Thrush and what to do about it. Thrush, that annoying and for some, embarrassing infection of the vagina, is startlingly common - and on the increase.
Thrush, that annoying and for some, embarrassing infection of the vagina, is startlingly common - and on the increase.
About 75 per cent of women in their reproductive years suffer the blighter at some point (in almost half it recurs); 10 to 20 per cent have vaginal colonisation of the offender but without showing symptoms.
Almost all cases of thrush are caused by Candida albicans. It’s a yeast-like fungi – a single-celled organism part of the general family of moulds. Small numbers of Candida commonly live on the skin but the conditions Candida likes best are warm, moist, airless parts of the body. This is why the vagina is the most common site for infection. Others are also mucous surfaces – the intestines, nose and throat. Although not beneficial, Candida should be harmless when held in check by a healthy body.
The intestines are often the first source of infection, however in a healthy person our beneficial bacteria – mainly lactobacilli and bifido species – not only help the absorption of food but they also defend us from unwanted invaders, stopping Candida and others doing a take-over bid.
Other partners in the struggle for control are our immune system and our digestive system (the correct pH level is vital in our battle against bugs). No surprise then that diet plays an important part in the cause and cure.
Candida can move to the vagina via the anus (Candida overgrowth in the intestines leads to more yeast moving down to the anal area and so there is more chance of infecting the genital area). However, again beneficial bacteria reside in our vaginas and on our skin which protect us from overgrowth. Mucous also protects us from invaders. These natural defences may be altered or upset by certain situations. For example when you take antibiotics, when you are pregnant, if you have diabetes, or you eat a sugar-laden, refined food diet. Poor diet, poor digestion and malabsorption all set the stage for poor resistance to Candida overgrowth.
TABLE 1 - WHAT MAKES US PRONE TO THRUSH?
In women the symptoms of vaginal thrush include itching, irritation, discharge, redness, soreness and swelling of the vagina and vulva and in some cases a thick, white vaginal discharge. Thrush is less common in men but it can occur, causing irritation and redness particularly on the head of the penis.
(The uncontrolled overgrowth of Candida can occur in the gut and mouth causing a whole gamut of problems in men, women and children, although this isn’t labelled ‘thrush’. But here we’re talking about vaginal thrush only.)
THE THRUSH TAKE-OVER BID
When you research Candida you’ll find many differences of opinion on the causes and cures – but one resounding agreement – antibiotics cause thrush! Antibiotics are taken to kill damaging bacteria; the trouble is they can’t distinguish between the good and bad guys and kill both. If you take repeated courses you are at great risk of creating an imbalance between our friends and foe. We have 300-500 species of bacteria in our guts and our health depends on a delicate balance between these wee residents!
The good guys play a vital role from helping keep the acidic pH in the large intestine which deters Candida and many other germs; to depriving Candida and other parasites of food, water and oxygen to increasing our absorption of nutrients; lowering blood cholesterol and making certain vitamins. So antibiotics kill good bacteria such as lactobacillus in the gut which may be the start of Candida and other germs taking over. Antibiotics also kill the good bacteria in the vagina, allowing thrush to take hold. Yet antibiotic prescriptions are handed out in their millions each year and often inappropriately. Meat-laden, junk diets result in compromised immune systems that can’t fight infections and are one of the direct causes of the worrying overuse of antibiotics – as is the factory farming of animals.
Diet also has a direct impact on our vulnerability to thrush. Another major agreement amongst researchers is that sugar plays a sickly sweet part! A diet with too many refined main meals and biscuits, chocolate bars, fizzy drinks, dairy products and wine contribute to thrush by increasing sugar in our urine. This feeds the yeast in the genital area. Similarly, women with diabetes are more likely to get thrush because this disease increases blood sugar levels, which may, in turn, increase the sugar in vaginal secretions. Diabetic women also tend to have high sugar levels in their urine, so again giving Candida a feast.