Thrush is a common itch and discomfort that most women will suffer from at some stage.
It’s more common in pregnant women and people who suffer from diabetes or HIV. Certain antibiotics, wearing tight clothes and even chemotherapy can cause thrush, according to the HSE. Symptoms include finding you have a burning sensation when you go to the bathroom or having a constant itch or hot feeling down below.
Our resident nutritionist and natural health specialist, Yvonne Duffy O’ Shaughnessy spoke to RSVP Live, and explained what is thrush, why we get it and how we can get rid of it naturally.
What is thrush?
“Thrush is a very common yeast infection caused by an overgrowth of bacteria, also known as candida. Symptoms include, itch and discomfort in the genital area. Candida albicans is a naturally occurring fungus which is usually found in the moist parts of the body such as the mouth, ears, nose, toenails, fingernails, gastrointestinal tract and vagina.
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The body is usually able to keep the growth of yeast under control, but in thrush, the yeast takes over, resulting in an infection.
What are the symptoms of thrush?
“If you have thrush, you may experience one or more of the following symptoms:
- A thick, white vaginal discharge or this may be absent with all other symptoms present.
- Burning or itching around the vagina.
- Redness, soreness and swelling of the vulva (the female external genitalia).
- Burning sensation when urinating.
What causes thrush?
“There are a number of factors which may make a woman more susceptible to developing thrush:
- Taking antibiotics: The growth of yeast in the vagina is kept under control by certain friendly’ bacteria. Antibiotics kill these bacteria, allowing the yeast to take over. This is why taking probiotics after an antibiotic is so important to restore your beneficial bacteria again!
- Changes in female sex hormone levels (due to pregnancy, taking the contraceptive pill, or before periods): this can alter the pH balance in the vagina making it more alkaline. Yeast thrives in an alkaline environment. Therefore if you find this is occurring more just before your period, it may be that hormones are not balanced. Herbal medicine makes an effective treatment in addressing hormonal imbalances.
- Diabetes: This raises the sugar content in your blood and urine, which encourages the growth of yeast.
- Stress: Women who are under stress from a poor diet, an illness or lack of sleep are more susceptible. Addressing stress and how you respond to stress is not only helpful in addressing Thrush but also beneficial to your entire body.
- A weak immune system: If your immune system has been weakened by something like chemotherapy, you may be more susceptible to vaginal yeast infections.
- Diet: A diet in sugar and simple carbohydrates like white flour, white rice, and processed foods, tend to raise the blood sugar levels, in turn candida thrives on these sugars, allowing it to multiply and grow into infection. Therefore addressing your diet is the best and most effective way in naturally treating and preventing thrush.
How can I help prevent thrush?
“There are a number of things that you can do to help prevent vaginal yeast infections:
“Avoiding sugar in all of its various forms is truly key to fighting candida. The candida yeast cells need sugar to build their cell walls, expand their colonies and switch into their more virulent, fungal form. This is why a low-sugar diet is such a necessary part of your candida treatment.
“Going forward, you want your diet to be high in vegetables, high-quality protein foods, and gluten-free grains like brown rice and millet. Avoiding fruit at this time is also commonly recommended because even though fruit is very healthy, it does get turned into sugar in the body. I recommend to avoid it only while you are treating the yeast infection and for 2 weeks after to prevent recurrence.
“In terms of vegetables, it is best to avoid the following somewhat, as they are high in sugar and starch: potatoes, carrots, sweet potatoes, yams, beets, peas and parsnips. These vegetables are certainly nutrient-dense and can be reintroduced later on in your treatment.
Avoid Simple Carbohydrates
“Simple carbohydrates are broken down quickly by the body to be used as energy.
“Simple carbohydrates are found naturally in foods such as fruits, milk, and milk products especially yoghurt. They are also found in processed and refined sugars such as sweets, jellies, chocolate bars, fizzy drinks, processed foods, table sugar, syrups, cakes and white flour products, like white bread, buns, scones, etc.
“White rice and white pasta would also be considered a simple carbohydrate. The majority of carbohydrate intake should come from complex carbohydrates like brown bread, brown rice and pasta, vegetables, beans, seeds, lentils, and nuts.
Add the following to your diet
Fermented foods and drinks
“It is important to include the items from my top anti fungal food list below on a daily basis, example including apple cider vinegar, sauerkraut and other fermented vegetables like Kimchi are very beneficial. Water Kefir and Kombucha are also very effective in the treatment of Thrush as they increase the microbiome in the gut hence increasing it in the genital area also.
“Please see videos on my social media on how to make both Kimchi and Kombucha. These are fermented drinks you can include daily in your diet.
Pau d’arco Tea
“Pau d’arco tea is probably the number one thing to add to your candida diet. It helps the body fight candida the natural way. That’s because it has antifungal compounds like lapachol, which has been shown to combat candida. Aiming to drink 3 cups per day would be the recommended dose. Also please note, if you are taking medication it is not advisable to add any supplements into your diet without first consulting your GP or pharmacist or health care provider.
Green Juice and Smoothies
“Leafy green vegetables help alkalize the body, which fights against the acidic nature of yeast overgrowth. Greens contain no sugars but high amounts of magnesium that naturally detox the body, vitamin C to build the immune system, Chlorophyll to cleanse the body, B vitamins to energize the body and iron to give the body full support.
“Including a green juice or green smoothie per day would make a substantial benefit to the diet by helping neutralize acid in the system.
“We all know the amazing health benefits garlic offers. More specifically for thrush its anti-fungal properties make it a very beneficial addition to your diet in trying to combat a yeast overgrowth.
“Garlic contains a large number of sulphur-containing compounds that have extremely potent, broad-spectrum antifungal properties. Raw garlic benefits the fight against candida specifically. Therefore adding this to a salad dressing or chopping it into food at the end of cooking rather than at the start will help protect its valuable properties that aids us to fight infection.
Buy Organic Meat Only
“Protein plays a key role in candida, these include legumes, veg, nuts and seeds for vegans and organic meat for the meat eaters! If you get your protein from farmed meats, you could actually feed candida, while foods high in healthy fats and protein protect against candida. That’s why it’s so important to consume only organic, free-range meat.
“Wear loose cotton underwear. Avoid wearing tights if you are prone to recurrent infections. Avoid tight pants and tight leggings, that do not allow air to circulate in this area. Avoid lace underwear as lace can cause irritation and induce an infection.
“Soaps and body washes can cause much irritation and inflammation to the genital area, therefore it is advisable to avoid irritating soaps, bubble baths and shower gels. Go to your local health food store and seek a body wash that is made from essential oils and all natural products.
“Pat dry the area do not rub as this can also cause irritation. If you have been swimming, change quickly into your dry clothes. Try not to spend prolonged periods of time in a wet bathing suit.
“If wearing sanitary pads, avoid the perfumed ones as the perfume may cause irritation, which may trigger a yeast infection. Ensure you change the pad frequently and if using tampons, change it frequently.
“If you frequently notice a recurrence of thrush or vaginal yeast infection before your period it may be because your hormones are imbalanced.
“There are many herbs and supplements available to you to address the same. However consulting a holistic therapist, Nutritionist, or Medical herbalist is best advised to ensure you get the appropriate herbs suited to your symptoms,
“As mentioned above stress is the trigger for yeast infections. Therefore managing stress helps manage recurrence of infection. Try a 10 minute daily meditation and increase it from there. This is an effective way to calm your mind and rest your body from stress!
Yvonne’s top 7 Anti-Fungal Foods to include in your diet daily
“Below is a list of my top anti fungal foods, aim to add these to your diet daily to prevent the recurrence of Thrush and boost your immunity as well as your gut flora.
Apple Cider Vinegar
“The acid and enzymes in apple cider vinegar help to kill off excess yeast in the body.
Sauerkraut and Fermented Foods
“Fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi contain microflora that help protect the intestines from leaky gut and boost the beneficial bacteria in our digestive system.
“Regular consumption can help improve the immune system, making the body less hospitable for candida.
“Coconut oil has antimicrobial properties and the combination of lauric acid and caprylic acid found in coconut oil kills off harmful candida through ingestion and topical application.
Ground Flaxseeds and Chia Seeds
“Polyphenols found in flaxseeds and chia seeds support the growth of probiotics in the gut and may also help eliminate yeast and candida in the body.
Unsweetened Cranberry Juice
“Cranberry juice without added sugar helps to correct the PH level of urine, helping to prevent the overgrowth of fungi like candida.
Spices like Turmeric and Cinnamon
“Turmeric contains an active component called curcumin that has been shown to completely inhibit the growth of Candida albicans (as well as lots of other fungal strains). Cinnamon can heal oral thrush because studies have shown that people who supplement with cinnamon generally suffer from less candida overgrowth than those who don’t.
“Non-starchy, cooked vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower and asparagus provide valuable nutrients that fight candida.
Can it reoccur?
“Unfortunately, Yes it can. Therefore addressing your diet, stress levels, ensuring hormones are balanced and having a diet high in probiotic foods and drinks are all key to addressing recurrence of vaginal yeast infections.”