Thrush is a term often used by women, and commonly found preceding the words “bane of my life”. It’s a common condition (so common 40-75% of sexually active women have experienced it) whereby there is an overgrowth of the fungus candida, typically within the vagina. This overgrowth often leaves women with unpleasant itching, pain or burning, pain on urination, redness or swelling and potentially an increased discharge.
However, it’s not just women who are affected. An overgrowth of candida can occur and cause infections in the mouth (especially in infants), within the gastrointestinal tract and externally, on the skin. There are a few different species of Candida, the most common being Candida Albicans. It’s important to remember that Candida is a fungal species that normally lives in our gut and may be present in the mouth, on the skin and in the vagina. The problem arises when it overgrows and the natural balance is not held in check anymore. Coupled with poor immunity (from the candida itself suppressing immunity, stress, poor diet or a variety of other reasons) and we have a recipe for trouble.
Did you realise the Vagina has a microbiome too?
In a healthy, balanced vaginal ecosystem, organisms like Candida are kept in check by plenty of lactobacilli species, or good bacteria. Think of it like a carpark- the good bacteria are filling up all the car spaces so there’s no room for a new car (such as a pathogen) to park. A lack of beneficial species, as well as a shift in the pH of the vagina, can mean there’s nothing to stop the growth of pathogenic organisms. This imbalance in good and bad organisms is known as dysbiosis.
Thrush is just one of the consequences of vaginal dysbiosis. Vaginal dysbiosis can also lead to an increased risk of recurrent urinary tract infections, and other infections such as HIV-1, Gonorrhoea, Trichomonas and bacterial vaginosis.
So what causes the dysbiosis? Plenty of things contribute, such as;
· Antibiotic use
· Spermicide use
· Vaginal washing/douching
· Hormonal changes post-menopause
· New sexual partner
· Increased frequency of intercourse
· Use of diaphragm
· Use of bidet toilets
How can you be sure it’s thrush?
A check up and swab via you GP is always best if you are unsure, especially if it’s recurrent or you’ve tried over the counter treatments already to no avail. Symptoms can be similar to those of other conditions such as bacterial vaginosis, chlamydia and trichomoniasis, so a trip to your GP may be in order to determine that it is definitely thrush. It’s also possible you have a less common variant of Candida (such as Candida glabrata) that can be a little more resistant to standard treatments. Knowing the difference really helps me target our treatment more specifically to your individual needs.
In clinic, I’ll often use a simple pH test to get a feel for if its fungal or potentially bacterial, to help determine when to refer and the best approach to support my patients. This also ensures we aren’t wasting time and money treating what you believe to be candida, when it could be something else that requires a completely different naturopathic approach.
Stay tuned for our next post in which we’ll cover what you can do to treat thrush naturally.
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Sandi Cooper is an experienced Naturopath working in clinical practice for almost two decades. Her clients love her down-to-earth approach and her naturally caring qualities. Although Sandi is experienced in most areas of clinical practice, she has a special interest in children’s health and nutrition, working with parents to get the best outcomes for their children.