The patient: Cecilia, a 38-year-old marketing director of a high-end restaurant chain.
Why she came to see me: Cecilia relished an active, social lifestyle—from swimming with friends to networking with other industry members—but found that the vaginal itchiness, burning and discomfort she was experiencing were robbing her of her joy, comfort and confidence.
Her primary care physician had given her a blanket diagnosis of “vaginal infection” and prescribed a topical treatment in addition to the oral prescription drug Diflucan. Both, however, provided only short-lived reprieve. Her symptoms would return, sometimes with a vengeance.
How I evaluated her: I began with a comprehensive discussion about Cecilia’s lifestyle and symptoms. She said her symptoms emerged a few months earlier and vacillated from severe to mild. They consisted mainly of itching, burning, and a thick, white discharge. Sinus infections had forced her to go on antibiotics twice within the last six months. “I haven’t felt ‘right’ ever since,” she told me.
Due to the opening of a new restaurant in her chain—and the sleepless nights that arrived with it—she’d been drinking more alcohol and relying on sweets to propel her through her workload and in social situations. Her cravings for sugar were especially high before her period.
Following our intake, I did a thorough pelvic exam. Additionally, I ordered a PAP and a vaginal culture to test for yeast overgrowth and abnormal bacteria, which can lead to vaginal infections. I also recommended that she get a stool test called a microbiology stool culture analysis to evaluate if her intestines were also harboring excess yeast and/or abnormal flora that could be contributing to her chronic vaginal infections.
What my evaluation revealed: As I suspected, Cecilia’s vaginal culture revealed that she did indeed have a vaginal infection—specifically a vaginal yeast infection, which can present in precisely the symptoms Cecilia described. It also showed that she lacked lactobacilli, a strain of friendly bacteria that typically keeps the ecosystem of the vaginal area healthy.
Her stool culture confirmed very low levels of friendly bacteria as well as an overgrowth of yeast called Candida Albicans. The vaginal test and stool test I ordered provided a sensitivity test to both prescriptive and natural agents. In other words, it told me exactly which products would be most effective in eradicating the yeast overgrowth in both her vagina and her intestines.
How I addressed her problem: I recommended treating not just Cecilia’s symptoms but also the whole ecosystem of her body—something that often runs counter to most physicians, who may prescribe medications that are used only for a few days to ease symptoms but don’t address the underlying cause of the condition. I explained to her that having a vaginal yeast infection is just the tip of the iceberg of what could be happening in other parts of her body, including her intestines. With that in mind, here’s what I recommended…
* Foods to avoid: In the case of yeast infections, it’s imperative to encourage “friendly” vaginal flora—something that can be accomplished in part by eliminating alcohol, refined carbohydrates and sugar from one’s diet, including high-glycemic fruits, which can promote yeast in the vagina.
Given that vaginal infections are deemed a sign of “dampness” in the pelvic area in traditional Chinese medicine—which can be caused in part by the consumption of dairy products—I also recommended that she eliminate most of the dairy from her diet for a time, eating only small amounts of plain yogurt.
* Foods to eat: I advised Cecilia to eat foods that have anti-fungal properties like garlic and pau d’arco tea…and foods high in zinc, such as pumpkin seeds, shrimp, crab, legumes, whole grains and tofu, as zinc is known to help prevent yeast overgrowth.
* Supplements: I prescribed dietary supplements that help stamp out intestinal yeast, including caprylic acid and oregano oil, which I advised her to take for at least two months.
Further, I suggested a product called Gy-Na.Tren, an over-the-counter lactobacilli that contains both oral probiotic capsules and vaginal homeopathic suppositories.
* Baths: I suggested Cecilia try sitz baths to alleviate the immediate irritation she was enduring. These baths are prepared with goldenseal tea and boiling water, which is added to a bathtub (and requires sitting in, once cool, for at least 10 minutes two to three times daily).
* Douche: I also had Cecilia use a tea tree oil douche, which does the trick most of the time and is cheap and easy (just fill a small douche bag with water and four drops of tea tree oil, mix well and voila!)…and to treat the vaginal area twice a day for five days. Tea tree oil is a natural anti-fungal.
The next step was to douche with the Gy-Na.Tren friendly bacteria twice a week for three weeks to reestablish healthy flora and prevent future infections. (To do this, I have patients open up the Gy-Na.Tren oral capsule, and put that into the douche bag with plain water.) Note that this is not how the manufacturer tells people to use this product, but I have spoken to their rep and confirmed that it is totally okay to do and I’ve done this with patients for years. This works so well because it gets the dairy-free probiotic right where you want it and quickly re-establishes healthy flora.
Helpful throughout this process: Refrain from sex…and wear a pad to protect your clothing.
* Clothing: Finally, I recommended frequently changing her underwear (and changing immediately out of her wet swimsuits) to stave off the overgrowth of yeast.
The patient’s progress: Within two weeks, Cecilia returned to my office with a smile that reminded me why I chose this profession. She’d responded well to the natural treatments and was basically symptoms free. In eight weeks she returned for a follow-up visit and reported that her periods were a breeze, she didn’t have the crazy sugar cravings that often arrived with their onset, and she no longer feared the vaginal itchiness and burning that would arrive unexpectedly. Galvanized by her progress, she agreed to continue on her low-sugar diet to fully support her intestinal health, which can take several months to restore. As she put it, she no longer needed to self-medicate with alcohol and sweets because she had resumed the life she loved: that of being social, physical, and productive.
Click here to buy Dr. Laurie Steelsmith’s books, Natural Choices for Women’s Health, Great Sex, Naturally and Growing Younger Every Day: The Three Essential Steps for Creating Youthful Hormone Balance at Any Age.