Women with recurrent vaginal infections know how frustrating it is to get yet another infection. Not only are the symptoms uncomfortable and annoying but it’s often embarrassing to bring it up with your doctor or gynecologist- again. In this article, Dr. Ardyce Yik ND discusses her experience in helping women of all ages get rid of two prevalent vaginal infections- Candida (yeast) infections and bacterial vaginosis (BV).
Vaginal Yeast Infections 101
Also known as candidiasis, vaginal yeast infections are caused by the fungus Candida albicans, a naturally occurring micro-organism in the vagina. Lactobacillus bacteria keeps its growth in check but an imbalance in your system can lead to an overgrowth of yeast. The following can cause yeast overgrowth or an infection: antibiotics, hormonal changes around the menstrual cycle, poor diet or a diet full of sugar or refined carbohydrates, stress, a weak immune system, oral contraceptives (birth control pill), pregnancy, etc.
The most common symptoms include intense itching, burning, clumpy discharge (resembles cottage cheese) and pain during urination or sex. When patients with recurrent yeast infections seek help, Dr. Yik considers the following:
- If you are sexually active, you and your partner may be passing the yeast infection back and forth. Men typically don’t exhibit signs or symptoms. Both you and your partner will need to get treated. It is important to abstain from sexual intercourse during the treatment process.
- Dietary changes: Avoid sugar, refined or processed foods, vinegar, chocolate and alcohol.
- If yeast infections occur before or around menstruation, herbal medicine and nutraceuticals are given to balance hormones and support immune function during this period.
- If stress or a depressed immune system are contributing factors, treatment is aimed at rebuilding immunity (click here to read how to rebuild your immunity naturally) and adopting more effective stress-coping strategies. Usually, a combination of nutritional therapy, vitamins, nutraceuticals and herbal medicine will help.
- Vaginal suppositories containing natural compounds and probiotics (good bacteria including Lactobacillus) may be prescribed to help eliminate yeast overgrowth and replenish the good bacteria needed for optimal microflora balance. These are different from conventional anti-fungal suppositories, which just get rid of the Candida during the time of usage.
- Dr. Yik will assess your health to determine whether or not you may have yeast overgrowth in other parts of the body. If there are other yeast-related symptoms, Dr. Yik may need to do further testing to rule out systemic Candida, which would require more comprehensive treatment.
Bacterial Vaginosis 101
One of the first symptoms women with bacterial vaginosis (BV) may experience is vaginal discharge with a fishy smell. This condition is usually caused by an overgrowth of anaerobic bacteria and a change of vaginal pH. Sometimes, an infection may cause an overgrowth of pathogenic bacteria while at other times, women under significant stress may experience a change of pH in the vagina. Both may lead to BV. Though the strong fishy vaginal odour is a classic symptom of BV, some women who have this condition don’t notice any symptoms.
When patients with BV seek help, Dr. Yik considers the following:
- Probiotic vaginal suppositories which replenish the vagina with good, healthy bacteria are recommended.
- Vitamin D deficiency is linked to recurrent BV infections. Vitamin D is an important nutrient which “helps your body produce a protein called cathelicidin that fights bacteria and viruses,” says Carlos Camargo, M.D., an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. Supplementation with vitamin D may prevent BV recurrence.
- Folate deficiency is also linked to recurrent BV infections. A diet full of dark leafy green vegetables, broccoli, chickpeas and lentils (all of which are rich in folate) is recommended. Furthermore, a study from the Journal of Nutrition concluded that increased intake of folate, vitamin A, and calcium may decrease the risk of severe BV. To fight recurrent BV infections, it is crucial to adopt a healthful and wholesome diet packed with nutrients.
In extreme cases, BV infections may travel up the Fallopian tubes or uterus and cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). If left untreated, PID can lead to scarred tissue in the pelvic organs and infertility.
When vaginal infections become recurrent, it is important to find a doctor who addresses the root causes and helps the body restore healthy vaginal microbiota.