One of my girlfriends was suffering regularly from recurrent vaginal thrush. It was causing her a lot of discomfort and frustration; not to mention the time wasted on the constant visits to the doctor and the cost of paying for anti-yeast medication on a weekly basis. Yes, her recurrent thrush was so bad that she had to use these creams and suppositories just about every day. Does this sound familiar to you?
After trying everything she could think of my friend eventually came to me for advice. I am a microbiologist and she thought I may have some ideas about what she could do to prevent these persistent outbreaks of her vaginal yeast infection. And so began the process of educating her about the underlying causes of recurrent thrush, the signs and symptoms, the triggers and also the various cures available to eradicate thrush - both pharmaceutical remedies and the natural ones.
Recurrent vaginal thrush is mainly caused by a species of yeast called Candida albicans. Yeast are typically harboured on the mucous membranes of the genital tract and in other warm moist parts of the body including the gut. At least 80 to 90 % of women will carry Candida in their vagina but under normal healthy circumstances the yeast is kept at bay and does not overgrow and cause yeast vaginitis. The reason for this is that a healthy vagina also harbours Lactobacillus, a species of bacteria which is resident in the vagina as part of the normal flora. The role of Lactobacillus is two fold. 1) It competes with Candida and other pathogens (disease causing microbes such as Candida) for space and nutrients and 2) It produces lactic acid which helps to maintain the vagina at an acid pH which is required for a healthy vagina and for fertilisation to take place.
Under certain circumstances the condition in the vagina changes and when this happens the natural balance of the vagina is altered. The growth of the Lactobacillus is inhibited and it may even die off completely. There is then nothing to prevent Candida from overgrowing and establishing a yeast infection with the symptoms of vaginal thrush.
The factors which affect the growth of Lactobacillus and contribute to the ongoing symptoms of recurrent vaginal thrush are:
- Hormonal changes as experienced with pregnancy, menstruation, menopause, oral contraception or hormone replacement therapy
- Antibiotic therapy for bacterial infections
- Diabetes, especially if it is not in good control
- Diets high in carbohydrates or refined or processed foods
- Intolerance to external chemicals such as washing detergents or douches
- Physical intolerance to things like synthetic underwear or tight jeans
- Other sicknesses such as colds and flu's
- Serious illnesses such as cancer, transplant or AIDS
- Use of steroids
- Stress and fatigue
- Sexual intercourse with an infected person may also play a role in transmission of recurrent thrush
With this knowledge behind her my friend was able to determine that the most likely trigger for her from this list was the pill she was taking and so she decided to change the contraceptive pill she was on to see if it made a difference to her. She also decided to experiment with some natural treatments which I recommended to her. She started to eat more healthily by reducing her sugar intake and eating only fresh organic foods. She also introduced plain natural yoghurt to her diet and used it as a vaginal application for a week. She made changes to her lifestyle ensuring she ate well, exercised more and got a good night's sleep.
Within a short period of time not only was she feeling better within herself and much more energetic, but she also realised that she had not had an outbreak of recurrent thrush for several weeks. Her life had returned to normal and she was very thankful for the advice I had given her.
So yes the contraceptive pill can be the underlying cause of your recurrent vaginal thrush. If you frequently get yeast vaginitis it is advisable to change your contraceptive pill to a brand which suits you better. But it is also important to make some dietary and life style changes so that you approach the control of recurrent vaginal thrush in a holistic way.