It’s a universally agreed upon fact that yeast infections are incredibly irritating — especially when they keep coming back.
They’re messy, they can get in the way of your sex life, and they can even compel you to scratch your crotch in public at inopportune times.
This past year, I found myself struggling with yeast infection after yeast infection. I took oral yeast infection medications, like over-the-counter AZO (for the relief of symptoms such as itching and burning), and doctor-prescribed Diflucan (an antifungal medication). My problem was that while these meds would help ease symptoms, they’d always come crawling back to me.
When talking to my friends and family with vaginas, at least half of them told me they go through the same thing. Curious, I decided to chat with a doctor about another, perhaps more natural or holistic, way we can approach our vaginal health to properly address yeast infections.
The first step in addressing any potential yeast infections is confirming that you even have one. Dr. Heather Jeffcoat, DPT, Owner of L.A. based Femina Physical Therapy and expert on pelvic pain disorders such as vaginismus, warns against self-diagnosing and using products like Monistat without first consulting a doctor.
“There was a study done in 2015 that reported only 35-40% of women with the classic yeast infection symptom of itching truly had a yeast infection,” she says in an email. “Always getting medically cleared is your first stop.”
This is especially important since jumping to conclusions and using Monistat without chatting with a doctor can be dangerous. For instance, Dr. Jeffcoat has had many patients who have had allergic reactions when using Monistat.
“These allergic reactions have set up a cycle of pain, inflammation and muscle guarding, which in turn creates more pain and is often accompanied by further itching and burning (even in the absence of an ongoing infection),” she says.
After being medically cleared and figuring out whether or not you’re going to try something like Diflucan, there are also a number of more natural routes you can consider.
The trick when it comes to recurrent yeast infections is assessing your full body health. As Dr. Jeffcoat told me, gastrointestinal problems and yeast in the belly is one of the biggest culprits for many yeast infection symptoms.
“There was a review article in 2016 that reported 100% of women that had 4 vaginal yeast infections in a year also had yeast in their gut,” Dr Jeffcoat tells me. “There is an important point to make here, in that women are often treated for recurrent yeast infections, just because they have some of the classic symptoms of a yeast infection.”
While vaginal itching and burning are yeast infection symptoms, they can also be present with vaginismus, for instance. The overlapping of symptoms underscores the importance of a confirmed medical diagnosis. Once the diagnosis is confirmed, Dr. Jeffcoat recommends tackling your gut health with probiotics.
Supporting your gut health with probiotics is a must for the health of your belly and your vagina. Dr. Jeffcoat recommends trying Femdophilus.
“The gut microbiome can cross over with the vaginal microbiome due to their close proximity,” explains Dr. Jeffcoat. “Gut health is very important to maintain for this reason.” Probiotics like Align, which contains Bifidobacterium can also be helpful.
Besides adding probiotics to your daily vitamin list, Dr. Jeffcoat suggests taking action through your diet. Adding fermented foods like kimchi, Kefir and fermented milk may also help in easing up yeast infection symptoms. Consider reducing the amount of grains you consume each day, and look into a Paleo diet.
In my personal experiences, I’ve fared much better using natural or dietary methods rather than anti-fungal medications. If you experience recurrent yeast infections, consider taking action with your diet and vitamins. And be sure to chat with a doctor before you use any over-the-counter drugs.