In April this year I wrote a detailed blog post about probiotics and their usefulness in the treatment and prevention of vaginal yeast infections, commonly known as thrush. This topic seems to be of continuing concern to women and deserves to be revisited.
Vaginal thrush usually occurs due to over proliferation of yeast in the vagina, most commonly Candida yeast, for this reason vaginal thrush is often known as Candidiasis. Illness, stress, lack of sleep, diet and hormonal changes can all cause the normal balance of yeast and bacteria in the vagina to be altered allowing for an overgrowth of yeast leading to thrush infection.
To recap: Normally a healthy vagina contains mainly lactobacilli bacteria, ‘friendly’ or beneficial bacteria, which protect it from invading pathogens (detrimental bacteria and yeasts) such as those which cause urinary tract infections, thrush and vaginitis. A healthy digestive system will also be dominated by a variety of different non-pathogenic bacteria. If the vagina and digestive system are mainly colonised with ‘good’ bacteria these provide a barrier to the entry of pathogenic/harmful bacteria into the vagina. Women diagnosed with thrush, are normally prescribed oral or vaginal anti-yeast agents. However, these kinds of treatments are associated with frequent recurrences of the condition. The antibiotics and antifungals may clear up the original infection but they also tend to disrupt the future bacterial/fungal balance in the reproductive and digestive systems, this can exacerbate the condition in the long term and may lead to quick recurrence.
Studies are beginning to show that probiotic supplements or foods may be helpful in order to boost the number of good bacteria in the vagina and digestive system. In practice many women, especially those who have undergone repeat antibiotic treatment, find probiotics to be really helpful in preventing recurrence and treating these conditions. Probiotic creams, vaginal suppositories and tablets are readily available, they usually contain the bacteria lactobacillus acidophilus. Oral probiotics (and prebiotics) may also be useful in order to help keep an overall balance of good bacteria in the vagina and digestive and system.
Recently I have become aware that many supplements containing oregano oil, clove oil, cinnamon and garlic are being marketed for the prevention and treatment of vaginal thrush and that oregano based creams and oils are available for topical application to the vagina for thrush treatment. Looking at the research I can see that clinical evidence is beginning to grow in this area. A number of laboratory/test tube studies (1,2,3,4,5,6) have been performed to show the usefulness of these agents but human trials are still necessary before firm conclusions can be drawn.
The anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties of plant oils has been known for thousands of years. Oregano oil and clove oil contain bioactive chemical compounds called phenols. These plant compounds have potent anti-microbial effects. Carvacrol is the major phenolic component of oregano oil and Eugenol is the major phenolic component of clove oil (as well as being present in cinnamon). These phenolic compounds are often listed on the packaging of anti-candida supplements.
Last year a laboratory (in vitro) study (1) took place to look at the anti-fungal activity of selected plant and spice essential oils against various species of Candida yeasts (including Candida albicans, Candida dubliniensis, Candida tropicalis, Candida glabrata, and Candida krusei). The results found that oregano and cinnamon essential oils were efficient anti-fungal agents. The oregano oil was the most efficient anti-fungal oil and worked against yeast that were fluconazole resistant. Fluconazole is a anti-fungal pharmaceutical agent, commonly used for the treatment and prevention of fungal infections including thrush, it is a common ingredient in creams and oral treatments.
Oregano and clove oil have shown good results in laboratory tests, the authors of one study (2) conclude that “Carvacrol and eugenol could be considered as promising products in the treatment of vaginal candidiasis. This work is a preliminary contribution to the development of a new generation of efficient and natural antifungal agents for curative treatment and prophylaxis [prevention]”.
If you regularly suffer from thrush and want to try an alternative to the anti-fungal agents commonly prescribed or available over the counter you may want to try taking oral probiotic and prebiotic treatments in conjunction with vaginal probiotic creams and suppositories. The herbal supplements containing oregano, clove and cinnamon oil as well as garlic may be useful and oils/creams containing oregano oil may be helpful when applied topically to the vagina. In addition to this it is helpful to eat a balanced healthy diet to provide all the nutrients necessary to keep the body functioning well and keep the immune system working properly. This kind of diet is based on natural, unprocessed ‘real food’, e.g. low in refined carbohydrate and rich in vegetables, nuts/seeds, beans/pulses, lean unprocessed meats and oily fish (such as salmon, mackerel, trout).
(1)Pozzatti P et al. 2008. In vitro activity of essential oils extracted from plants used as spices against fluconazole-resistant and fluconazole-susceptible Candida spp. Can J Microbiol. 54(11):950-6.
(2)Chami F et al. 2004. Evaluation of carvacrol and eugenol as prophylaxis and treatment of vaginal candidiasis in an immunosuppressed rat model. J Antimicrob Chemother. 54(5):909-14.
(3) Chammi N et al. 2005. Study of anticandidal activity of carvacrol and eugenol in vitro and in vivo. Oral Microbiol Immunol. 20(2):106-111.
(4) Manohar, V., et al. Antifungal activities of origanum oil against Candida albicans. Mol Cell Biochem. 228(1-2):111-117, 2001.
(5) He M et al. 2007. In vitro activity of eugenol against Candida albicans biofilms. Mycopathologia. 63(3):137-43.
(6) Low CF et al. 2008. Inhibition of hyphae formation and SIR2 expression in Candida albicans treated with fresh Allium sativum (garlic) extract. J Appl Microbiol. 105(6):2169-77.
Written by Ani Kowal