Vaginal thrush can be a pain in the, well a pain in the vagina. Itch, occasional pain and white, clumpy discharge are the characteristic symptoms that accompany thrush – and just one google search comes up with hundreds of home remedies, ranging from sticking a yoghurt tampon into your vagina to bathing in tea tree oil.
Researching the subject, I came across a LOT of well-meaning, but incorrect advice and I aim to set the record straight.
Below I bust a few common myths when it comes to natural approaches, and touch on when it’s time to seek out a professional’s help. This is a long-one, so grab yourself a cuppa and get comfy.
Sexual health is so much more than your libido – it encompasses your periods, reproductive health, the health of your vagina and more. For optimal sexual health to be your goal, addressing any imbalances in your bacteria is crucial.
What is Thrush?
Thrush, aka Candida, is a fungal pathogen that takes advantage of less than balanced environments within the vagina and overtakes that balance of your natural flora.
The most common type of thrush comes from Candida albicans, however other species of candida, such as Candida glabrata can also be the culprit.
Common reasons thrush occurs include
- uncontrolled fluctuations in blood sugar levels (like in diabetes)
- sweaty, moist environments, which can occur with hot yoga, exercise, wearing synthetic underwear and leggings all day
- immune system suppression
- dysbiosis – aka an imbalance of vaginal pH (can occur with douching, spermicides and lubricants, and with unprotected & ejaculatory sex)
Treating yourself without having a qualified health professional determine what species of candida may be affecting you is a big NO-NO in this naturopath’s eyes – what works for one species may not work for another, causing the pathogens defence system to flare up, making the treatment of the thrush just that much more difficult.
So many women are treating themselves for “thrush” when in fact it actually be bacterial vaginosis, an STI, natural discharge or something different altogether.
SO why is this such a problem?
Well, Candida creates a protective barrier around itself, known as a bio-film, making it harder for our immune system to eliminate it, especially if you keep using the wrong, or ineffective treatments.
The more we attack it with in-effective or incomplete therapies, the more it’s protective shell develops and evolves.
So you think you might have thrush? Check out the signs below – if you notice a smell and thin, grey discharge, it’s not likely thrush.
- White, “cottage cheese” like discharge from the vagina (although this isn’t always present)
- Pain accompanying sex and penetration
- Swelling of the vulva and/or redness
- Itchy vulva and genital area & discomfort
Important to note: Chronic, reoccurring thrush (4 or more infections per year) needs to be confirmed with vaginal swab, and must be investigated by the appropriate medical professional.
It’s important to exclude other reasons for recurrence, such as diabetes or an impaired immune system.
So the symptom picture fits, now what?
Step One: Get a professional’s opinion – confirm you do in fact have thrush, and not another health issue. Once confirmed, your GP will usually prescribe an anti-fungal treatment option, pessaries, and/or an external cream to reduce itchiness.
If you choose to go down this route, follow the instructions of the GP to the letter.
Don’t stop treatment just because you’re feeling better, as it can give the candida a change to up their self-defence system and make it harder to eliminate!
If you’d prefer a more natural approach, check out the myth busters below before reaching for the closest pot of yoghurt!
Myth One: Applying yoghurt to the affected area gets rid of thrush.
Answer: Well, kinda.
Yoghurt can provide a natural source of beneficial probiotics (namely, lactobacillus species) – HOWEVER – not every yoghurt contains the specific strains shown to help re-balance the pH of the vagina.
In fact, if the yogurt is anything but full fat, natural and no sugar, it may actually be feeding the candida. Whilst yoghurt is soothing on red, inflamed areas, seeking out a probiotic with the right strains for candida is a far more reliable shot.
Bottom Line: It may help soothe the itch, but alone is not going to rid you of thrush. Seek out a targeted probiotic to really get the most reliable results.
Myth Two: Inserting a clove of garlic into the vagina at night helps
Answer: It’s not going to hurt – although garlic is a potent anti-microbial, studies supporting the evidence of inserting a clove of garlic into the vagina at night are lacking.
There’s promising evidence regarding liquid herbal extracts of garlic, and supplements that concentrate certain components of the garlic plant and their effectiveness in breaking down the protective “shell” Candida albicans develops, helping eliminate the fungal infection.
Seeking out a practitioner who can supply you with these higher quality treatment options is a more sure-fire way to get better faster!
Bottom Line: Give it a go – it can’t hurt – but don’t expect it to work overnight. For more targeted advice, speak to a health professional.
Tip: pierce the clove before inserting and if you’re concerned about losing it, thread some natural, non-waxed floss through it for easy retrieval come morning.
Myth Three: A tea-tree oil bath gets rid of the thrush
Answer: It may help – but for the love of all thing good, use a carrier oil as well! Research has shown that candida species are susceptible to tea tree oil, with the oil acting on the membrane and encouraging microbial death.
Using 3 drops of the essential oil in about 1/4 cup of carrier oil (jojoba is great) and add to a warm sitz bath, a type of bathing style where you just “dunk” your genitals in is helpful.
Bottom Line: We know water and oil don’t mix, so use a carrier oil to help disperse the potent EOs into the surface of the water so you don’t get big blobs of concentrated tea-tree on your sensitive skin surrounding the vaginal opening. Once per day is plenty.
Don’t over do it with the EOs, more is not better.
Myth Four: Just use a probiotic, it’ll go away!
Answer: Worth considering, but… choosing a probiotic that has the correct strains of bacteria in it to affect the candida is a crucial step.
Dosing is another important consideration, as is whether or not to take the probiotic orally and vaginally or just one or the other.
Strains that have shown efficacy against candida albicans include
If a probiotic just has the label, “lactobacilli” or “lactobacillus” on it, it’s not necessarily going to have the correct strain to assist with the thrush eradication.
This is a poor way of labelling probiotics, as it does not give the strain away – I recommend steering clear of supplements that don’t give you the full details.
These specific strains can be found in Blackmore’s Probiotic+ Women’s Flora Balance – however I still recommend speaking to a health care professional before self-prescribing.
Bottom Line: Probiotics have shown to be beneficial – however, strain, dose and method of supplementation matter.
Myth Five: Just add some essential oils to your drinking water.
Answer: Oh my god don’t do it. I have SO SO much to say on this topic (that’s a blog for another day!) but at the bare minimum I’ll say this:
- Oil and water don’t mix – meaning mouthful one is filled with oils, mouthful two is just water.
- Essential oils can BURN the mucus membranes of your mouth and throat.
- Most oils are non-specific when it comes to microbes, meaning they attack the “good” guys along with the bad” – hello dysbiosis!
- We NEVER would be able to ingest the amount of essential oils in our food present in the 1-3 drops of pure essential oils some recommend to out in water per day – our bodies are not adapted to digest these concentrated amounts of aromatic oils.
Now don’t get me wrong, EOs are incredible healing tools with amazing powers and effects on health – externally they provide wonderful medicine and diffused can uplift mood, affect memory and provide a lovely sense of calm.
It’s ingestion that is a concern and should only ever be used internally under strict, personalised, educated medical advice.
Bottom Line: Ingesting ANY essential oils in water is a NO GO unless under strict supervision of a qualified aromatherapist (who has studied independently from multi-level-marketing companies).
I may get some hate over this but it’s my non-negotiable if you want to achieve optimal sexual health.
Myth Six: Use some coconut oil, it’s antibacterial!
Answer: Current research seems to suggest, yes. But don’t go overboard yet! The research regarding using this seemingly magic oil is in it’s emerging stages.
Early studies suggest coconut oil may help disintegrate the membrane of candida, resulting in impaired growth and death.
Bottom Line: These studies were carried out in a lab, not in humans, so the data cannot 100% be transferred to us.
I say, try it – what have you got to lose – just don’t become disheartened if you don’t notice any changes. Apply externally or on a tampon and inserted (no more than 3/week) during a flare up.
- Avoid irritants close to the skin e.g. soaps, body wash, any douches, bubble baths, spermicides or non-natural lubricants
- Letting the vagina breathe – wear cotton or bamboo underwear, avoid wearing leggings all day after a workout and go commando a couple of nights per week
- Seek out the help of a qualified health professional to get a personalised plan to address your symptoms head on
I’m an advocate for seeking help right away, so it doesn’t evolve into chronic thrush, however here are some signs you may need some more targeted, personalised treatment guidelines:
- If you’re experiencing more than 4 episodes of thrush per year
- If you’ve got diabetes, PCOS, metabolic syndrome or insulin resistance
- If you’re pregnant
- When thrush is occurring after every period
- If the anti-fungals and over the counter remedies from the pharmacy just aren’t cutting it anymore
- If you think your sexual partner might have thrush too
- If there’s ongoing pain, unusual discharge, smell or discomfort
- or simply if you’ve tried all the above and want some personalised, herbal medicine to address your concerns
I hope I’ve cleared up a few myths for you and you feel empowered about your options that are available if or when you get thrush.
For more professional advice, such as personalised dietary advice, custom herbal blends and even more tips and tricks to get rid of your thrush, click the link below.
For a 1:1 video chat to get to the bottom of what’s happening, click HERE to book in.
Have you used home remedies before for thrush? What worked, and what didn’t work for you?
Big love, Alannah