Vaginal Thrush (Candidiasis)

What is vaginal thrush?

Vaginal thrush is a common infection caused by a type of yeast called Candida Albicans. When there is an overgrowth of Candida albicans yeast it results in vaginal thrush and the symptoms that this condition produces. Over half of Australian women will have vaginal thrush at least once in their lifetime.

This yeast lives naturally in the mouth, throat, bowel and in small numbers in the vagina. It is mostly harmless, but symptoms can develop if yeast numbers increase. Other names for this infection are candidiasis, monilia, moniliasis, yeast infection.

Symptoms can include vaginal itching or burning, a white discharge and stinging or burning while urinating. Vaginal creams or vaginal tablets (pessaries) can help reduce the symptoms of thrush. Thrush can also occur in other parts of the body, such as the mouth.

Symptoms of vaginal thrush

These are the symptoms associated with vaginal thrush:

  • Genital itching and / or burning sensation – this is the most common symptom of thrush, especially if worse before your monthly period;
  • Soreness or burning of the vagina during or after sex and/or while urinating
  • A thick, white discharge with a ‘cottage cheese’ appearance and yeasty smell
  • Change in the smell of your vaginal secretions;
  • Redness and inflammation of the vagina or vulva;
  • Pain – particularly if thrush is recurrent and inappropriately managed; and
  • Small white spots on the vaginal wall.
  • Splits in the genital skin.

Treatment of vaginal thrush

We are concerned here with naturopathic treatment, although I am including the most common types of medical treatment just for information.

Antifungal creams or vaginal pessaries (tablets) – these are put inside the vagina with a special applicator and are used from one to six days, depending on the type that is used. Occasionally a second course of treatment is required. (Canesetn is an example of these medicines).

Oral tablets – these are called fluconazole and are designed to be swallowed. This treatment is more expensive than other options, it is reserved for more stubborn cases and is not recommended for pregnant women or as a ‘first line’ treatment.

How did I get vaginal thrush?

The yeast that causes thrush, Candida albicans, enters the body via the food you eat. It can live in the bowel without causing any problems. It is spread to the vagina from the anus via the perineum – the area between the anus and the vagina. This is known as perineal spread. Other species of yeast often colonise the vagina but cause no harm. Only Candida albicans causes symptoms of vaginal thrush.

Vaginal thrush is not a sexually transmissible infection (STI). It is caused by an overgrowth of the yeast Candida albicans. This overgrowth may also be due to:

  • Antibiotic use
  • Oral contraceptive use
  • Diabetes
  • Pregnancy
  • Menstrual cycle changes
  • General illnesses like diabetes, iron deficiency and immune system disorders
  • Associated vulval skin conditions

Women are prone to vaginal thrush between puberty and the menopause because, under the influence of the hormone oestrogen, the cells lining the vagina produce a sugar and yeasts (which is what Candida albicans is) are attracted to sugars. That is why thrush is rare before puberty, in breast-feeding women (who are oestrogen deficient), and after the menopause, unless a woman is on hormone replacement therapy (HRT) or has diabetes.

Natural Therapy Treatment

The purpose of treatment is to kill off the excess yeast causing the infection and to inhibit its growth. It is a specialised treatment needing an approach to address all causes and bring an end to the sometimes repeated infections.

As always, a visit to a knowledgeable naturopath is important, however here are some of the approaches.

Dietary Changes

One of the most important things that you can do when it comes to rebalancing the candida in your digestive system is to make changes in your diet. You should avoid eating sugar wherever possible as sugar promotes the growth of yeast. Also avoid foods that are made with yeast, such as bread that has been made with yeast, beer, mushrooms, tomato paste, and cheese. Increasing the amount of fibre in your diet is also beneficial as extra fibre will help to absorb and eliminate the toxins produced by candida. I have seen a great number of very strict diets that make life miserable for people trying to follow such a diet, which I consider unnecessary – and not effective by itself, especially in the long term  unless other measures are also followed.

Supplement the Good Bacteria

One good bacteria that you can take to control candida is acidophilus. Acidophilus controls candida by making the intestinal tract more acidic which discourages candida from growing. Acidophilus is available in natural yoghurt, however to obtain adequate amounts you will need the right quality and quantity of supplements.  there are some “special drinks” available that I do not use as many of them also conain sugar, which promotes the candida overgrowth.

Lactobacilli such as lactobacillus acidophilus also help to keep the vagina at the correct pH level, which stops harmful bacteria from growing. Bifidus is another important probiotic that you should consider supplementing.

Herbal Medicine

Herbal medicine can be very valuable in helping to control candida. There are a number of herbs that have proven to be very effective. These need to be prescribed by an experienced Naturopath, as the quality and dosage of these herbs is important in achieving a positive result. they possess anti bacterial and anti fungal properties. In addition to killing off the yeast that produces the symptoms, they also stimulate the body’s immune system and defences.

The treatment plan and medicines used will depend on a number of factors, such as the severity of the problem, its duration, as well as the age and general health of the individual.