Vaginal thrush, vaginal yeast infection or vaginal candidiasis are the terms used for the disorder that is marked by the overgrowth of a type of yeast that belongs to the Candida species. This yeast causes symptoms like vaginal itching which may often be severe, burning during urination, thick and white vaginal discharge that typically does not smell bad, painful sex, and redness around the vagina, which worsens at the premenstrual stage.
Such an infection is common as well as easily treatable. But the problem arises when the infection is recurring 4-5 times or more in a year. Ayurveda has the solution to this problem, and takes a holistic approach to analyzing and managing this condition, as it does in all other diseases.
From the modern medical science’s point of view, Candida Albicans accounts for 94% of all cases of vaginal yeast infection. Yeast is a natural inhabitant of the human vagina but is opportunistic in nature and causes infection in susceptible individuals. This depends upon the presence of a sufficient amount of fungal organisms, or reduced resistance, or both.
Conditions that can increase the susceptibility of a person to this condition are:
1) Altered pH of the Vagina (more than 4.5)
2) Previous bacterial infections in the vagina
3) Use of estrogen rich birth control pills, antibiotics or immunosuppressant medicines
4) Uncontrolled diabetes
5) Imbalance in the intestinal tract flora
6) Excessive intercourse
7) Improper hygiene
8) The use of personal hygiene products that contain perfumes or chemicals
9) Use of vaginal tampons
Studies have shown that the local immune response of the vaginal cells plays an important role in fighting this infection. Naturally acting bacteria called lactobacilli maintain the pH of the vagina between 3.5 and 4.5. Any condition which increases the pH, say more than 5, leads to the growth of yeast in the vagina, thereby further leading to this condition. Antibiotics kill these friendly bacteria and are one of the major causes of recurrent yeast infections.
Ayurveda considers vaginal candidiasis a condition that is caused by the aggravation of the Kapha and Pitta doshas. In fact, a perfect environment of the vagina is dependent upon an ideal state of doshic balance at the systemic and the local cellular levels. An excess of Kapha increases the pH while an excess in Pitta brings the pH level down below what is normal. Both situations are not good for vaginal health.
Lactobacilli, though very effectively control opportunistic bacteria, rather than inhibiting the growth of the yeast directly, does it the indirect way by maintaining the optimal vaginal pH.
Ayurveda has always put more emphasis on strengthening the body to make it fit to fight infections, and in the case of vaginal infections, this focus is on the local use of herbs.
Based on the causes enumerated above, a proper management of this condition includes reducing the yeast population in the body (not in every case apart from fulminant infections), building up the beneficial bacteria population, limiting and controlling yeast triggers (like the use of antibiotics, birth control pills etc. mentioned above), strengthening overall health, controlling diabetes (a Kapha dominated disorder), and balancing the Kapha and Pitta doshas.
High Kapha and low agni are likely causes of a chronic yeast infection. These need to be addressed by treating the dysfunctional digestive system and changing the diet.
It is best to follow a diet that is pitta-soothing, but not kapha-provoking.
– Eating moderate quantities of food, especially those with Kapha pacifying qualities. All foods low in glycemic index are generally Kapha pacifying. These include leafy vegetables, whole grains, beans, and fruits like apple, papaya, guava, oranges etc. Fruits and vegetables which are too sweet and/or sour (like tomatoes) may be avoided.
– Grains like quinoa, pearled barley, oats with bran and whole wheat (in form of porridge) are good choices.
– White lean meats over red meats.
– Freshly cooked, warm food over raw and cold food to check Kapha aggravation. To soothe Pitta, it is advisable to consume food spiced with cooling herbs like mint, fennel, and coriander. Turmeric, cumin, asafetida and garlic, though hot, should be used regularly in small quantities along with Pitta pacifying spices to improve digestion and control the Kapha dosha which actually is the main culprit here.
– Buttermilk (8 ounces) seasoned with rock salt and 1/4th tsp of powder of roasted cumin seeds. It is to be taken every day during the day at room temperature.
– Liquids should be taken an hour prior to or an hour after meals, so as to not dilute the digestive juices. A few sips taken with meals are however allowed and are good for digestion.
– Oils like coconut oil, olive, ghee & rice bran oil pacify Pitta, are good for you and do not aggravate Kapha if taken in small quantities.
– Take coriander, fennel, and mint tea 2 times a day. To make this tea, boil ½ tsp of dried mint leaves and 1 tsp each of coarsely ground coriander and fennel seeds in 300 ml of water. Reduce to half and sieve. Drink it lukewarm.
– Bitters like bitter gourd, mint & fenugreek leaves and astringents like salad leaves (to be consumed ONLY at room temperature) and spinach.
-Minimize or avoid Kapha aggravating foods that have a high glycemic index like sugar and sugary foods, too sweet fruits, root vegetables, white bread, white rice, pasta etc. These foods increase Kapha to unmanageable proportions, thereby causing imbalances and disorders.
– Avoid too much of salt and sugar in your diet. Sour foods like tomatoes also need to be limited
– Avoid eating if you are not hungry.
– Avoid consumption of incompatible foods like milk with fruits and vegetables, fish with milk etc. [https://www.theayurvedaexperience.com/blog/incompatible-food-combos/]
– Avoid or minimize alcohol, tea, and coffee as per the severity of your condition. (two cups of the non-alcoholic beverages in a day is acceptable).
- It is recommended that you sleep latest by 10 p.m. since this is when the Pitta time starts and the entire digestive system is at work. Similarly, getting up at dawn makes you more active throughout the day (provided you have taken your 6-8 hrs of night’s sleep) and keeps your Kapha in balance.
– Sexual activity is to be undertaken in the first quarter of night so that you sleep through rest of the night. This is essential to have a good immune system.
- Yoga and breathing exercises called Pranayama are helpful for overall mental and physical health.
-A regular exercise is also very beneficial to keep Kapha in balance. You need to, however, keep yourself well hydrated and avoid exercising when the weather is hot and/or humid.
– Extreme weather conditions of hot and cold.
– Sleeping late or getting up late.
– Going thirsty for long periods or consuming excess of fluids, especially along with meals.
– Lack of physical exercise/physical activity or exercising under the sun in summers or exercising too much.
– Indulging in excess of sexual activity.
– Wearing tight clothes and undergarments
– Using personal hygiene products that contain perfumes or chemicals around the private area.
– Tampons, diaphragm etc.
Local washing with triphala tea is beneficial. No douching is to be done.
Herbs like triphala, manjistha, neem, ashoka, vidanga and musta are useful and can be used after due consultation with an Ayurvedic practitioner. They help to make the vaginal mucosa stronger and also balance Kapha and Pitta.
DISCLAIMER: Nothing in this document may be viewed as the diagnosis or treatment of any medical disease whatsoever. The contents of this document are the opinions of the author based on his learning and experience. This document is meant only for educational purposes. The Ayurveda Experience is not liable or responsible for the suggestions made herein.
Please consult your primary care physician before implementing any change in your diet or lifestyle.