Vaginal yeast infections are torture. The itching and burning can be enough to drive a woman completely bonkers. It keeps us awake, so we find ourselves rooting through the fridge in the middle of the night for yogurt. If we we find some (hopefully plain, not strawberry, but at that point we'll probably try anything), we won't be able to locate a turkey baster and end up scooping it in with our fingers and slopping it up there.
But I have to say that the oft recommended yogurt treatment has never ever cured me or anyone I know. Sure, it can be a bit soothing, but that's it. Over-the-counter stuff like Monistat is the only things that's done the trick for me.
It's possible, though, that we may be misdiagnosing ourselves and self-treating infections not caused by yeast. A study by the American Social Health Association found that 70 per cent of women self-treated vaginal infections before calling a health care provider, and most often what they incorrectly thought was a yeast infection was in fact bacterial vaginosis, another common infection. One variant, trichomoniasis, is sexually transmitted.
Seventy per cent? If the failure rate for the over-the-counter yeast infections remedies were that high, wouldn't we know about it?
Diet and stress can play a role in fighting off yeast infections, and let me remind you that recurring or chronic infections may be a sign of more serious problems like diabetes or HIV.
What the experts say
"Know what you're treating. Candida produces a cottage-cheese-like discharge. Bacterial infection produces a fishy odour. Trichomoniasis is a parasite that creates a green or yellow discharge with a foul odour. Some of these symptoms may be absent or misleading. [If it's yeast, use] berberis or goldenseal . Take orally or in a suppository mixed with calendula . Repopulate the healthy bacteria with lactobacillus acidophilus [supplements that have] fructo-oligo-saccharides . Wear loose clothes made of natural fibres . Restrict refined carbohydrates. Avoid sugar and foods containing yeast or mould like alcohol, vinegars, beer, aged cheese, dried fruits and peanuts. Raw garlic is good."
ZORANA ROSE , naturopath, Toronto
"A simple infusion of herbs that have anti-fungal properties could include equal parts pot marigold flowers (calendula), pau d'arco , rosehip , thyme and neem . Steep 2 teaspoons in 1 cup of just-boiled water for 10 minutes and drink three times a day. An immune-booster tea could contain astragalus root , licorice root , echinacea leaf and withania root. That could be used for several weeks. Pessaries (vaginal suppositories) can be made out of good-quality oils and herbs like goldenseal , calendula and garlic . A very strong tea of calendula and lavender flowers can be used as a wash once a day for two or three days. Good-quality yogurt can be soothing. Acidophilus powder can be inserted [in the vagina]."
CELINA AINSWORTH , herbalist, Toronto
"Yeast infections can be caused by emotional problems that affect the liver, causing energy stagnation and heat, which eventually lead to the redness and itching. Poor diet, excessive intake of greasy or spicy foods or alcohol and smoking can damage your digestion, leading to dampness in your system. Clearing damp heat is done through Long Dan Xie Gan Tang (Gentiana Draining The Liver Decoction). Strengthening the digestion system is done through Bi Xie Fen Qing Yin (Dioscorea Separating The Clear Decoction) and Liu Jun Zi Tang (Six Gentlemen Decoction). In Chinese medicine, we believe a balanced, clear, bland diet is the most appropriate: simple grains, a small amount of protein and easy-to-digest vegetables cooked in steam.'
ROBERT McDONALD , Chinese medicine practitioner, Toronto
"A lot of women think just because they have a secretion they have an infection. This is not the case. Yeast lives with bacteria, and it's a very delicate balance. Anything that causes bacteria levels to go down or changes the acidity will allow yeast to grow. If you're on antibiotics, your bacterial count goes down. Puberty or pregnancy will cause hormonal changes. We don't tend to suffer from yeast when on our periods because the blood cleans it out. There is a prescription drug, Diflucan , for yeast infections. The over-the-counter medications are not going to clear out every yeast infection."
ELAINE HERER , assistant professor, Sunnybrook and Women's College Health Sciences Centre, Toronto