Does Diet Play a Role in Yeast Infections?
A yeast infection may not be dangerous, but it's certainly quite uncomfortable. They’re also extremely common, affecting about three of every four women at some time in their lives. It’s no wonder that people have long wondered whether diet can do anything to prevent these irritating infections.
A fungus known as "Candida albicans" causes most yeast infections. Normally Candida lives in balance with “good” bacteria in the vagina, which keeps it from infecting the organ. But anything that causes a decrease in good bacteria or an increase in Candida can lead to a vaginal yeast infection. That’s why taking an antibiotic, which kills both good and bad bacteria alike, is a common cause of yeast infections.
The Candida Diet and Its Role in Yeast Infections
In the 1980s, some alternative medical practitioners began to suspect a link between yeast in food and an overgrowth of it in the body. They believed that some people were allergic or very sensitive to Candida and should avoid foods that promote the growth of Candida — especially foods high in sugar, because it allows yeast to thrive. To treat this yeast syndrome, they proposed what they called the Candida diet, which limits sugar and yeasty foods like beer, cheese, and bread.
Mainstream medical doctors have never accepted this idea. “This theory has been studied thoroughly, and there is just no substantiated link between any diet and vaginal yeast infection," says Sarah Wagner, MD, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Loyola University Health System in Maywood, Ill.
A New Approach: The Probiotics Diet
A newer approach to using diet to prevent vaginal yeast infections focuses not on eliminating certain foods from your diet, but adding them. Specifically, some people believe that adding probiotics to your diet can restock the supply of good bacteria in your system and maintain a healthy balance with the Candida fungus. By taking supplements of probiotics such as Lactobacillus acidophilus, a type of bacteria naturally found in the vagina, or eating foods that contain these bacteria, like yogurt and kefir, this may help keep Candida under control.
Many doctors recommend that patients who are taking antibiotics also take probiotics in order to prevent stomach upset caused by antibiotics killing off good bacteria in their digestive track. But can probiotics also help maintain bacterial balance in the vagina?
In fact, research shows that taking Lactobacilli probiotics orally can increase the amount of healthy bacteria in the vagina. A of existing studies suggests that there's some form of probiotic transmission between the digestive tract and the vagina. Exactly how that happens is not yet known.
Another study published in the European Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology in 2012 followed a small group of healthy women with average levels of good bacteria who took Lactobacilli supplements once a day for 60 days. After a few weeks, the amount of Lactobacillus bacteria in the vagina had begun increasing, the researchers found. This increase in bacteria also caused an increase in the acidity of vaginal fluids. Higher acidity is known to prevent the growth of yeast. Still, more research is needed to determine whether regularly taking supplements can lead to fewer yeast infections.
“Probiotics are safe, and they are not a bad idea to add to your diet," Dr. Wagner says, "But there is not any solid evidence yet to support their use for preventing yeast infection."
The Bottom Line on Diet and Yeast Infections
According to Wagner, if you are prone to vaginal yeast infections, the best diet for you is the same as the best diet for anyone else: a balanced, healthy one. There's no special diet that's been proved to cure or prevent vaginal yeast infection. Probiotics may help, but more evidence is needed before they can be strongly recommended.
Video: Nutrition : How to Follow a Yeast Free Diet
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