Natural approach to candida infection
We take a look at what you can do or take to prevent, alleviate or cure common ailments naturally. As many complementary and alternative medicine therapies haven't undergone rigorous testing, we base the recommendations here on the amount of evidence that is currently available (indicated with asterisks):
Natural steps for candida (check the evidence rating)
*** Good evidence of a health benefit
** Some evidence of a health benefit
* Traditionally used with only anecdotal evidence
Take steps to improve these lifestyle factors **
- Stress management
- Don't wear tight-fitting underwear or clothing
- Avoid vaginal deodorants, soap, powder and perfume
- Avoid underwear made from synthetic fabrics such as nylon. Wear cotton panties
Limit your intake of the following:
- Refined and processed foods
- Processed foods that contain sweeteners, additives and/or chemicals
- High-fat products
- Table sugar and high-sugar products
- Foods made with yeast
These nutrients have been shown to help candida sufferers:
- Vitamin C *
- Vitamin E *
- Selenium *
- Zinc *
- Vitamin A *
- Bifidobacterium bifidum *
- Lactobacillus acidophilus *
The following herbs are often used in the treatment of candida:
- Echinacea **
- Golden seal **
- Calendula **
- Garlic **
- Grapefruit seed **
- Tea tree oil **
The most commonly used complementary approaches to candida are:
- Aromatherapy *
- Herbal medicine *
Please note: This natural medicine guide does not replace the assessment and advice of your doctor.
Candida albicans is a fungus or yeast that is always present in the body, says Dr Arien van der Merwe, medical doctor and author of many books on the topic of natural health. The beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract and the female urogenital system control the growth of candida.
The overgrowth of candida is often caused by the excessive use and abuse of antibiotics. Antibiotics kill the good, harmless, beneficial bacteria along with those that cause disease. Candida then begins to proliferate because the natural growth control is no longer present. This causes thrush in babies and young children and candidiasis in adult women.
What you didn't know about candida
Although candida infections are mainly found in women, men can become infected too. To avoid cross-infection, partners should both be treated if one is infected.
The contraceptive pill disturbs the normal hormone balance in the female urogenital system and can also result in excessive growth of candida.
Diabetics are also prone to candida infections, since candida organisms flourish in a sugary environment. If you often have problems with candida, you should have a glucose-tolerance test.
How do you know if you have candida infection?
Candida infection is manifested in a number of ways:
- Chronic vaginal infections characterised by a thick white, crumbly, itchy discharge. This is often mistakenly regarded as the only symptom of candida infection.
- Infection of the mouth and the rest of the digestive tract with a white layer on the tongue, sore throat, painful and red mucosa in the mouth, anus, penis, skin, fingernails and toenails.
- Systemic infection on account of increased intestinal permeability that allows candida fungi to enter the bloodstream ("leaky gut syndrome"). This can cause diarrhoea, general fatigue, low libido, menstrual disorders, muscular pain, painful joints, headache, bloating, allergies, reduced immune function in chronic respiratory infections, depression and poor concentration.
A conclusive diagnosis can only be made by undergoing specific tests (for example, a test for candida antibodies with IgG, IgM, IgA, as well as food tolerance tests, white blood cell count tests and glucose tolerance tests). Before seeking any treatment, you must first be sure that you do have a candida infection by going for a routine check-up and a vaginal smear.
Try other options under your doctor's supervision. Your doctor should be aware of any complementary therapies that you may be using.
What to take
1. Herbal help
Consult your doctor or a professional herbal practitioner before using any of the herbs mentioned in the following section, especially if you are pregnant, suffer from a chronic disease or are on other medication. Also read the section on herb safety.
Boost your immunity so that you don't get thrush in the first place: take vitamin C, zinc and Echinacea, golden seal (Hydrastis canadensis), calendula and garlic supplements. Studies have found that taking all three during a bout of thrush can reduce the symptoms or shorten the duration of the infection. Most of these herbs will keep the fungal growth in check. Apply them to the affected area or take them orally.
You can also treat a thrush infection with grapefruit seed extract because the seeds of the grapefruit have anti-fungal properties.
Tea tree oil and lavender oil are gentle enough to use on infected skin and the mucosa on the inside of your mouth. Apply directly to the skin or put three drops of each on a vaginal tampon or sanitary towel. You can also add these oils to your bath (ten drops of each). Regular use should soon clear up the problem.
3. Friendly bacteria in capsule form
Capsules of Lactobacillus acidophilus or Bifidobacterium bifidum (two capsules twice a day) will also contribute to the regrowth of a normal bacterial population in the body, thereby balancing the excessive growth of candida. These capsules can either be taken orally or opened up and made into a paste to apply directly into the vagina.
4. Natural yoghurt
Natural yoghurt can also be used as a douche. Mix natural yoghurt with 10ml of apple vinegar, ten drops of tea tree oil and 10ml of golden seal root extract (hydrastis). Add the mixture to a hot bath and have a long soak. Insert a tampon covered in live, natural yoghurt into the vagina. This will soothe the inflammation and is also believed to combat candida.
Consider taking vitamin and mineral supplements and include more vitamins and minerals in your diet to support the immune system and the urogenital system. Focus on: vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin E with 100 IU of selenium a day.
A combination of carotenes, magnesium, calcium, B-complex vitamins, coenzyme Q10, molybdenum, chromium and essential fatty acids (omega-3 and omega-6) may also contribute to the treatment and prevention of candida infection.
Ensure that the following are in the antioxidant combination you use: bioflavonoids (e.g. garlic, quercetin, peppermint, camomile, rose hip, pawpaw, green pepper, broccoli and tomatoes are all rich in bioflavonoids), and zinc.
6. Homeopathic help
According to Johannesburg-based homeopath Dr Debbie Smith, "Candidiasis is a complex problem that contributes to many different health problems. Homeopathy focuses on addressing particular problems, such as constipation, diarrhoea, headaches, indigestion and vaginitis. A homoepathic consultation would be advisable as this is a complex problem."
What to do
1. Watch what you wear
Don't wear tight-fitting underwear or clothing. Avoid vaginal deodorants, soap, powder and perfume. Avoid underwear made from synthetic fabrics such as nylon. Wear cotton panties.
2. Change your diet
Go on a low-sugar and low-yeast diet: sugar and yeast-filled foods, like cakes, chocolates and biscuits, are believed to trigger candida attacks, so avoid these foods. Also limit your intake of bread, ready-made meals, yeast extract, soups and alcohol.
Avoid refined sugar, white flour, white rice, canned or processed foods, fizzy drinks, coffee, fruit juices, bananas, grapes, fermented foods such as cheese, smoked fish, dairy products, honey and mushrooms for 30 days.
Eat plenty of fresh fruit (apart from those mentioned) and vegetables, natural unflavoured yoghurt, fibre-rich foods, brown rice, fresh fish, chicken, olive oil, oatmeal porridge and drink plenty of water.
If your symptoms improve, you will know that the problem is candida. In any event, you will feel much healthier, more energetic and lose a few kilograms as well.
3. Stress management
Stress management is essential in the treatment of candida infection. Chronic stress weakens the action of the immune system and aggravates the frequency and duration of the disease. Most people who have to cope with the burden of recurrent candida infection are psychologically, physically and emotionally taxed.
Balance must be restored, not only in your intestinal flora but also in your life. Outbreaks are often connected to stress at work, changes in living circumstances and the eternal conflict between work, domestic chores and family life.
This article is based on information provided by natural health expert Dr Arien van der Merwe (MBChB). You can order her following books, published by Tafelberg, in English and Afrikaans online at Kalahari.net:
Health & Happiness
Geluk & Gesondheid
Kruie met Geneeskrag