Many women come into my clinic with symptoms of thrush and urinary tract infections, so I've decided to write about it so people can be informed about how to truly beat these two highly unpleasant conditions.
Like any health problem, prevention really is the best way to ensure optimum health and wellbeing, both physically and emotionally.
What I am finding is that a few simple misconceptions and poor dietary and lifestyle habits are causing many women to develop thrush unknowingly.
What Is Thrush?
Thrush is the common name given to a vaginal yeast infection. Vaginal yeast infections are caused by Candida, a type of fungus.
Candida lives in the gut most of the time, but it can be transferred to the vagina, causing thrush. Through dietary and other factors, the candida grows more rapidly and then causes inflammation and then infection.
This is what causes a yeast infection, which can also lead to urinary tract infections (UTI’s).
Vaginal thrush can cause severe itching, a discharge which is usually white (often described as looking like cottage cheese), and sometimes pain or burning when passing urine (wee).
Thrush is more common amongst women who are sexually active, but it can also occur in women who are not sexually active.
What Are The Causes?
Not cleaning the genital and anal area properly can be a major factor (water alone is not enough) and a poor diet full of high GI carbohydrates and refined sugars also makes the bacteria grow.
Many things seem to trigger thrush, such as being ill, using antibiotics and some types of the ‘pill’. Thrush that keeps coming back may be a sign of diabetes or insulin resistance. Therefore a low GI diet and restoring proper gut flora and function is very important.
However, Candida always starts in the gut first, and this is caused by poor diet (i.e. high sugars and yeast based foods) as well as high levels of stress, antibiotics, the pill, illness and disruption of the gut flora.
That is why it’s very important to replenish the gut flora with a high potency prebiotic and probiotic daily. The best form of probiotic contains the NCFM strain of Lactobacillus acidophilus. It is the most scientifically validated therapeutic strain discovered, with a proven track record for gastrointestinal survival, bile tolerance, adherence and colonisation.
But before you start adding in the good bacteria (probiotic) and begin eating the right foods for the good bacteria to grow, it is essential to clear any microbes and bad bacteria first. At the same time you also need to repair the gut lining.
The conventional treatment is usually a cream or pessary (dissolving tablet) which is placed in the vagina daily for up to a week. A treatment in the form of a tablet, such as Nystatin and Diflucan, can be used as well.
The problem with some of these tablet treatments is that while they are designed to kill the bad bacteria in the gut that causes thrush, they can also kill the good bacteria. This then leads to the gut flora being susceptible to further growth of Candida. Basically it means you are worse off than when you started – and who wants that?
The way Chinese and complementary medicine would treat these conditions is to treat the root cause, not just the symptoms. It makes much more sense to treat what is causing the problem in the first place, rather than having to treat recurrences in future.
Firstly, we have to rid the body of the micro organism causing the thrush in the first place. In my clinic, I use powerful antimicrobial herbs that help remove gastrointestinal organisms which may contribute to gut inflammation and permeability. These herbs are also particularly potent against microbial infections.
At the same time, we would use a combination of Chinese herbs to rid the body of the cause of thrush and treat the symptoms at the same time. All treatments may need to be taken for weeks after symptoms have gone, and also as a prevention. Sometime we make a herbal vaginal wash to assist any acute symptoms.
All of this is also done alongside a strict grain free, higher protein, clean eating style of diet. Many people recommend eating yoghurt when you have thrush, but there are not enough probiotics to fix or reverse the problem, let alone address the root cause. You also have to be careful of supermarket probiotic drinks, as they are often loaded with sugar.
After the thrush is addressed, we then have to replenish the gut flora.
I use specially selected Chinese herbs to restore the gut and digestive function, as well as using prebiotics and probiotics, as mentioned earlier. This all needs to be done in the right order and combination to be 100% affective.
Diet must be addressed to help prevent thrush. Grain free/Paleo/Primal is what I recommend to all my patients. This is because candida and other bacteria thrive on sugars and yeast, so these need to be omitted from the diet as much as possible. Natural sugars in fruits are fine in limited amounts.
You will also need to address your stress levels. High stress leads to poor health and disease. When you are stressed, you are most likely to become run down and susceptible to infections, such as thrush and UTI’s.
Is Thrush Contagious?
If the thrush or UTI's come back, it is advisable to treat sexual partners. Bacteria can be passed on to a sexual partner. In males, it occurs more often on uncircumcised men than circumcised men. Keeping the penis clean (and dry), by washing under the foreskin and using anti-fungal creams can usually control this.
Tips To Prevent Thrush
Washing the anal-vulva area daily with a washer and a low pH body wash is essential. Water alone is not enough to get rid of any bacteria. When you wash your hands, you don't use water only do you? The old school of thought was that perfumed based soaps can make thrush and UTI's worse – but we now know that is not true.
Another good practice that has been thoroughly researched is using salt water washes around the anal-vulva/perineum area twice per day after showering. The salt water helps wash away and kill off any leftover bad bacteria. You can do this by using a cup of rock salt in a small bowl of water, washing the anal/vulva/perineum area.
Cranberry juice is well known for its prevention of UTI's, but research now shows us that you shouldn't take cranberry juice while you have an infection. It has been shown to make it worse. Take it to prevent, but not while you have an infection.
With thrush, avoid tight fitting pants and nylon pantyhose. These bring about the warm, moist conditions that yeast loves. Cotton underwear is healthiest option too.
Getting out in the sun and letting sunlight and air onto the vaginal/perineum area can also help.