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Treating Yeast Infections Naturally and Effectively

Yeast infections are caused by the fungal organism Candida albicans and most commonly manifest as vaginal yeast infections, oral thrush, jock itch, prostatitis and balanitis. Overgrowth of Candida can also manifest as chronic digestive problems (leaky gut, diarrhea, constipation, SIFO, etc), fatigue, generalized itching, recurring urinary tract infections, and more. Recurring yeast infections can be very frustrating and the most common treatments are either harsh or ineffective, and frequently fail to break the cycle of recurrence. I have helped many people to break free of chronic yeast infections, and in this article I’ll cover how my approach works, things you can do at home, and ways I can support you further. Much of this article is focused on chronic vaginal yeast infections as they are the most prevalent, but it also applies to the many other ways that Candida overgrowth can manifest. 


Life with Candida

Candida albicans is one of the many naturally occurring microbes that lives in and on us. The human body is an ecosystem, also referred to as the human microbiome, with trillions of microorganisms like bacteria, fungi, and viruses calling it their home. Populations of microbes in the human microbiome ebb and flow based on many factors like diet and lifestyle, antibiotics, medications, introduction of new microorganisms, and competition between microbes. Some of the microbes in our ecosystem are obviously beneficial to human health, some are neutral, and some can be harmful or problematic. Candida falls into the last category. It’s normal for everyone to have some amount of Candida in their body, and it’s found all over the body, in the digestive tract, on the skin, in the vaginal flora, etc. When the population is controlled and in balance with the rest of our microbiome ecosystem, it doesn’t cause issues. But when the population gets too large it starts causing problems. When we experience a population shift in our microbiome that favors pathogenic or harmful microorganisms, we refer to this as a state of dysbiosis. 

What causes Candida to get out of control?

Candida overgrowth is typically systemic, so even if the symptoms only appear locally as in a vaginal yeast infection, the Candida population in the whole body is usually overabundant. It’s like the tip of an iceberg, or maybe more accurately like the fruiting body of a mushroom where we see the above ground manifestation but 90% or more of the fungus exists underground. It’s important to understand the factors affecting both local and systemic Candida overgrowth. 

Antibiotics are one of the most common causes of Candida overgrowth. When we take antibiotics, they not only kill the pathogenic bacteria they were prescribed for, they also wipe out beneficial bacteria indiscriminately. But they don’t affect yeast or fungal organisms. So during a course of taking antibiotics, as the drug lays waste to the bacterial colonies in your microbiome, Candida takes the opportunity to colonize the newly open territory. Once the new territory is colonized, Candida does everything it can to keep control of its newly acquired kingdom. 

Sugar is the food of choice for Candida albicans and consumption of excessive sugar and carbohydrates in any form (this includes fruit and fruit juice) can lead to Candida overgrowth. The higher the blood sugar level, the more food there is for Candida to thrive on. People dealing with unstable blood sugar levels from Diabetes or pre-diabetes are more likely to experience Candida overgrowth. Sugar cravings are frequently a sign of Candida overgrowth, as the Candida organism releases chemicals that affect our body and brain chemistry - it’s doing what it needs to get food to survive.

Other medications like corticosteroids and immunosuppressive therapies contribute to Candida overgrowth. Immunosuppression limits our immune system from controlling pathogenic growth of Candida, and many steroid drugs also interfere with our body’s ability to effectively control blood sugar. 

Sexual activity is a common trigger for the onset of vaginal yeast infections. If a sexual partner has a high population of Candida, the partner can “share” this and introduce enough to the vaginal flora to trigger a yeast infection. With recurring yeast infections, the vaginal flora ecosystem usually has an existing high population of Candida and sexual activity disturbs the vaginal pH, and introduces new microbes from a sexual partner, leading to a flare up. 

Antibiotic herbs can also lead to dysbiosis and recurrent yeast infections. Many people believe that because herbs are natural, they cannot cause harm. This is very much not true. Herbs are inherently safer and more gentle than drugs, but they still need to be used appropriately to achieve a good result. An herb that kills bacteria is an herb that kills bacteria, it does not choose between “good” and “bad”. Long term or excessive use of antimicrobial herbs or substances like berberine, goldenseal, oregon grape, grapefruit seed extract (GSE), colloidal silver, etc can lead to dysbiosis. 

To Kill or Not to Kill: Getting Rid of Candida

The answer is obviously kill, right? Well, not so fast. For the very infrequent vaginal yeast infections, using anti-fungal drugs can be a reasonable thing to do. But all killing strategies, whether drugs or herbs, have significant drawbacks. 

In Chinese Medicine we have a concept called Zheng Qi, translated as upright Qi or righteous Qi. This represents the normal and healthy functioning of all our body systems, immune system, and organs. Then we have Xie Qi, or evil Qi, which represents any pathogenic influence, but especially infectious pathogens. When dealing with an infection, the outcome of the battle between Zheng Qi and Xie Qi is how we end up feeling. 

Killing strategies damage the Zheng Qi. They may destroy or weaken the pathogen, but they also cause collateral damage along the way. Sometimes that is necessary to do, but when used frequently the damage to the Zheng Qi weakens our body overall and sets us up for a cycle of recurrent infection. This happens whether the killing strategy employed uses anti-fungal drugs, or harsh herbal medicines like neem, oregono oil, pau d arco, black walnut etc. 

When treating chronic dysbiosis of any kind, including Candida overgrowth, it’s important to use herbs that do not harm the Zheng Qi and which are safe to take long term if needed. This leads me to the methods that I have used to safely and effectively help many people deal with chronic yeast infections - Expulsion and Competitive Exclusion. 

Expulsion refers to the method of using herbs that drive out the pathogen, but do not harm the Zheng Qi. The core of the methods I use come from the Chinese Medicine strategy for treating Gu Syndrome, or chronic parasitic infections. This ancient treatment method was renewed in popularity by Dr. Heiner Fruehauf, a modern Chinese Medicine doctor and scholar. This method uses complex formulas that change the terrain of our body’s microbiome, so that beneficial organisms can thrive, and pathogenic organisms have a difficult time doing so. I use the term expulsion because rather than relying on harsh killing herbs that cause lots of collateral damage, we rely on herbs that are fundamentally gentle but function to drive the pathogens out. Many of them are strongly aromatic herbs like Zi Su Ye (Perilla), Jin Yin Hua (Honeysuckle), and Cang Zhu (Atractylodes). They make your body a nice place to be for you, but not a nice place for the target pathogens to be. In addition to gentle anti-parasitic herbs, this approach also uses specific tonic herbs that help strengthen your body’s Zheng Qi, so that your immune system is better equipped to deal with pathogenic organisms on its own. 

For this aspect of addressing chronic yeast infections, I have seen excellent success with using the combination of two Classical Pearls capsule formulas: Thunder Pearls and Earth Pearls. In some instances we may use a custom granule extract formula instead, but these two formulas come in a convenient capsule form and are well-suited to many people dealing with Candida overgrowth. For online support with herbal medicine via Classical Pearls or custom granule formulas, visit Merlin or for one-on-one support you can make an appointment at the clinic

Competitive Exclusion refers to the introduction of beneficial microorganisms to compete for ecosystem space and push out, or exclude, pathogenic organisms like Candida. In the simplest terms, this means you take probiotics to add more beneficial organisms into your microbiome so they can outcompete the Candida. There are many oral probiotics to choose from, one that I recommend is Klaire Labs Lactoprime probiotic. Adding probiotic foods to the diet like live fermented kimchi, sauerkraut, pickles, water kefir etc is another good way to improve the intestinal flora. 

For vaginal yeast infections, probiotic suppositories can be a great tool to increase the flora diversity and use competitive exclusion directly in the affected area. It’s a good idea to use a probiotic designed for this purpose specifically, like Vitanica Probiotic Suppositories. Probiotic suppositories can also improve vaginal dryness in some cases, as Candida can cause excessive discharge but it can also cause dryness via tissue irritation. 

Starvation: Carbohydrate Restriction to Control Candida

Discussion of Candida would not be complete without addressing the Candida Diet. This approach uses starvation, laying siege to the Candida fortress by cutting off its food supply. It can be effective, but it is very hard to control Candida with the Candida Diet alone. Candida requires sugar and carbohydrates to live. If you can comfortably exist on a diet of meat, fat, leafy green vegetables, and very little carbohydrates - you might be able to control Candida with diet alone. For most people, this is unrealistic. Most people have better success with an approach that includes moderate reduction of sugar and carbohydrates, Chinese herbal medicine treatment, and probiotics. This approach is a more comprehensive siege, involving cutting off some of the food supply, but also sending some fireballs, some smoke, and foot soldiers into the Candida castle. 

Additional Recommendations for Vaginal Yeast Infections

Many women have found these boric acid & tea tree oil-based suppositories, Vitanica Yeast Arrest Suppositories, to be helpful for acute yeast infections. Boric acid and tea tree oil are inherently irritating to sensitive tissue so they are not a good fit for everyone, and not a good long term strategy to use alone. They may be helpful, but it’s best to use a well balanced approach with internal herbs, internal probiotics, and probiotic suppositories to not rely too heavily on boric acid and tea tree oil products. 

Herbal bath / Herbal spritz. To make an herbal bath or spritz, first make a decoction of chosen herbs by bringing to a boil in a pot of water, and simmering for 15-30 mins. For a bath, strain and pour the liquid into a bathtub and soak. For a spritz, make a decoction, strain it, and allow the liquid to cool. Pour the liquid into a clean spray bottle, and spritz the external genitalia. Many of the herbs below will stain fabric, so allow the liquid to dry before contacting fabric. 

For anti-fungal external herbal baths, herbs I often use include: Ai Ye (Mugwort), Huang Bai (Phellodendron), Ku Shen (Sophora), She Chuang Zi (Cnidium), and Cang Zhu (Atractylodes). Decoctions are made with whole raw herbs, not powdered herbs. 

For yeast infections that are primarily triggered by sexual intercourse with a male partner, there are a couple additional considerations. Intravaginal ejaculation can increase the likelihood of yeast infections as it alters vaginal pH and because semen contains some amount of fructose sugar, which is intended to fuel the sperm’s journey but may also become food for Candida yeasts. Men can host an abundance of Candida yeast on the penis without being symptomatic, and intercourse can serve to introduce additional colonies of Candida. In both cases, condoms can be a useful tool for preventing vaginal yeast infections triggered by sexual intercourse. 

Additional Recommendations For the Gents

If you’re a man dealing with chronic Candida, whether it’s manifesting as digestive symptoms, skin itching, prostatitis or genital yeast infection - all of the treatment strategies above apply to you except for vaginal suppositories. An additional treatment option for men dealing with genital yeast infections, is to make an herbal penis soak aka a junk dunk. If you have a female partner who deals with recurrent yeast infections, doing regular penis soaks can help you both out. 

Herbal penis soak. To make an herbal soak, first make a decoction of chosen herbs by bringing to a boil in a pot of water, and simmering for 15-30 mins. Strain it, pour the liquid into a mason jar or suitable drinking glass, and allow the liquid to cool to a comfortable temperature. Hold the drinking glass and hang in there for about 5-10 minutes.

For anti-fungal external herbal soaks, herbs I often use include: Ai Ye (Mugwort), Huang Bai (Phellodendron), Ku Shen (Sophora), She Chuang Zi (Cnidium), and Cang Zhu (Atractylodes). Decoctions are made with whole raw herbs, not powdered herbs.
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