Let's talk about symptoms.
Vaginal yeast infections are common and usually present with vaginal itching, burning, redness, and often thick or white discharge (often referred to as “cottage cheese” discharge). However, an absence of any of these symptoms doesn’t mean there isn’t a yeast infection present. Sometimes it’s just itching, for example. The way to know for sure is to get a vaginal swab for yeast through your doctor, and this can quickly confirm whether your vaginal symptoms are related to yeast. However, most people who have had a vaginal yeast infection can recognize when the symptoms come back and don’t need a test every time.
How are they treated?
Treatment of vaginal yeast infections usually includes vaginal anti-fungal creams or oral medications, conventionally speaking. But there are a host of other treatment considerations that can be incredibly useful, which I’ll get into in a moment.
What happens if a vaginal yeast infection keeps coming back?
When vaginal yeast infections are frequent, say once per year, once per month, all the time, etc, it is useful to ask my favourite question: WHY? Vaginal yeast infections are usually caused by an overgrowth of a particular yeast called Candida albicans, which is part of our natural microbiome but which can cause a lot of issues if it’s allowed to get out of control! Some of the reasons why Candida grows out of control are:
Yeast is usually kept in check by the healthy bacteria in our digestive tract and vagina. When we eliminate the healthy bacteria (by taking antibiotics, which kill both the bad bacteria and the good bacteria), yeast can flourish! If we add to this a high-sugar diet (even too much fruit), we can make matters worse! Steroid use and high blood sugar caused by diabetes can also lead to yeast growing out of control.
We might need to go deeper.
Often, and especially if vaginal yeast infections keep occurring, our best bet is to turn our attention to what’s happening in the digestive system. It is not uncommon for sufferers of vaginal yeast infections to also have symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) like chronic bloating, gas, and loose or explosive stools. In fact, many yeast infection sufferers have been diagnosed with IBS and have accepted these symptoms as a normal fact of life. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — digestive symptoms like those we see in IBS are never “normal” and are always a sign that something is out of balance. People who have an overgrowth of intestinal yeast may also experience:
How is it tested?
Intestinal yeast overgrowth has traditionally been diagnosed by evaluating for yeast in the stool. These days, most conventional labs don’t offer this, but there are still many specialty labs that offer stool testing for yeast.
Ok, get to the good stuff. How do I treat this?
By treating yeast where it starts (ie. through the diet, in the blood sugar, or in the gut), we can help the microbiome get back to a healthy normal state and prevent yeast overgrowth in the vagina for good.
The treatments I use when treating frequent vaginal yeast infections are:
Treating yeast at the source usually results in:
There you have it! If you experience frequent vaginal yeast infections, please know that this is not an issue you just have to accept. Tests and treatment are available, and I love treating yeast and helping people reclaim their health.
What is Candida?
Candida refers to several species of yeast. One species, Candida albicans naturally takes up residence in our digestive tract, mouth, and vagina as part of our normal flora. In normal levels, Candida is unnoticeable by most and is relatively innocuous, but if it grows out of control, it can lead to a variety of annoying symptoms! This is when fungi becomes well, not so fun. The good news is Candida is relatively straightforward to treat!
Here are 10 signs you may have a candida overgrowth:
1. Skin Rashes and Nail Infections
Yeast has certain skin and nail manifestations that cannot be missed! Athlete’s foot, jock itch, diaper rashes, skin rashes, and acne can all be evidence of a fungal infection. Yeast on skin tends to be pink-red patches that are relatively flat, and do not produce discharges. They can be a bit scaly and may be itchy. Often these rashes will improve with the application of an anti-fungal ointment. However, don’t stop there. If you have a fungal overgrowth on the outside, it’s possible it is also happening on the inside as well.
2. Fatigue and Brain Fog
People with yeast overgrowth will frequently experience brain fog and fatigue, most likely due to inflammation caused by the yeast in the GI tract. The inflammation caused by yeast in the GI tract causes the adrenal glands to produce cortisol (our stress hormone). Over time, this can deplete the adrenal glands, leading to a state of chronic fatigue.
Additionally, candida produces toxins like acetaldehyde and gliotoxin, which can affect the nervous system, joints and muscles! It’s no wonder we frequently see brain fog and even pain syndromes like Chronic Fatigue Syndrome being linked with Candida.
3. Frequently Sick and Poor Immune Function
The chronic inflammation that can result from a yeast overgrowth in the GI tract frequently leads to a condition called leaky gut (also known as intestinal permeability). This is where the cells lining the GI tract become slightly spaced apart or “gapped," creating little micro-holes that allow pathogens, toxic metabolites and food particles to pass from the GI tract into our circulation! When this happens, our immune system cells do what they do best—attack! This constant task depletes our immune system and can make us more susceptible to other illness.
It is also noteworthy that people who are susceptible to yeast overgrowth may have an underlying immune deficiency called “selective IgA deficiency.” Selective IgA deficiency is essentially a state of low immunoglobulin A that tends to result from our genes. Having low IgA simply means that we are not as capable of fighting off infections in the first place. People with low IgA often tend to get more respiratory illness and intestinal illness than the average person.
4. Food Sensitivities and Intolerances
With leaky gut comes potential development of food sensitivities! Food particles that move from the enclosed space of our GI tract into our blood can be identified and attacked by the cells of our immune system. This frequently results in the development of food sensitivities. Often when we control both the Candida infection and correct the intestinal permeability, people will find they regain tolerance of foods.
5. Cravings for sugar and refined carbohydrates
Sugar cravings are pretty common but people who have Candida overgrowth often have intense cravings. You know who you are! These are people who can easily pack away pancakes for breakfast, donuts for lunch, pasta for dinner, and pie for desert and just want MORE. One difficulty is that as people make healthy changes to re-balance their GI flora, yeast will start to die-off and this can make sugar cravings even more intense for a while until the body has eliminated some of the harmful metabolites. Once you’re over the worst of these cravings and the yeast has died off, cravings usually reduce significantly!
6. Weight gain or inability to lose weight
It’s no surprise that eating more sugar and refined carbohydrates can lead to weight gain! Excessive amounts of refined carbohydrates in the diet are converted to fat in the body. If leaky gut is an issue, the subsequent inflammation and production of cortisol can lead to even more fat storage, often right around the abdomen!
7. Digestive symptoms like bloating, abdominal pain and loose stools
Really, we can see any variety of digestive issues with a Candida overgrowth but in my practice, I most frequently see patients who experience lots of gas and especially bloating, and frequently stools that are slightly loose or frank diarrhea. We can see alternating constipation and diarrhea, maybe hemorrhoids (from having to strain), stools that are explosive — you get it. There is a variety! Mucus and undigested food in the stool are also frequently seen. If overgrowth is severe, anal itching may also be an issue. As we work to rebalance the GI flora, we frequently see a normalization of these symptoms.
8. Hormonal imbalance
A Candida overgrowth is taxing to the liver! The liver is our headquarters for hormone production. When the liver is busy handling Candida and its metabolites, we can have hormonal imbalance as a consequence. Candida also produces estrogen-like substance, which can lead to too much estrogen in the body compared to progesterone and testosterone. Symptoms of estrogen dominance include PMS, mood swings, irregular periods, breast pain, and heavy periods.
It isn’t a stretch to imagine how having an overgrowth of a pathogen along with all its toxic metabolites can affect our mood! The metabolites from Candida can actually cross the blood brain barrier, which can have massive effects on our mood! People may experience irritability, impatience, and mood swings. These symptoms can become worse when yeast is dying off an releasing even more toxic metabolites, but as our body handles these, mood will often start to improve as well.
10. Frequent UTIs and vaginal yeast infections
Frequent vaginal yeast infections are a clear indication that you likely have an intestinal Candida overgrowth. Until this is addressed, chronic vaginal yeast infections remain a recurrent problem for many women. Symptoms of vaginal yeast infections include thick white cottage-cheese-like discharge, itching, burning, and possibly a vaginal odour of bread or beer!
Although most urinary tract infections are due to bacteria, it is also possible to have a fungal UTI, especially if yeast from a vaginal yeast infection travels up the ureters and takes residence in the urinary tract! A person who experiences frequent urinary tract infections not relieved by antibiotics may actually have a fungal UTI! Generally, antibiotics will not help a fungal infection and can actually make them worse!
If you suspect you may have a yeast overgrowth, please schedule an appointment. A yeast overgrowth is an infection that requires treatment. Don’t live in the Okanagan? No problem. I offer virtual remote consultations as well.