Most women suffer from thrush at some point in their lives but there are home remedies for thrush and natural thrush treatments that you can try that can help.
Dr Sarah Brewer, Medical Director of Healthspan told GoodToKnow that three out of four women experience vaginal thrush at least once in their lives. Between one in 10 and one in 20 women are plagued with frequent recurrences.
If you’ve had thrush you’ll know how uncomfortable and infuriating the vaginal itching is. But don’t suffer in silence, there are home remedies for thrush which can help.
You can choose natural thrush treatments to treat the Candida fungi that cause thrush and rebalance the natural yeast in the vagina without resorting to drugs. Or, you can also speak to your GP. They will likely prescribe oral thrush remedies, including antifungal medication, or pessaries – a special pill that you insert into your vagina.
Either way, it’s important to get thrush treated and not to ignore it, as it won’t necessarily go away on its own.
Home remedies for thrush
Dr Sarah Brewer, Medical Director of Healthspan and author of Overcoming Candida, recommends using home remedies for thrush to prevent Candida overgrowth. However, once symptoms are present you’ll need antifungal medication from a pharmacy or doctor to eradicate the infection.
Tea Tree essential oil
Tea Tree oil might seem like a strange recommendation for treating thrush. Especially as perfumed oils and lotions can cause the infection. But tea tree oil is a naturally occurring product, unlike many shower gels and soaps that are not PH balanced.
We recommend adding a couple of drops to a hot bath (without bubbles in case the bubble bath products are making the problem worse). Warm water is naturally soothing (it’s a great help with period cramps) and will give short-term relief while the essential oils can help tackle the thrush infection. Try Botanics Pure Essential Tea Tree Oil.
On the list of home remedies for thrush is this golden spice, which contains the compound curcumin.
‘Recent research suggests that curcumin disrupts Candida cell walls to make them leakier. Curcumin also stabilises human cell membranes to improve their resistance against infection,’ says Dr Brewer.
‘Studies have shown that curcumin extracts are effective against 38 different strains of Candida, including those that were resistant to the anti-fungal drug, fluconazole. Curcumin also appears to have a synergistic action with many antifungal drugs. Supplements may help to increase yeast sensitivity to medical treatments.’
We all know that yoghurts like Greek yoghurt are good for you, but natural yogurt is also a one of the simple home remedies for thrush. Eating live yogurt with specific live cultures is great for a probiotic boost. This can help prevent candida overgrowth which is one of the causes of thrush. Avoid sugary, flavoured yogurts – these are not only bad yoghurts for a healthy diet but candida feeds off sugar – so if you’re prone to thrush this could cause a flare up.
Researchers found that garlic extracts work at a genetic level by switching off yeast gene activity. This inhibits protein and nucleic acid synthesis in Candida cells and arrests the formation of lipids (fats). When garlic extracts were tested against 18 strains of Candida albicans and 12 other Candida species, garlic was as effective as the antifungal drug, ketoconazole, in killing all yeasts present.
Dr Brewer warns against eating garlic cloves though. You can get some garlic via your diet then top up with a garlic tablet – Try Vitabiotics Ultra Garlic – which is more concentrated.
‘A paper published in the British Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology in 2014 showed that taking garlic extracts reduced the number of Candida yeasts in the vagina of women with recurrent thrush, especially during the second half of the menstrual cycle,’ Dr Brewer says. She recommends at least 900mg standardised garlic powder tablets daily – either in one dose, or 300mg three times a day.
‘Look for supplements containing concentrated extracts equivalent to at least 1,200mg (1.2g) fresh garlic (supplying 2mg allicin).’
Not just good for a stir fry, coconut oil is also an effective home remedy for thrush.
‘Caprylic acid is a medium chain fatty acid found naturally in coconut oil, palm oil and breast milk,’ says Dr Brewer. It has a natural anti-fungal action that helps to eradicate Candida albicans from the gut without affecting healthy probiotic bacteria levels.
‘It’s fat soluble, and appears to work by entering yeast cell walls so they disrupt. In patients with urinary catheters who experienced Candida urinary infections, taking either one dose of the antifungal drug, fluconazole, or one dose of caprylic acid both rapidly reduced symptoms. However, caprylic acid was described as superior and less expensive.’ Try Cytoplan Caprylic Acid Plus.
Reduce your sugar intake
Dr Brewer recommends a healthy, low-GI, Mediterranean-style diet with plenty of fruit and veg. Avoid sugary and ‘beige’ carb foods. However, you don’t need to be fanatical.
‘Laboratory research shows that Candida albicans grows quite happily in the relatively low concentrations of glucose (100mg/dl equivalent to 5.5mmol/l) found in normal blood and tissues. So trying to starve yeasts of sugar in the intestines is not going to prevent its survival,’ she explains.
‘In fact, immunologists now know that when you’re under stress, your intestinal lining cells actually produce extra sugar to promote the growth of healthy, probiotic bacteria, to help keep Candida at bay. So, starving yourself of healthy sugar sources may have adverse effects against your protective intestinal microbes. The best anti-Candida diet is one that boosts immunity rather than one that deprives you of adequate nutrition.’
Wear cotton knickers
Silk and other luxurious fabrics might look and feel fantastic but Dr Brewer says it’s best to swerve away from silk and opt for cotton undies.
‘These allow your skin to “breathe”. Wash at 60 degrees or above to kill yeast spores. You can also hot iron cotton gussets to kill spores.’
Avoid tight fitting clothes
We’re looking at you, gym leggings. Tight clothes can increase heat and moisture in the skin crevices and folds, which can cause thrush.
Try to keep the time wearing tight clothes to a minimum, and when you get back from the gym change into something baggy and breathable.
Pop a probiotic
‘Probiotic lactic-acid producing bacteria that are naturally found in the gut are believed to inhibit the growth of Candida yeasts, improve IBS-like intestinal symptoms and reduce the chance of yeasts being transferred to the genital tract to cause vaginal thrush,’ explains Dr Brewer. ‘Studies show that taking both probiotics and the anti-fungal drug fluconazole can significantly improve treatment response with less discharge and a lower presence of vaginal yeast.’
Dr Brewer recommends looking for supplements containing Lactobacillus acidophilus. This can increase the number of beneficial bacteria in the bowel and help keep Candida at bay. ‘As the bowel acts as a reservoir for yeast cells, this can reduce recurrences of vaginal Candida, too.’
What about soap, perfumed toilet paper and menstrual products?
Dr Brewer warns against using soap as this causes irritation and changes skin acidity. This ‘makes the inflammation and infection worse.’ She suggests using a feminine wash unless it causes irritation.
Otherwise, Dr Brewer says that products such as perfumed toilet paper and menstrual products don’t actually cause or worsen Candida symptoms so you only need to avoid them if you have a sensitivity.
And her final warning? ‘NEVER DOUCHE!’
What are the causes of thrush?
Thrush is a fungal infection caused by the yeast, Candida albicans.
‘This yeast lives happily on or in the body of just about everyone. It usually exists in a placid state, in happy balance with other micro-organisms without causing any obvious harm. But when conditions are right, Candida changes from its less invasive form, in which it exists as simple yeasts cells, to produce threads (germ tubes, or hyphae) that burrow in between your cells,’ explains Dr Brewer.
‘Candida yeast thrives in conditions that are warm and moist. This includes the groin area, especially after exercise, or if you wear tight clothes and nylon underwear. When the vagina maintains a healthy acidity, yeasts remain relatively inactive.
‘Around the time of your period, however, vaginal acidity reduces and hormonal changes also mean vaginal glucose levels increase. As glucose acts as a fuel for yeast cell growth, many women find recurrences are common around menstruation, and during pregnancy. Vaginal thrush is also more common in women with poorly controlled diabetes, who have raised glucose levels. Women who are under a lot of physical or emotional stress are also susceptible. This is because stress hormones increase blood glucose levels to provide instant fuel for muscle cells in case you need to fight or flee from dangerous situations.’
Dr Brewer also explains that many women develop Candida after a course of antibiotics.
‘The most common culprits are so-called broad-spectrum antibiotics (e.g. tetracycline, amoxycillin, cephalosporins). These wipe out the healthy probiotic bacteria found in the vagina, as well as the infection they are designed to treat. These healthy bacteria (especially Lactobacillus) keep Candida at bay by competing with it for nutrients and by secreting acids and other chemicals that inhibit yeast cell growth. As a result, women taking antibiotics are three times more likely to have detectable yeast cells in their vagina than those who are not on antibiotics, and these yeast cells are more likely to overgrow.’
Plus, a lack of iron is another important factor, so fill up on iron-rich foods such as dark leafy greens, red meat, beans and nuts.
‘White blood cells need iron to make the powerful chemicals used to combat infections such as Candida. Even a mild iron deficiency can result in reduced immunity. This is even if iron stores aren’t low enough to cause anaemia.
‘If you have recurrent thrush, ask your doctor to check your blood levels of an iron compound called ferritin. If it’s low, an iron supplement often solves the problem. Your doctor will need to investigate exactly why your iron levels are low – reasons include poor diet or heavy periods.’
What are the symptoms of thrush?
Dr Sarah Brewer says thrush causes inflammation with redness, soreness and itching.
‘The yeast overgrowth can also produce white clumps on the lining of the vagina. These are said to resemble the speckled breast of the garden song thrush bird – hence the commonly used name for Candidiasis.’
She explains that Candida can also affect the mouth and intestinal tract.
‘Infection that produces symptoms is usually only a problem for people with low immunity. This can include young infants and the elderly. People taking certain drugs (e.g. steroids, chemotherapy, immune suppressants) or with a serious illness such as cancer or AIDS are also at risk.
‘Many complementary therapists readily diagnose Candida infection. In my experience, it is more likely that symptoms such as bloating and tiredness are due to irritable bowel syndrome or food intolerances. An astonishing 178 different proteins that can trigger immune reactions have been identified in Candida species, including proteins in their outer wall and enzymes that they secrete. Although their role is unclear, a review published in the European Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology suggested this might explain why symptoms of IBS can worsen after eating mould-containing foods.’
This might explain why many with IBS – and those with recurrent Candida – find probiotic supplements helpful.
‘Probiotic bacteria secrete lactic acid which suppresses yeast growth. They compete for available nutrients and attachment sites on intestinal walls. They also reinoculate the bowel with friendly digestive bacteria and supress the gas-forming bacteria associated with some cases of irritable bowel syndrome.’
How long does vaginal thrush last?
Thrush won’t go overnight but Dr Brewer says that once antifungal treatment has started, symptoms quickly improve.
The problem can resolve after a few days. However, Dr Brewer advises that you keep using cream/pessaries/oral capsules as long as recommended to prevent it rebounding.
Does thrush go away on its own?
Possibly, but often it just keeps getting worse – which is far from ideal! Home remedies for thrush can be helpful, but you should speak to your GP rather that waiting for thrush to go away on its own.
‘Researchers have discovered that vaginal lining cells play a role in regulating Candida growth by sending out chemical signals that attract immune cells into the area to fight infections and keep thrush at bay,’ says Dr Brewer. ‘Some women with recurrent vaginal thrush appear to have vaginal lining cells that are less able to send out this call for help, and are more susceptible to vaginal thrush as a result of the genes they have inherited.’
Sex can also give women thrush. ‘Candida spores can survive under the male foreskin. So some women may experience a recurrence after sex as a result. Men do not usually have problems with Candida. They may develop a rash and irritation of the penis (Candida balanitis). This will be after intercourse if their partner has thrush and condoms weren’t used. These symptoms are usually self-limiting and improve with salt bathing and drying. If you experience recurrent symptoms ask your partner to use an antifungal cream on his penis for five days.’
What will happen if thrush is left untreated?
It’s always best to treat this condition. Home remedies for thrush can be effective as a preventative or to lesson symptoms but if those don’t work you’ll need medical treatment.
Dr Brewer explains that if you don’t treat thrush, soreness, itching and white clumps will increase. ‘You may also develop swollen lymph nodes in the groin. Don’t ignore symptoms – see a pharmacist for antifungal treatments which are available over the counter,’ she says.