Yeast Infections – Home Remedies for Yeast Infections and other Natural Therapies
Vaginal yeast infections, also called vulvovaginal candidiasis, are a type of fungal infection caused by the yeast Candida albicans. Yeasts produce a white discharge, inflammation, and intense itching 1. Antifungal drugs are often effective; however, they possess some serious side-effects and some individuals prefer not to use them. Furthermore, drug resistance is increasing and, as a result, antifungal drugs are not always effective. Therefore, individuals often seek safe and effective natural home remedies for yeast infections to use alone or to complement antifungal drugs.
How to naturally treat chronic recurrent yeast infections?
Many women suffer from chronic recurrent yeast infections. Often antifungal drugs provide temporary relief, but the infection soon returns. Most individuals are unaware that the digestive tract is typically the source of the yeast that causes vaginal infections2–4 which often produce gastrointestinal symptoms of bloating and gas. Women with poor immune systems may have difficulties combating the yeast infection 5. Therefore, a multipronged approach is required to successfully treat chronic recurrent yeast infections by eliminating yeast from the digestive tract in addition to the vaginal infection. Effective natural treatments and home remedies for yeast infections typically consist of both oral supplementation and vaginal suppositories, with herbal products and probiotics. The following herbs and natural products are used in traditional medicine and research suggests they may be safe and effective natural home remedies for yeast infections 6.
Natural & home remedies for yeast infections
1. Barberry – a herbal antifungal for yeast infections
Herbalists use barberry to combat infections and treat digestive issues. Although many different species of barberry are used around the world, common European barberry (Berberis vulgaris) is most widely available. Barberry is closely related to the North American herbs goldenseal and Oregon grape, as well as the Chinese herb Coptis – all these herbs contain berberine and can be used interchangeably. Research shows berberine-containing herbs are effective against yeast infections 7,8.
How does berberine kill yeast?
The alkaloid berberine acts as a broad-spectrum antimicrobial that kills bacteria, parasites, and yeast. Studies show berberine kills yeast by inhibiting the production of key components in their cell membrane 9.
Berberine also enhances the effects of some antifungal drugs8,10, especially in drug-resistant strains 7,11. An additional compound in barberry, 5′-methoxyhydnocarpin (5′-MHC), inhibits multidrug resistant (MDR) pumps that can cause drug resistance. This compound enhances the activity of berberine and also other antibiotic drugs 12. Therefore, barberry extracts may have a synergistic effect when combined with antifungal drugs and can help reduce drug resistance. Although preliminary research is encouraging and herbalists and naturopathic doctors recommend barberry as a natural home remedy for yeast infections to patients, no human studies are available with regards to its efficacy.
How do I take barberry?
Herbal textbooks usually recommend the following to treat various infections
• Tincture (Alcohol extracts) 1-2 mL three times per day 13
How safe is barberry?
Barberry and other berberine-containing herbs appear safe for adults 14. However, due to a lack of research, their use should be avoided in children. Barberry should not be taken for more than three months without consulting a healthcare provider. If you have gallstones, kidney or liver disease, or are currently taking medications, check with your naturopathic doctor before using barberry 15.
Caution: Pregnant and nursing women should not use barberry or berberine-containing products 16. Berberine can damage the developing fetus 17.
2. Propolis – The honey bee’s weapon against fungi
Honey bees produce propolis from resins they collect from plants. Bees use propolis for structural support in the hive and to prevent and treat various infections, including those caused by fungi. Humans have long used propolis as a natural treatment for infections of all sorts including fungal infections.
How does propolis kill yeast?
Animal studies provide evidence that propolis may be effective against yeast infections. Propolis inhibits the growth of candida yeast 18 and targets all stages of their development 19. Propolis also inhibits biofilm formation 20 which is a defense mechanism against antifungal drugs. Furthermore, propolis indirectly helps fight infections by stimulating the immune system to increase the host defense against fungi 21.
How do I take propolis?
Bee propolis is available in many forms, including alcohol extracts (tinctures) and capsules. No standardized dose for yeast infections is available. Check the manufacturer’s product label for instructions.
How safe is propolis?
Propolis was found to be safe when taken orally or topically. However, persons with an allergy to bees, bee products, and/or plant resins should avoid using propolis.
Caution: Pregnant and nursing women should avoid propolis because research is limited.
3. Oregano & Thyme Oil – Powerful essential oils that kill yeast
Thyme and oregano are closely related and belong to the mint family. These plants are rich sources of essential oils which possess antifungal activity. One study showed these essential oils were effective in killing certain bacteria and fungi responsible for vaginal infections, including Candida22. Moreover, oregano oil was found to be more lethal against Candida when compared to an antifungal drug (clotrimazole) 23. Thyme and oregano essential oils were also effective in drug-resistant Candida strains 24.
How do oregano & thyme essential oils kill yeast?
Oregano oil (also called ‘Oil of Oregano’) and thyme essential oils are highly concentrated extracts that primarily consist of carvacrol and thymol. Carvacrol and thymol demonstrate similar antifungal activity against Candida yeast25,26; they both damage the yeast cell membranes and inhibit filamentation, an essential growth stage of the yeast 27.
How do I take oregano oil?
Although both oregano and thyme oil are effective, oregano oil is more widely available to consumers. Essential oils are very potent and can be a bit caustic when taken internally in high amounts. Manufacturers will dilute oregano essential oil with olive oil and their products can range anywhere from a 1:1 to 1:5 ratio of oregano oil to olive oil. As a result, a precise dosage of oregano oil for yeast infections does not exist because concentrations will vary between products. Therefore, some experimenting with the dose is required. If you purchase oregano oil in a bottle, begin by ingesting 3 drops twice daily. You can gradually increase this up to 6 drops, twice per day.
Hint: Rinse your mouth with a little coconut oil or olive oil to dissolve any remaining oregano oil to reduce any offensive taste or potential burning.
How safe is oregano oil?
Although oregano oil tastes caustic and can be irritating, it was found to be safe for use topically and orally. Large doses of oregano oil given to rats were shown to be safe 28. However, it may cause stomach upset (e.g., heartburn) and/or an allergic reaction in some individuals. In general, essential oils can be dangerous when daily dosages exceed 1 mL. Therefore, individuals should limit themselves to 10-15 drops per day.
Caution: Pregnant and nursing women should avoid oil of oregano because research on its usage in this population is limited. Avoid using on children under 2 years old 15.
5. Garlic – A pungent culinary herb to kill yeast
Garlic has long been used to treat infections around the world. Research supports its antimicrobial activity against bacteria, viruses, parasites, and fungi29. Garlic tablets were found to be a good alternative to an antifungal drug (fluconazole) in the treatment of vaginal yeast infections30; they kill yeast and reduces symptoms of vaginal redness, cheesy discharge, and rashes 30,31. Furthermore, garlic enhances the sensitivity of yeast to other antifungals drugs 32.
How does garlic kill yeast?
Garlic contains different sulfur compounds including ajoene 33,34 and allicin 29,35 that destroy candida. These sulfur compounds disrupt normal metabolism and physical functions of yeast36 and also inhibit transformation of the yeast to hyphal growth form37. In particular, garlic causes oxidative stress to yeast by inducing NADH oxidation, glutathione depletion and increasing reactive oxygen species formation 38.
Garlic may work synergistically with antifungal drugs. Allicin enhances the activity and decreases drug resistance of several antifungal drugs including amphotericin B 39,40 and fluconazole 41–44.
How do I take garlic?
Garlic can be taken both orally and inserted into the vaginal canal. Although raw garlic can be used, many women prefer a garlic product that has less odour and is easier to take.
- Tablet: The dose depends on the product. Check the manufacturer’s recommended amount.
- Vaginal cream: apply as needed.
- Fresh garlic suppository: Insert a peeled clove of garlic into the vaginal canal. Remove in the morning. Some women thread a piece of string through a clove of garlic to make it easier to retrieve. Puncturing the clove with a fork will make the garlic more effective but increases the potential for irritation.
How safe is garlic?
Garlic is generally considered. Side effects are mostly gastrointestinal in nature—gastric pain & nausea 45. Garlic is considered safe during pregnancy and lactation when used in normal amounts16.
Caution with vaginal suppositories: Fresh garlic and some garlic products can irritate and cause burning pain when inserted into the vaginal canal, especially if the mucous membranes are inflamed. Test with a small amount to avoid a serious reaction.
6 Coconut oil – the cooking oil that kills candida
Coconut oil, often used in cooking, is a good home remedy for yeast infection. Research shows coconut oil exerts similar or superior anticandidal activity compared to some antifungal drugs, including ketoconazole 46and fluconazole 47. Although no human studies exist, considering that coconut oil is safe and the preliminary research looks positive coconut oil is worth including as part of anti-yeast treatment approach.
How does coconut oil kill yeast?
Saturated fats were once considered bad for you but coconut oil is one of the exceptions. Coconut oil is high in a medium chain fatty acids (MCA) that have numerous health benefits including antifungal activity. The lauric acid and decanoic (or capric) acid that makes up roughly 48% and 8% of coconut oil respectively, have the highest activity against different Candida yeast48,49. Test tube studies show that lauric acid and decanoic acid disrupt the cell membranes of yeast48. Also, monolaurin, (a derivative of lauric acid also found in coconut oil), inhibits biofilm formation which can reduce drug resistance, and it also enhances the host immune response50.
How do I take coconut oil?
There are no clear guidelines on how to take coconut oil for yeast infections. Coconut oil can safely be taken orally or inserted into the vaginal canal. Try 1-2 tsp orally away from meals, but higher amounts may be needed.
How safe is coconut oil?
Coconut oil is used as a cooking oil. It is safe for oral and topical use. However, ingesting large amounts (> 1tbsp) of oil can cause digestive discomfort, loose stools, and even diarrhea. Coconut oil is safe for children and pregnant/breastfeeding women. However, for patients with coconut allergies, localized pruritus may develop when applied topically.51
Caution: Coconut oil is not compatible with latex, which means you can’t use it intravaginally if using traditional condoms for birth control.
7. Turmeric – The curry spice that kills candida
Turmeric imparts curry with its bright yellow color and pungent taste. Traditional medicine uses turmeric primarily as an anti-inflammatory but also as an antimicrobial against several different types of infections. Because this spice is found in most kitchens, it is one of the home remedies for yeast infections.
How does turmeric kill yeast?
Turmeric contains curcumin, which possesses antifungal activity. This bright yellow compound kills Candida by increasing oxidative stress leading to early cell death of the yeast52. It also prevents the transition from yeast to hyphae form, a major virulence factor of Candida52. Moreover, curcumin targets the cell wall of Candida causing leakage of intracellular components.53 In addition, curcumin has a synergistic effect when taken with antifungal drugs (e.g. fluconazole) to improve their efficacy and reduce drug resistance.54
How do I take turmeric?
The optimal doses of curcumin/turmeric to treat yeast infections has not been established. The dose of turmeric/curcumin products can vary greatly between manufacturers. Check the product label for dose.
- Dry powdered herb: 1-2 tsp per day.
How safe are turmeric and curcumin?
Turmeric and curcumin are well tolerated and safe55 but mild adverse events were reported including heartburn56. Turmeric is considered safe during pregnancy when used in small amounts.16
8. Echinacea – the immuno-stimulant that’s not just for colds and flu
Our immune systems fight off fungal infections and usually keep the growth of yeast under control. However, immunocompromised individuals are susceptible to recurrent and severe yeast infections57. Therefore an important strategy to fight yeast infections is to boost the immune system. Echinacea (also called Purple coneflower), stimulates the immune system to help fight a variety of infections. Most individuals associate echinacea with colds, but research suggests it may be useful as a home remedy for yeast infections especially when the immune system is suppressed from drugs and stress.
How does echinacea help fight candida?
Echinacea contains medicinal polysaccharides that have been shown to stimulate certain white blood cells called macrophages to help them “gobble up” yeast.58,59 Animal studies show that Echinacea stimulates the immune system and decreases death in immuno-suppresed mice exposed to Candida yeast.
How do I use echinacea for yeast infections?
Echinacea should be used in conjunction with antifungal herbs rather than being used as the only treatment. It would be particularly useful in chronic recurrent yeast infections. Echinacea is available in alcohol extracts (aka tincture) and capsules.
- Tincture (1:5 40% EtOH) 1-4 ml three times a day
How safe is echinacea?
Echinacea is generally considered safe for adults. Pregnant women can likely take echinacea because research shows it does not harm the fetus60, however its unclear if its safe during lactation 16.
Probiotics – Good bacteria to help you fight off yeast
Probiotics or “good bacteria” are living organism that can play a unique role in preventing and treating vaginal yeast infections. The gut flora has a profound effect on the flora of the vagina. In normal conditions, Lactobacilli are the predominant organisms found in the vagina. However, alterations in the microorganism environment, caused by certain host factors, medications, and poor hygiene 61 can lead to vaginal yeast infections.
Probiotic supplementation helps maintain both a healthy digestive system and vaginal flora. Different species of probiotics were found to be effective against candida yeast (Table 1) 62–64. Moreover, probiotics were found to be effective in reducing recurrence of vaginal yeast infection and may even increase the efficacy of antifungal drugs 65–67.
Table 1. Probiotic strains showing a benefit against Candida yeast62–64.
|L. plantarum||B. lactis||B. lactis|
How do probiotics work?
Probiotics make yeast less virulent by targeting enzymes (proteinase and hemolysin) involved with infection 68. Moreover, they reduce resistance to antifungals by inhibiting biofilm and germ tube formation68,69. Lactobacillus strains inhibit the adherence of Candida to host cells making it difficult to colonize the body70,71.
How do I take probiotics to treat candida infections?
Probiotics come in different concentrations, which are referred to as colony forming units (CFU). The ideal amount of probiotics for many conditions has not been established. Below are common doses that individuals use.
- Vaginal tablets: 4 billion CFU
- Oral capsules: 10-100 billion CFU
How safe are probiotics?
Oral or vaginal probiotics are considered to be safe and well tolerated in healthy individuals including pregnant women72.
Caution: Very sick and critically ill patients should consult their doctor before taking probiotics because serious side-effects (e.g. sepsis) have been reported.73
Summary of the natural & home remedies for yeast infections
There is significant evidence that suggests natural treatments and home remedies for yeast infections are effective. Mild yeast infections may respond to taking a single antifungal along with probiotics. However, women who suffer from recurrent yeast infections may require multi-pronged approach the includes:
- Kill the yeast (e.g. antifungals)
- Balance flora (e.g. probiotics)
- Stimulate the immune system to fight the infection
In the case of very stubborn yeast infections research suggests that combining natural treatments with antifungal drugs may overcome drug resistance and be more effective than either approach alone.
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Author & Photographer: Matt Gowan, BSc, ND
All images are copyright of Matt Gowan ©2017