resolve a vaginal yeast infection
Boric acid is especially recommended as a self-treatment for re-occurring infections. Not only is it a natural substance, it is also easy to obtain at most pharmacies and drug stores. Boric acid is anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory and is effective for Candida albicans and the more resistant Candida yeast strain.
Make sure your using 100% Boric Acid. 100% Boric Acid will have the initials NF on the label. If in doubt, as your pharmacist.
What you will need:
- Boric acid powder or crystals
- “00” Vegetable glycerin capsules. (also available at most pharmacies)
Fill your capsules by either using a capsule machine or simply scooping some of the boric acid into the capsules. Fill as full as possible.
The recommended dose is 2 capsules intravaginally daily for 7 days. With clean hands, push 2 filled capsules as far up the vagina as possible. Normally this is recommended as a nighttime treatment before bed. Most women will prefer to wear a pad. There may be some burning for the first few applications, but the burning should not persist.
Garlic is anti-microbial and anti-fungal. Sometimes it can be just the trick you need to get over a lingering or acute vaginal yeast infection.
For a Garlic suppository you will need:
- 1 garlic clove
- A small amount of soft cloth or cheese cloth.
First, peel your garlic clove. Second wrap it lightly in cheese cloth or other clean lightweight material. Next, tie a small string to the end of the wrapped bundle (for easy extraction). Then push the garlic bundle as far up the vagina as possible. Replace every 12 hours until the infection subsides. Note – a plain garlic clove, without the wrapping may also be used. However, the unwrapped clove may be more uncomfortable and difficult to extract.
Alternately garlic can be added to plain unflavored yogurt.
- Finely chop 4 cloves of garlic per ½ cup unflavored, live cultured yogurt
- Infuse, or soak, the garlic in the yogurt for several days, shaking or stirring every day
- Finally, use an applicator or your fingers to insert the yogurt into the vagina.
Garlic yogurt can be very effective but messy. Because of this, application in the shower is often recommended. Alternately, if nighttime application is preferred, be sure to use a pad.
Tea Tree Oil
Tea Tree Essential oil has powerful anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, anti-viral and antiseptic properties. It has been used successfully for treating all sorts of conditions from ringworm, to yeast infections, to cold sores. It is a truly effective and an easy to get healing agent. Plus, Tea Tree oil has a well-balanced pH.
The tampon method, yogurt method and sitz baths are popular ways of using tea tree oil for VVC.
- Add 2 drops of Tea Tree Essential oil per ½ cup boiling water
- Let infuse overnight shaking frequently
- Soak a tampon in the Tea Tee and water mixture
- Insert into the vagina
- Replace the tampon every 8 to 12 hours
Optionally Lavender essential oil may also be added. Live cultured yogurt may also be added in equal parts once the mixture has cooled.
Keeping in mind our goals are to reduce symptoms and inflammation while promoting healing and bringing harmony to vaginal flora. We will likely use the following categories of herbs.
Use anti-inflammatory herbs to reduce swelling, irritation and pain. Herbs in this category include Marshmallow root (Althea officinalis), Lavender (Lavendula officinalis), Yerba Mansa (Anemopsis califorinca), Yarrow (Achillea millefolium), Witch Hazel (Hydrasitis candensis).
Vulnerary herbs help to sooth and protect tissue while at the same time helping to heal irritated and damaged tissue. Look to these kinds of herbs if itching has caused breaks or lesions in the skin. Vulnerary herbs include Marshmallow Root (Althea officinalis), Calendula flowers (Calendula officinalis), Comfrey root or leaves (Symphytum officinalis) and Plantain (Plantago major).
Demulcent botanicals are cooling and soothing. They help to relieve discomfort and sooth itching. Plants in this category include Marshmallow root (Althea officinalis), Comfrey root or leaves (Symphytum officinalis) and Slippery Elm bark (Ulmus rubra).
Astringents are used to dry excess secretions and tone vaginal tissue. These herbs also help create a protective barrier in order to prevent re-occurrence. Astringent herbs include Uva Ursi (Arctostaphylos uva ursi), Rose petals (Rosa spp.), Calendula flowers (Calendula officinalis), Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) and Witch Hazel (Hydrasitis candensis).
Anti-microbial and Anti-fungal herbs
These herbs are used to address the fungal overgrowth. Some of my favorite for the treatment of vaginal yeast infections include Garlic (Allium sativum), Barberry root (Berberis aquifolium), Pou d’Arco (Tabebuia spp), Calendula flowers (Calendula officinalis), Licorice root (Gylcyrriza glabra), Tea Tree (Melaleuca alternifolia), Spilanthes acella, Yerba Mansa (Anemopsis californica), Usnea spp., and Thyme herb (Thymus vulgaris).
Take a moment to notice that many of the herbs listed fall into multiple categories. That means they work on many levels and may be have the best results.
Application Methods for Vaginal Yeast Infections
Both internal (oral) and topical formulations are commonly used when treating vaginal yeast infections with botanical medicine.
Topical Application Methods
The most common forms of topical application used in the treatment of VVC are sitz baths, peri-washes, suppositories and cream applicator.
For a soothing sitz bath combine equal parts of dried herbs from the categories above. A nice mixture might include dried Thyme, Calendula flowers, Marshmallow root, Rose petals and Uva Usi or Witch Hazel. Start by preparing an infusion. To prepare an infusion pour 1 quart of boiling water over 1-ounce mixed herb. Cover and let steep for at least 30 minutes. Next, strain to remove the herb into a sitz bath, or bathtub. Add 2 tablespoons salt and water to the level that is comfortable and soak. Repeat this procedure up to 2 times per day for up to 2 weeks.
A peri-wash is an alternative to a sitz bath. A peri-bottle is a squeeze bottle with a small, pointed top. Peri-washes can be used anytime the itching or other symptoms become uncomfortable.
Prepare the herbal infusion as described above. Then strain the mixture and place the liquid in the peri-bottle with 1 teaspoon of salt. Keep the bottle handy by the toilet and use by squirting the infusion over inflamed tissue as needed. You can use it as often as needed, patting dry after each use.
Vaginal suppositories are pre-prepared herbal blends that are placed as far up the vagina as possible. Herbal suppositories can be made at home or purchased from an herbal practitioner. They keep well when stored in the freezer and used as needed.
Recipe for herbal suppository:
- 1 cup cocoa butter
- ½ cup coconut oil
- Up to 180 drops essential oils. Some of the best EO’s for this purpose are Tea Tree, Lavender, German Chamomile, Clary sage, Thyme and Oregano
- 1 teaspoon Oregon Grape Root Tincture, Barberry Root tincture or Goldenseal
- 1 teaspoon Neem Oil (optional)
- 4 tablespoons marshmallow root powder.
Melt the cocoa butter and coconut oil. Let cool slightly and add the other ingredients. Make a mold by placing a piece of aluminum foil or wax paper in a pan. The idea is to make the molds as small and round as possible. I like to wait to pour the mixture until it is slightly hardened but still pliable. Wrap up in the mold and place in the refrigerator. When hardened cut into 1 ½ inch pieces to be stored in the freezer. Insert 1 suppository nightly for 7 to 14 days. Remember to use a pad at night to protect bedsheets and clothing.
Possible Antifungal/Candida Formula from Katia LaMone
- 20-30% Spilanthes acmella
- 20-30% Pau d’Arco (Tabebuia spp)
- 15-25% Barberry root or Oregon Grape Root (Mahonia or Berberis spp)
- 5-10% Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)
- 5-10% Lomatium (Lomation dissectum)
Suggested dosage: Tincture 20 – 60 drops 3 to 4 times per day. Tea – put 2 teaspoons herb in 1 cup water, steep for at least 20 minutes and take 3 or 4 times per day. Topical, make an infusion with herbs and water (or add 1 teaspoon of the tincture to 1 cup water) and spay directly on the skin.
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Rose, Jeanne; Herbs and Aromatherapy for the Reproductive System, 1994 Frog Ltd, Berkley California
Room, Aviva MD; Botanical Medicine for Women’s Health, Second edition, 2018, Elsevier Inc., St. Luis Missouri.
Notes from the many herbal classes given by Katia LaMone, Midwife and Family Herbalist.
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