I live in California and am attending massage therapy school. Ultimately, I want to open a holistic wellness and healing center.
When nothing works
If you've made it to this page, then chances are you're right where I was a little over a year ago--the constant itching and burning, the numerous doctor's office visits, the frustration and sense of hopelessness.
It's incredible how a simple yeast infection can make your whole life feel unbalanced.
Maybe you've been prescribed Diflucan (flucanazole), the antifungal pill hailed as an instant cure for yeast, only to have the infection come back within a few days. Or you've used OTC creams and suppositories from the drugstore, like Monistat, with some success, but by the time your period rolls around the itch is back with a vengeance! I have been there.
It took me over a year to put an end to the infections--neither my gynecologist nor my naturopathic doctor were able to help.
Only trial and error with different products and approaches ultimately did the trick, and I'd like to share what worked for me so that others don't have to suffer the way I did.
First of all, what's causing my recurring yeast infections?
Before you can treat the problem, it's important to understand the cause.
Getting a yeast infection once in a while is completely normal and may be the result of a course of antibiotics, birth control pills, wearing tight fitting clothing or a damp bathing suit for an extended period of time, or habitually overindulging in alcohol, carbs, and sweets.
But typically, if your yeast infections are recurring (defined by the Mayo Clinic as more than 4 yeast infections in a year), the problem is probably more systemic than it is local. This means that the problem probably isn't originating in the vagina, but in the body as a whole. That's why the infection isn't going away, despite your attempts to treat it-- the vagina doesn't exist in a vacuum, so to speak.
Yeast infections are caused by the fungus candida, which naturally occurs in the gut and in the vagina. Normally candida exists in perfect balance with naturally occurring good bacteria in the vagina, but if something throws this balance off, the candida can grow unchecked.
In severely immunosuppressed patients, such as people living with AIDS or those who are undergoing chemotherapy, candida can overtake the good gut flora and begin growing inside the internal organs, causing debilitating symptoms.
But fortunately for most of us, this is not the case. However, in the west where antibiotics are over prescribed and a diet heavy in sugar, refined carbs, and alcohol is the norm, candida overgrowth is more prevalent than we think. Chronic vaginal yeast infections, then, are often a symptom of what's happening in the body at large.
A High Quality, High Dose Probiotic
My yeast infections were caused by frequent antibiotic use as a child and teenager.
I even took antibiotics for acne before I knew better! For most of us, antibiotic use plays at least a partial role in yeast overgrowth, and the yeast is fed and further exacerbated by the sugars we consume regularly.
That being said, your first step is to start taking a high-quality, high dose probiotic.
This is key.
Be prepared to dish out some bucks on this. Seriously, you get what you pay for. It took me months to learn that a pill with a few million or even 5 billion organisms was doing absolutely nothing in the grand scheme of my depleted gut flora.
Normally we have trillions of good bacteria, and if most of them have been wiped out by an antibiotic, it's going to take more than 5 billion a day to get back on track. The same goes for yogurt and kefir and other similar fermented products that contain good bacteria. These are fantastic health foods, but they are best for maintenance, after the problem has been alleviated to some extent.
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If you have chronic yeast infections, I believe you need a minimum of 80 billion live cultures per day for several months, and I'd recommend doses up to 140 billion if you can swing it financially--it makes a huge difference within days. (Note: some people have a little gas when starting with high doses right away, so work your way up over the course of a week or two if that's the case!).
Go for a brand that's already high dose so you don't have to swallow 15 pills a day!
Get a refrigerated product at Whole Foods, your local health food store, or even online from Ebay or Amazon (comes on ice). I love both Udo'S Choice Super 8 Hi-Potency Probiotic and Garden of Life's Raw Probiotics for Women. I've chosen these specifically because they have 2 very important strains for women's vaginal balance: Lactobacillus Rheuteri and Lactobacillus Rhamonsus. I would not consider a probiotic that doesn't contain these strains.
*Finally- you can insert these vaginally for more localized treatment, but be careful.
The veggie capsule (as opposed to gelatin) means it takes a few days to dissolve fully. Definitely don't do this if you plan on having sex that week. However, preliminary research is beginning to show that using probiotics in this manner may actually be the most effective way of treating both yeast and BV. This will probably be the treatment of the future! But so far I haven't found a high potency probiotic in gelcap form--that would be ideal for these purposes!
My favorite probiotics
Now that you have your probiotic, you'll want a good natural antifungal supplement to go along with it.
This will work to clear up the yeast while the probiotics replenish the good bacteria. They work best in tandem, I promise. I know, I know--this is getting pricey. It's not fun, but when you're miserable "down there" it's worth working it into the budget for awhile. These supplements made a difference when nothing else did.
I've tried it all- from drinking herbal tinctures steeped in alcohol to caprylic acid gelcaps, and I have to say that what I like best is a combination antifungal-- a pill that contains several antifungal agents in one.
Plus, it's the most cost effective option. I have used both Rainbow Light Candida Cleanse and Now Candida Support with a lot of success! In my opinion, the Rainbow Light pill works best, but it is also disgusting and difficult to swallow, while the Now variety goes down smooth.
You may want to stagger the times that you take your probiotic and your antifungal, as many of the antifungal substances may also inadvertently wipe out good bacteria. I like to start my day with a probiotic, take the antifungals at lunch, and end the day with more probiotics. Just my preference!
Natural Vaginal Suppositories
Use these nightly during the acute phase of your yeast infection, then gradually decrease to once a week or a few times a month as symptoms dissipate.
I like Vitanica's Yeast Arrest All Natural Vaginal Suppositories a lot. They contain tea tree oil, shea butter, probiotics, and boric acid. They do have a downside though- a bit smelly and leave a discharge on your underwear. I prefer them to conventional treatments like Monistat, however--there are a lot of harsh chemicals in drugstore brands, and I found that after a few tries the drugstore brands no longer had any effect on my "situation." But using a pantiliner helps a ton!
Another suppository I have mixed feelings about is boric acid.
My gynecologist prescribed this to me, and within hours of inserting one I felt 100% better. Some women have had miraculous results with this, but for me the infection came back full force within 3 weeks of stopping treatment. And since boric acid is also used as a rat poison (in a stronger concentration), I'm not comfortable using it as maintenance the way I am with Vitanica's.
Doc warned me that extended use of boric acid could lead to kidney dysfunction. The way my doc described it is like an antibiotic for your vagina--basically wipes out everything, good and bad, and starts you fresh. But if you don't replenish with good stuff right away, there's room for the bad stuff to come right back.
So proceed with caution on that one, ladies!
Modify Your Diet
As I previously mentioned, yeast feed on sugar.
And not just the white stuff, and the obvious culprits like cookies and cake, either-- alcohol, carbs, dairy, and even fruits can inadvertently sabotage all the hard work you're doing to feel better.
Some folks whose candida is out of control and system-wide may need to practice The Candida Diet for a long time.
In a nutshell, this diet looks very much in practice like a low-carb diet such as Atkins. Its goal is to starve the candida by eating lean meats and low glycemic index veggies such as leafy greens. Fruits, beans, legumes, pastas, and rice are all out.
For me, it wasn't necessary to practice this diet to the extreme, probably because I caught the candida before it got completely out of control. I ate a modified version--I cut out desserts, dairy, most alcohol (except dry red wine), starchy veggies like potatoes, bread, and simple carbs like rice and pasta.
But I found that fruit was mostly okay, as well as more complex carbs such as quinoa and beans.
I didn't go crazy, mostly because I knew if I was too restrictive I would give up and binge on red velvet cake and oreos.
The diet I'm recommending for candida is honestly something we should probably all be striving for anyway--it's pretty basic, as close to nature as you can get! Here's a sample of what I ate during a typical day while my yeast infections were bad:
2 scrambled eggs
Greek salad with lean chicken and olive oil, no cheese
quinoa with veggies and lean beef
unsalted mixed nuts
1/2 avocado and/or salsa
hot cocoa made with almond milk, stevia and cacao powder
celery sticks with almond butter
banana (a prebiotic food!)
organic coconut water (no sweeteners added)
Some Other Important Considerations for a Speedy Recovery
Sleep without panties! Unless you are using the suppository, and then wear loose fitting cotton ones! Let yourself breathe. Yeast love warm, damp places. And no thongs. Airflow, airflow, airflow!
Don't stay in your yoga pants all day, especially after you've sweat a lot. See above.
Consider getting a water purifier if you have city water-- chlorine acts like an antibiotic, messing with the balance of bacteria and yeast in your gut.
If you've noticed an increase in symptoms since taking birth control pills, consider using just condoms or getting the Paragard copper IUD. For some women, hormones play a big role in yeast infections.
Dab a cotton ball with diluted apple cider vinegar and tea tree oil and use externally for quick relief.
Consider adding extra virgin organic unrefined coconut oil to your routine. A potent antifungal and skin-soother, this is the perfect ingredient to use in cooking or externally on your lady bits.
Don't give up.
Seriously, the path I'm recommending is not a quick fix, but I believe it's the most sustainable one to long term recovery if you have a serious problem like I did. I've been healthy for about 8 months now using the plan I just outlined. If I get a little itchy now, I don't panic. I take an extra probiotic, drink extra water, use a suppository that night and take care to stay away from sweets for a few days, and I am good.
Of course, your path won't look exactly like mine--I had to experiment a lot to find the right balance in my body-- but hopefully this will be a good start. Please let me know if these tips are helpful for you or if any of your questions are unanswered!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
Rachel on October 12, 2015:
I've had recurring, awful, persistent yeast infections for the past two years. It's been miserable, and I certainly felt hopeless. No doctor or obgyn seemed to know what to do with me (believe me, I've seen several different ones looking for answers). Half the time they won't even listen, and just prescribe the same old diflucan or suppositories, even after I tell them it won't work. This is an excellent article, as it seems that you've combined the best pieces of advice from several different courses of action. Reading this gave me hope again. I just want the yeasties to go away. Thank you so much for sharing this.
Evie Dawson on April 13, 2014:
Thanks for sharing.. I had a great reading time.. Some common triggers which can lead to the development of yeast infections include: poor diet, elevated stress, a chronic yeast overgrowth and most commonly, the recurrent use of antibiotics.