Have you ever felt annoyed because you have been overpowered by something microscopic? Well, being tormented by a yeast infection is one such instance in life when you feel helpless! Let’s get to know our adversary better!
Candida Causes Yeast Infections
Candida is the scientific name of the yeast responsible for the majority of yeast infections. It is a fungus that grows everywhere, including in the human body. It loves moist places.
Generally, candida species are harmless microorganisms and form part of the healthy microflora of our body. As long as your immune system is working fine, this fungus is kept under control.
There are several factors that can make you more prone to yeast or candida infections. Knowing them can help you take steps to decrease your risk.
Antibiotic use: Antibiotics kill bacteria. Broad-spectrum prescription antibiotics kill healthy bacteria along with the harmful bacteria plaguing you. This destroys the delicate balance of microflora within your body, allowing yeast to overgrow. Yeast infections have been observed in women taking antibiotics.
Increased estrogen levels: Yeast infections are more frequent in women with higher levels of the female hormone estrogen. Women who are pregnant, taking birth control pills with high estrogen levels or undergoing estrogen therapy fall into this category.
Uncontrolled diabetes: Women who are diabetic with poorly controlled blood sugar levels are more prone to yeast infection than diabetic women with well-controlled blood sugar levels.
Weakened immunity: Yeast infections are more likely more common in women with conditions of low body immunity such as HIV and corticosteroid therapy.
Sexual contact: Yeast infection can also spread through sexual contact.
Other risk factors include:
- Poor diet, particularly an iron deficiency
- Tight clothing
- Humid conditions
Different Types of Yeast Infections
There are different types of yeast infections, depending upon the species of yeast. The symptoms of yeast infections vary depending on which part of your body is infected. Some common types of yeast infections are:
- Yeast infection of the oral cavity or mouth, called thrush, which causes white patches in your mouth
- Yeast infection (thrush) of the esophagus (food pipe), which causes pain or difficulty swallowing food
- Yeast infection in the vagina, called vaginitis, which causes itching, irritation and vaginal discharge with discoloration
- Yeast infection of the foot, called athlete’s foot, causes itching, burning and scaly skin
- Fungal growth on the skin, called ringworm, appears in a ring shape and is red
- Yeast infection of the bloodstream, that can be deadly.
The infection is usually treated with antifungal medicines like tablets and creams prescribed by a medical practitioner. But many times, there is a possibility that it can recur and it may be hard to get rid of completely. So, it is always good to take preventive measures.
Role of Foods in Preventing Infections
As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of the cure. Yes, you can prevent yeast infections through the foods that you eat.
- Poor nutrition is a major reason for yeast or candida overgrowth. It has also been observed that people develop yeast infections when their immunity is low. So, foods that boost the immunity can help prevent yeast infections. Nutritional deficiencies of the various B vitamins can increase the risk of oral candidiasis.
- Probiotics play a major role in reducing yeast infections. Probiotics are food supplements that contain microorganisms that have a beneficial effect on the body. A 2016 study by Japanese scientists published in Histology and Histopathology shows that probiotic foods like yogurt can reduce the growth and sensitivity of certain yeast infections (1).
By being selective in the types of foods you eat, you can prevent the occurrence of yeast infections.
Here are the top 10 foods that can help you prevent yeast infections.
1. Apple Cider Vinegar
Natural (undistilled), organic, raw apple cider vinegar is a superfood that has antibacterial, antifungal, antioxidant, blood pressure and blood sugar lowering properties (2). It is rich in minerals like potassium, calcium, iron and magnesium that energize your body.
The antifungal property of apple cider vinegar comes from the acid and other enzymes present in it. In 2014, a paper in the Journal of Prosthodontics reported that apple cider vinegar had antifungal properties to inhibit yeast infection in patients with dental stomatitis, thereby providing an alternative therapy for treatment (3).
When you purchase apple cider vinegar from your grocery store, be sure to buy only the raw, unfiltered variety. It should be brownish, cloudy and you should be able to see a cobweb-like structure called the ‘mother’ upon swirling the liquid.
You can drink an apple cider vinegar solution daily to help prevent a yeast infection. Simply mix 1 or 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar in a glass of water and drink it 2 times a day. If you are not used to taking apple cider vinegar, start by taking 1 tablespoon and gradually increase the amount to 2 tablespoons.
Caution: Apple cider vinegar is mildly acidic in nature. Do not consume more than the quantity specified above. It should always be diluted in water in the specified volume. It is always good to start with a very small amount and gradually increased, only if your body is fine with it.
2. Fermented Foods (Kimchi and Sauerkraut)
Kimchi and sauerkraut are popular fermented vegetables and share similar health benefits. Kimchi is a traditional Korean food produced by fermenting vegetables like cabbage with probiotic bacteria like lactic acid bacteria mainly.
It also contains other functional foods like ginger, garlic and red pepper. As the kimchi undergoes fermentation, it serves as a source of probiotics.
The anticancer, antioxidant, antiaging, cholesterol-reducing and colorectal health promotion properties have been reported by researchers (4).
These contain beneficial lactic acid bacteria like Leuconostoc and different strains of Lactobacillus, which boost the immune system and also fight against yeast infections (5), (6).
Evidence from a study showed that cruciferous vegetables like cabbage and broccoli that were fermented using beneficial bacteria had the ability to inhibit the growth of certain species of Candida (7).
Naturopathists suggest eating mainly fresh organic vegetables that are steamed like broccoli, cauliflower and asparagus.
Stay away from starchy vegetables like carrots, radishes, beets, potatoes and sweet potatoes if you have a yeast infection. Cooked vegetables, such as cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower and broccoli, that are low in starch are helpful because they contain fewer sugars, thereby inhibiting the growth of yeast that multiplies rapidly in a sugar-rich environment.
Eat green leafy vegetables like spinach and salads. Leafy green vegetables like spinach, lettuce and broccoli are alkaline in nature and help reduce the growth of acidic-loving yeast. They contain very little sugar but are rich in magnesium and chlorophyll that detoxify the body. Plus, the iron, and vitamins C and B in them help energize your body and boost your immunity.
A study published in 2000 in the Journal of Intestinal Microbiology showed that a mixed green vegetable juice of celery, parsley, spinach, broccoli and lettuce might improve the population of the beneficial microflora of the human intestine (7).
4. Virgin Coconut Oil
Virgin coconut oil is processed from coconut milk of freshly grated coconuts. As the process involves little or no heating, the biologically active compounds are retained as such (8).
Coconut oil contains lauric acid and caprylic acid, which are responsible for its antimicrobial properties. It can kill the yeast when taken orally in small amounts and also when applied topically (9).
Always buy cold-pressed virgin coconut oil, which retains all the benefits.
Use coconut oil as a cooking medium or simply add 1 tablespoon of it in your morning coffee or smoothie. You can eat 2 tablespoons (30 ml) of coconut oil in a day to reap it’s health benefits.
Garlic is known as a Russian penicillin for its widespread use as an antimicrobial agent. Garlic contains more than 33 different organosulfur compounds, many of them have antifungal properties.
Raw garlic has the ability to fight candida, specifically as shown in rats (10).
Other studies also suggest that organosulfur constituents like ajoene have the ability to inhibit certain candida species (11).
Raw garlic is more potent. Eat 2 or 3 cloves of raw garlic daily or along with salads and other preparations. If you do not like the taste of raw garlic, you can chop and eat it along with yogurt.
You can also take garlic in the form of supplements or powder. Supplements should be taken only after consulting your physician.
6. Flax and Chia Seeds
The polyphenols present in flaxseeds and chia seeds support the growth of probiotics and also help eliminate yeast from the body.
Chia seeds can be consumed in the form of healthy oil supplements, sprouts in salad dressing, added in smoothies, and can even be eaten raw (12).
Also, chia and flaxseeds can be roasted and eaten along with breakfast cereals and muesli. Plus, they can also be powdered and added to different flours to make bread.
7. Fermented Dairy Products
Dairy products that are fermented with lactic acid bacteria help improve their digestibility and work as a source of good probiotics. Some examples of such dairy products include buttermilk, yogurt, cheese, kefir and sour cream.
They increase the population of beneficial microbes and also effectively kill candida (13), (14).
They also increase the availability of nutrients in the body.
Spices like turmeric and cinnamon were found to be effective against candida infections. The active agent curcumin in turmeric has been shown to inhibit many candida strains (15).
Turmeric can be used as a condiment in your food. You can also take it daily in the form of turmeric milk. Mix 1 teaspoon of organic turmeric in a glass of milk. Cover and allow it to boil on low heat for 10 minutes. Drink it warm once or twice daily.
Other helpful spices include:
Cinnamon, which has been shown to have the power to heal oral thrush in people who made it a part of their dietary intake (16).
Essential oils of cumin, cassia, allspice and thyme were shown to inhibit the growth of candida (17).
9. Bone Broth
The beneficial effects of bone broth on the gut help inhibit yeast infections.
A healthy intestine contains a single compact layer of epithelial cells, a thick lining of mucus and a diverse collection of intestinal microflora. When the integrity of the gut is compromised, microbes leak into your bloodstream, causing inflammation.
Bone broth is rich in glutamine that helps maintain the integrity of your gut (18), (19) and glycine that protects against stomach ulcers (20).
Always buy free-range, grass-fed or organic meat and bones for preparing beef broth.
10. Olive Oil
Olive oil contains a plant chemical named oleuropein, which has powerful antifungal properties. This chemical stimulates your immune system’s own response to a Candida albicans infestation. This chemical is found in both olive oil and olive leaf extract.
A 2016 study published in the Journal of Clinical & Diagnostic Research found olive oil to be effective against nearly 50 percent of the candida isolates. About 55.5 percent of fluconazole-resistant C. krusei strains were sensitive to olive oil (21).
A 2017 study published in the Journal of the International Ozone Association demonstrated that ozonated olive oil may help control some fluconazole-resistant and dose-dependent sensitive fungal strains (22).
Eat just 1 to 2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil per day to lower your risk of yeast infections. You can use it to dress your salads, pasta and also as a cooking medium.
Foods that Should be Avoided or Limited
Sugars: Diets rich is sugars increase the chances of yeast infections, especially in women. This is because yeast is said to grow rapidly in the presence of sugar (23), (24). People with high levels of candida overgrowth have a craving for sugars.
You can reduce the intake of refined sugars by restricting the intake of sweets, pastries, juices with added sugars in your diet. Also, cut out hidden sugars present in your sugary sauces, salad dressings, barbecue sauces, etc.
Alcohol: Alcohol is a fermented product containing yeast, so it produces more when ingested. Alcohol intake kills the friendly bacteria in your body and leads to toxic overload in your liver, thereby allowing yeast to take over. People with high overgrowth of candida can have high levels of alcohol in their blood. Alcohol is also a by-product of yeast and thus further acts as a medium for the yeast to grow in.
Grains: Grains are rich in carbohydrates and break down into sugars. Whole grains are a better nutritive option compared to refined grains.
Whole grain food sources include buckwheat, barley, brown rice, millet, oatmeal, popcorn, whole-wheat bread, pasta, crackers and more. It is good to check the label for whole grains when you buy food from your local supermarket.
Other than the above, avoid foods that contain:
- Toxic metals like mercury (can be present in certain fish).
- Chemicals like aspartame, an artificial sweetener, and MSG (monosodium glutamate). They can kill friendly intestinal flora and trigger the growth of yeast.