The moist, dark areas of your body-the mouth, vagina, and rectum-are full of beneficial bacteria that help protect against infection, as well as fungi that normally cause no problems. But certain conditions change that balance, killing off beneficial bacteria that keep yeast populations in check. Common culprits include pregnancy and diabetes, both of which can change the acidity of the vagina, making it more vulnerable to infection, and antibiotics, which can wipe out the good bacteria that protect the body from more harmful bacteria. The result? Fungus of the Candida variety, the type behind most yeast infections, can take over. Oral thrush, a white, itchy, sensitive rash in the mouth, and vaginal yeast infections, with their burning itch and discharge, commonly crop up as a result.
Yeast infections can be stubborn, recurring even after successful treatment with medicines and antifungal creams. For that reason, prevention is the best option, and you can start with that yogurt in the refrigerator. Eating foods that strengthen the immune system is also smart because they may help fortify your body against many types of infection, so you might avoid the antibiotics that make you vulnerable to yeast infections.
YOUR FOOD PRESCRIPTION
Garlic’s a powerful bacteria fighter-in fact, it was used to help wounds heal back in World War I. But the “stinking rose” also fights fungi. When scientists in Iran added extracts of pure garlic and onion to samples of C. albicans, the fungus that causes most yeast infections, the garlic and onion kept it from growing.
Only recently have scientists discovered that garlic’s little bulbs are packed with antioxidants, so eating plenty of garlic should also help keep your immune system running at full steam.
Aim for: Two cloves per day. Garlic is most effective when eaten raw, so chop some and add it to salads, salsa, and pasta dishes, or simply chew the cloves if you can bear it.
Yogurt with active cultures
This fermented dairy product is chock-full of “good” bacteria. When more of these bugs take up residence in your body, there’s less room for yeast to multiply and cause trouble. In one study on women with recurring yeast infections, yogurt proved particularly helpful. For six months, the women ate a daily 250-millilitre (8-ounce) serving of yogurt with the active culture Lactobacillus acidophilus. For the next six months, they ate no yogurt at all. During the yogurt period, the women experienced 30 percent fewer yeast infections.
Aim for: 250 millilitres (8 ounces) of plain yogurt a day. Make sure you choose yogurt with live, active cultures, particularly L. acidophilus. Avoid sweetened yogurts because sugar can worsen a yeast infection.
Garlic. If you don’t want to risk the scent-ual side effects of garlic, consider a no-odor garlic supplement. A word of warning: Theoretically, garlic may increase the risk of bleeding and should be used under a doctor’s supervision by anyone taking a blood-thinning medication, such as warfarin (Coumadin). Garlic can also irritate the gastrointestinal tract and should be used with caution by people with infectious or inflammatory GI conditions. DOSAGE: 500 milligrams three times a day for up to six weeks.
Probiotics. If you can’t eat enough yogurt, or if it doesn’t seem to be working as quickly as you’d like, try supplementing with probiotics, the very bacteria found in yogurt. Probiotics teem with live, active cultures that aid digestion and keep the body’s population of good bacteria at healthy numbers. They have shown such promise in fighting yeast infections in both the vagina and mouth that some doctors recommend taking them whenever you start a course of antibiotics that may make you vulnerable to yeast infections.
Several studies have found particular benefits from the probiotic L. rhamnosus, often listed on labels as Lactobacillus GG, which can survive the digestive acids in the gut better than others. L. acidophilus, which is more common and much less expensive, has also shown promise.
A study on premature babies found that when their breast milk was supplemented with probiotics for the first six weeks of life, the infants’ risk of yeast infections in their mouths, a common problem, decreased by 20 percent. DOSAGE: Usually 1 tablespoon (15 millilitres) of liquid probiotic culture or one or two capsules a day. Take the dose between meals when digestive acid production is at its lowest and be sure to follow the product’s dosing instructions for best results. Check with your pediatrician before giving your infant probiotics.
Probiotics should be taken for at least two weeks after finishing a course of antibiotics to ensure that your good bacteria reach effective levels.
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Sugary foods, sugary drinks, and alcohol. Yeasts love sugars-in fact, they thrive on them. To starve the troublemakers, make a conscious effort to cut back. That means avoiding fruit juices, sweetened breakfast cereals, ice cream, and desserts as well as anything made with high-fructose corn syrup, like soft drinks and packaged cookies or candy. Try to satisfy your sweet tooth with fruits like cherries, grapes, and fresh apricots or, better yet, have some sweet, crunchy carrots.
You should also avoid alcohol if you have a yeast infection, because yeasts feed on it.
White bread, white rice, and white potatoes. Refined grains and starches raise the level of blood sugar (glucose) in the body, and yeasts feed on glucose. Switch to high-fiber foods like whole-wheat bread, brown rice, and whole-grain pasta and cereal. Choose sweet potatoes over white potatoes whenever possible because they have less effect on blood sugar.
Yeasty foods. Mushrooms and yeast breads contain yeast that may cause yeast fungi to flourish in the body. Avoid them if you’re on antibiotics, under stress, sick, or pregnant-all conditions that make you more vulnerable to a yeast infection.