While a vaginal yeast infection is not something to be worried about, its symptoms can be particularly irritating, and it can cause many women to feel self-conscious and suffer in silence, making it difficult for them to comfortably continue with their daily lives. A yeast infection is nothing to be embarrassed about, and you’ll be glad to know that a lot of women endure the same struggle, which can be easily treated and avoided.
Some of the most common symptoms of the condition include intense itching in and around the vaginal area and a burning sensation, accompanied by redness and swelling, and discharge that resembles a cottage cheese consistency.
In the United States, around 75% of women will experience a yeast infection at some point in their lives, and, unfortunately, around half will get two or more. This is one of those pesky occurrences in life that can be tricky to dodge and something we simply must come to terms with; on the bright side, however, there are many lifestyle changes and dietary habits you can adopt to reduce your chances of developing a yeast infection or prevent one from reoccurring in future.
Before we delve into the various ways in which a yeast infection can be prevented, let’s quickly recap on how you get it in the first place.
Yeast, scientifically known as candida, is a type of fungus that is naturally-occurring in various parts of the body, including the vagina. While the yeast is not harmful and usually goes unnoticed, it’s when it begins to overpopulate its environment that it becomes a problem, leading to an infection.
Thankfully, our bodies also contain a bunch of good bacteria – called lactobacilli – that control and maintain healthy levels of the candida; however, anything from pregnancy, birth control pills, and antibiotics to underlying health conditions, such as diabetes, and a weakened immune system can throw off this delicate balance, causing an overgrowth and subsequent infection.
Whether you’re the victim of a troublesome yeast infection that keeps coming back with a vengeance, or you’re lucky enough to have never experienced one before, read on to discover some effective ways in which you can reduce your risk of encountering the culprit.
This is particularly important when it comes to choosing the right underwear; cotton is your best friend as it won’t hold on to any heat or moisture and, therefore, helps keep you dry.
Your outer clothing also determines your chances of getting a yeast infection. Opt for loose-fitting pants, jeans, or skirts as anything too snug can increase your body temperature and the amount of moisture retained around your private parts – especially with clothing items such as underwear, pantyhose, and yoga pants.
Scented hygiene products can run riot on the delicate pH balance (acidity) of the vagina, causing irritation and a whole host of other undesirable symptoms. Steer clear of fragranced tampons, pads, soaps, sprays, toilet paper, and detergents; you will always find an unscented alternative to such products that won’t disrupt the natural balance of your body’s bacteria, allowing you to feel itch-free and comfortable.
Douching involves cleaning the inside of the vagina with water, vinegar, soaps, or other liquids; it is an unnecessary and harmful practice, yet it’s surprising how many women are unaware of its damaging effects. The vagina is a self-cleansing organ and douching kills the good bacteria that prevent infections. Simply using water to clean the outside of the vagina and vulva is enough to keep the area clean and healthy.
A good standard of personal hygiene is the first line of defense in keeping infections at bay. Make sure that you’re changing your underwear on a daily basis, and when on your period, you should change your tampons, pads, or panty-liners often – at least every 6 hours, and even more frequently if you have a heavier flow.
A hot, damp environment is like Disney Land for yeast; it will thrive and go wild in such a place, so it is important to keep the vagina clean and dry. Anytime you become sweaty or wet, such as after a workout, sauna, or swimming session, you should immediately take a cool shower (avoid hot showers or baths), thoroughly dry yourself, and change into clean, dry clothing.
Last but not least, after answering the call to nature, be sure to wipe from front to back to avoid bacteria from the anus traveling to the vagina.
Getting the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep each night and sufficient exercise is essential to keeping your immune system strong and thereby reducing your risk of infection. Some studies have also proven a link between chronic stress and vaginal yeast infections; coincidentally, sleep and exercise help us to regulate the stress hormones in our body – adrenaline and cortisol – and also stimulate the production of endorphins, the feel-good chemicals in our brain that act as natural mood elevators, giving our immune system a better chance of warding off unwelcome bugs.
While antibiotics can be great ammo in killing off infections, taking them unnecessarily for minor ailments, such as a cold, is useless as they don’t work against viruses, and to make matters worse, they can also wipe out the healthy bacteria in your body, causing the yeast to thrive. Of course, there are instances when taking antibiotics is essential to curing an illness; in such cases, it is worth talking with your doctor about how you can support the good bacteria while the medication works to fight off the bad. It is essential that you take the pills only as directed by your doctor and for no longer than you need to.
You may have heard of the anti-candida diet to inhibit yeast growth. The logic behind the initiative is based on the fact that yeast loves to feast on sugar, so it is important to limit the amount of sugary and processed foods you consume, as well as grains and foods containing gluten, to literally starve the fungus. Alcohol is also a ‘big no-no’ as it already contains yeast and will only add fuel to the fire.
Instead, incorporate more nutritious, plant-based foods, such as dark, leafy vegetables, and natural protein, like eggs, beans, nuts, chicken, beef, and fish, into your diet to boost your immune system so that you can eliminate, or at the very least, greatly reduce your risk of developing a yeast infection.
Probiotic-rich foods, like natural Greek yogurt, contain that good live bacteria mentioned earlier – lactobacilli – that is essential to preventing yeast overgrowth and maintaining a healthy environment in the vagina. But remember, don’t eat yogurt with added sugar as it can fuel the growth of the fungus. If you don’t like yogurt or follow a vegan diet, you can take probiotic supplements, which can be just as effective in restoring the body’s natural bacterial balance.
Because diabetics are more prone to developing yeast infections, it is important that if you fall within this category, you closely monitor your blood-sugar levels and keep them under control. Uncontrolled diabetes can cause sugar levels to spiral, which is sure to encourage the growth of yeast.
To sum up, even if you do your best to avoid a yeast infection, there is no guarantee that you won’t still get one. While the above tips can be effective in preventing infection, its success really varies from person to person, the severity of the condition, and how well you stick to the habits.
If you feel like you’ve exhausted all these options and are still having no luck, it is worth talking to your doctor about effective medication. There are a number of treatment options you can choose from – prescription and over-the-counter – at varying strengths, including an oral pill, suppositories, and a topical cream.