Published on September 8th, 2012 | by Andrea Bertoli4
the sweet life: natural approaches to healing candida
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Today on VWJ is a personal story of my struggle with candida issues. This is something that I’ve dealt with for about 10 years, with varying degrees of stress, sadness, and success. Though admittedly it is a bit embarrassing to discuss such an intimate topic, I’ve learned a lot from my experiences and I think it’s important to share this story- maybe it will help you or someone you know heal themselves.
First, some basics. Candida is a naturally occurring yeast in our body- one of many varieties, actually. Many women, and some men, will experience an overgrowth of candida in their lifetime. Candida albicans is the most common, and it’s found in warm moist areas like diapers, skin folds, and mouths. But most commonly we hear about candida when it manifests itself as a vaginal yeast infection. An overgrowth of yeast can occur because of stress, medications (antibiotics are usually the main culprit), or hormonal changes during the menstrual cycle or during pregnancy. Generally, yeast infections are minor irritations that can be treated with any number of over-the-counter products. Monistat and others will kill the overgrowth in the vagina, and will quickly eliminate symptoms. Many women that suffer from a yeast infection can simply visit the drugstore and feel better within a few days.
But, systemic candida overgrowth is a different issue entirely, and it manifests itself as repeated infections. In my early 20s I began to have yeast infections every month, timed with my ovulation. Every month I would treat myself with one of the over-the-counter medications, and every month it would return. Every month I would experience an emotional breakdown, because I was at a loss about how to heal myself. I saw a handful of doctors who tossed up their hands in exasperation: maybe it was the heat of Hawaii, maybe it was my previous year on birth control pills, maybe I was just unlucky, maybe I had HIV. They had no solutions for this persistent problem.
After these unsuccessful attempts to heal with conventional medicine, I turned to a naturopathic doctor for the first time. She prescribed probiotics, homeopathic remedies, acupuncture, Chinese herbs, essential fatty acids, and a few other supplements to cleanse my body of the overgrowth and restore the fungal balance. I saw results immediately, and was shocked when one month, then two, then three passed without an infection. It was a totally different outlook on life (and sex!). This was the beginning of my commitment to holistic health care- I’ve since learned that naturopathic medicine and acupuncture can help with everything from muscle pain, strep throat, hormonal imbalances, and digestion problems.
After seeing the naturopathic doctor a few times, it still took months to again feel totally confident in my body. But eventually I simply forgot what it was like to be sick. I had only a few infections over the next decade, and mostly at times of great physical or mental stress, and always when I found a new lover. I had a wonderful topical, herbal remedy that I used to eliminate the symptoms and simply carried on with my life.
But just recently I suffered a three-month long infection that stressed me out physically, financially, and nearly destroyed my new, most amazing relationship (but he’s a good, patient man, and he stuck it out!). After getting one minor infection, I treated myself with my favorite herbal remedy, increased my probiotics, and thought it would be finished. But it came back as soon as my period finished the following week. And then it came back again. All told, I suffered four infections in three months. With a tight budget and no health insurance, I was not able to seek out the same naturopathic doctor, so I did every type of home remedy imaginable: garlic suppositories, probiotics, tinctures, and herbs. After a few months of unsuccessful self-treatment, I finally sought out the help of an acupuncturist. Unlike conventional medicine, acupuncture works to slowly balance out your entire system, and this slow process meant that I actually suffered another infection during my treatment (unnoticed by me, but diagnosed by a gynecologist). I treated this final infection with gentian violet, and old-school anti-fungal solution that turned everything purple but cleared the infection. During this time I also cleaned up my diet significantly: no alcohol, no sugar, no yeasted products, and less fermented foods. After one month of treatment, along with my super clean diet, the cycle finally broke and I’ve been infection free for almost four months now. I’ve since incorporated sweets, breads, and alcohol back into my diet- but it took awhile. The posts tomorrow and Monday will address some of the dietary protocols I followed while cleansing myself of this infection. Listed below are some of the most helpful treatments I found throughout my years of struggling with this problem. If you too suffer from this, check out the links below and begin the healing process as soon as you can. Please comment or email any questions you might have.
Topical solutions: One of the products I used for years with success was Well-in-Hand’s Yeast Rescue. Wild-crafted calendula, chamomile, and other healing herbs in a base of olive oil. Use topically to relieve burning and itching, and soak a tampon and insert thrice daily to get your flora balanced. Also, I used gentian violet successfully; this is also used to treat breastfeeding mamas and babies with thrush. I used gentian violet on a tampon for four nights and it cleared up quickly and painlessly. Do use gloves- this stuff is PURPLE and will stain fingers, bedding, and clothes. My doctor friend also shared some boric acid suppositories for relief. This is a common and inexpensive way to treat an infection, but seek these out under the guidance of a doctor, it can irritate sensitive tissues and should be used in combination with other products. Native Remedies also has a trio of candida relief products that seem promising, though I have not used them.
Internal solutions: Probiotics are your friends: healthy flora in your gut will help balance all the flora in your body, including the vagina. Find probiotics that are high in Lactobacillus; if you eat yogurt, miso, and other cultured products, keep it up. Lactobacillus is found in these products naturally, but it’s good to supplement too, especially if you are fighting an infection. You can also use probiotic capsules as a suppository to supplement other remedies. Other remedies that I was prescribed over the years include aloe vera juice (drink twice a day before meals) to help flush the system, ground flaxseeds and evening primrose oil (eat twice daily to help keep the menstrual cycle in balance), and Chinese herbs under the guidance of a licensed acupuncturist. Other solutions like herbal suppositories are available, but best taken under the supervision of a naturopathic doctor.
Naturopathic medicine and Acupuncture: If you have not yet visited a naturopathic doctor or acupuncturist before, I can’t recommend it enough. Not only can these healing practices assist with yeast infections (they won’t even put you in stirrups!), holistic medicine can help with many other health issues too. See the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians to learn more and to find a doctor in your area. Naturopathic doctors are medical doctors that can prescribe medicine and should be thought of as complementary to any other medical treatment you might be undergoing. To find an acupuncturist in your area, check out the American Association of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. Though acupuncture is often thought of as a superficial treatment to help with muscle pains (which it can do), it can also help with systemic problems like yeast infections and more.