As a woman, the odds are high that you’ll have an encounter with yeast. That’s because higher than normal levels of the female hormone estrogen may be associated with yeast overgrowth—specifically, infection with a particular yeast called Candida albicans. This type of infection is called Candidiasis, or Candida for short.
A woman’s estrogen levels can fluctuate, oftentimes dramatically, due to a variety of factors:
- Birth control pills
- Hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
- Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)
- Estrogen Dominance Syndrome — Depleted progesterone levels and excess estrogen levels can cause a condition known as estrogen dominance. Estrogen becomes an unopposed hormone, leading to many health problems.1 Estrogen dominance can be the result of:
- Heavy metal toxicity and environmental toxins — Whenever the body’s detoxification system is impaired or overloaded due to toxic substances, excess estrogen cannot be excreted and accumulates in the body.2
- Alcoholism and smoking — Excess estrogen is found in women who drink and/or smoke heavily since the body’s detoxification system is overloaded.
- Poor diet — Nutritionists assert that diet plays a role in unopposed estrogen dominance. A low-fiber diet is said to cause a surge in estrogen levels, while a high-fiber results in lower estrogen levels in the bloodstream. This is because excess estrogen is excreted through the bowel. A poor diet and the resulting digestive problems can create an estrogen imbalance.2
Candida and Female Conditions
Because excess estrogen can contribute to Candida, there are a variety of female conditions that co-exist with Candida.
Chronic vaginal yeast infections. The most well-known form of yeast overgrowth occurs in the form of vaginal yeast infections, which affect 3 out of 4 women at least once in their lifetime.3 The fluctuation of hormones throughout a woman’s menstrual cycle is said to be responsible for a monthly cyclical pattern of recurring yeast infections in certain women.4
Infertility and sexual dysfunction. Women with chronic vaginal yeast infections tend to experience increased sexual dysfunction due to the irritation caused by yeast overgrowth.5 Also, Candida overgrowth can interfere with the ability to conceive. Many women assert that once they resolved their Candida problem and associated vitamin, mineral, and amino acid deficiencies, they were able to conceive and carry their baby to term.
Premenstrual syndrome. In certain women, Candida can wreak havoc during the premenstrual phase, when estrogen levels fluctuate. Candida that occurs just prior to menstruation can mimic the symptoms of PMS. Effective Candida treatment may help alleviate the disabling symptoms that come around every month.
Prenatal yeast infections. Pregnant women tend to suffer more from frequent yeast infections because estrogen levels fluctuate naturally during pregnancy.
Menopause. Going through this “change of life,” or using hormone replacement therapies (HRT) to reduce the symptoms of menopause can disrupt the endocrine system that regulates hormones. Such hormone imbalances are said to contribute to Candida overgrowth.6
Endometriosis. Some women suffer from a painful condition where the cells that normally line the uterus grow outside the uterus and follow the same menstrual pattern of tissue build-up, breakdown, and shedding. Women with endometriosis have a higher incidence of chronic yeast infections, leading to the notion that women who suffer from endometriosis have a co-existing problem with yeast.7
Mental illness. Most women have heard the tired old phrase “it’s all in your head.” Many women are misdiagnosed as mentally ill and referred to a psychiatrist, when in fact, they suffer from Candida. Candida may play a role in anxiety, depression, brain fog, lack of concentration, poor memory, mood swings, and PMS swings. Don’t ignore your symptoms because someone tells you “it’s all in your head.” Fight for real answers and real solutions.
How Do You Know if Candida is the Culprit?
Since many female conditions co-exist with Candida, sometimes it’s difficult to determine whether your symptoms are related to a chronic condition or actually due to Candida. A thorough evaluation with a healthcare professional may help determine the root cause of your symptoms. Candida testing should be considered as part of a thorough evaluation. Read more about Candida testing.
Candida can be caused by:
- Use of antibiotics
- Birth control pills
- Heavy metal toxicity
- Exposure to pesticides
- A weakened immune system, such as in the case of AIDS
- Type 2 diabetes
- Chemotherapy and radiation treatments
- A poor, unbalanced diet
Candida Treatment for Women
Antifungal medications. For vaginal yeast infections, over-the-counter antifungal topical medications such as Monistat®, Gyne-Lotrimin®, Fem-stat®, Terazol®, and Mycelex® may help relieve the itching and discomfort. Stronger prescription versions may be used to treat stubborn yeast infections.
In order to eradicate Candida, oral prescription antifungals can be prescribed such as Amphotericin B, Diflucan®, Lamisil®, Nizoral®, Nystatin®, and Sporanox®.
Natural antimicrobial/antifungal herbs. Fighting a fungal overgrowth is often most successful when you attack it from numerous angles. Certain herbs and botanicals (such as allicin (garlic), barberry, bee propolis, black walnut, cat’s claw, cinnamon, clove, coriander, fennel seed, ginger root, goldenseal, grapefruit seed, holy basil, mint leaves, neem leaves, oregano, samento, thyme, and turmeric are very potent against pathogens and have been used for centuries to manage bacterial and fungal infections. Using such herbs — either alone for a mild infection, or with prescription medications to help eradicate a major infection — has been effective in helping Candida sufferers feel better.
Coconut oil. In a similar way, organic extra virgin coconut oil may be very beneficial due to the well-researched antimicrobial properties that it possesses. Studies have also shown that it adds healthy fats back into your diet and helps speed metabolism. Learn more about organic extra virgin coconut oil.
Yogurt with live, active cultures. Applying plain, unsweetened, non-flavored yogurt to the vaginal area may also help, due to the probiotics (“good” bacteria) that exist in yogurt. Don’t apply flavored or sweetened yogurt, since Candida loves to feed on sugar, which may aggravate the problem. Eating yogurt, on the other hand, has not been proven to have an effect on combating vaginal infections.
Probiotics. Replenishing the good bacteria and restoring the body’s intestinal flora has been shown to help combat Candida. Read more about the importance of probiotics.
Anti-Candida diet. Eliminating sugar and yeast from the diet has also been shown to help control Candida, in addition to the above-listed therapies. For dietary recommendations, read more about Candida.
How to Know if you have Candida
For years, there was really no definitive way to tell whether you had a Candida yeast infection. One method of determining the existence of this condition was a simple symptom survey. See a quick list of these symptoms.
Though helpful in its ability to identify a possible cause of illness, the survey was only subjective, and therefore it couldn’t tell you definitively if you had a Candida overgrowth, and if so, how bad it was. There was also no way to know after treatment if it was totally gone, or just partially gone.
For physicians, only after there was a positive response to antifungal medication and the antifungal diet was it considered “definitive proof” of a Candida yeast overgrowth. No tests were able to effectively measure how much of an overgrowth existed, OR after treatment if it had been fully eradicated.
Fortunately, there are now two very useful tests available that can help you determine 1) the likelihood of a Candida yeast overgrowth being the cause of your health issues, and 2) how much overgrowth there is.
You may be asking, “If these tests are so helpful, why don’t many conventional doctors use them?” The answer is, for the same reason that most medical doctors are unable to successfully treat people with Candida—because they are either unaware of the tests’ existence, or worse because they simply don’t believe there is enough scientific evidence to prove that Candida really does cause debilitating health issues for more people than just the severely ill (e.g., AIDS patients, those who have had chemotherapy, etc.).
However, many people whom doctors have turned away without hope, have been helped by taking the following tests. As they say, knowing is half the battle!
The first of these tests—which comes in two forms: one for adults and the other for children—are brief questionnaires developed by Dr. William Crook, author of The Yeast Connection Handbook. These online assessments should greatly help you and your physician evaluate the role Candida albicans may play in your or your child’s health problems.
- Take the Candidiasis Self-assessment for adults here.
- Take the Yeast Questionnaire for Children here.
These free online self-assessments are a great starting point when you’re feeling ill since they help you to evaluate the possibility of Candidiasis.
If you or your child scores high—indicating a Candida infection is likely—the next step, testing-wise, may be to take the Organic Acids Test (OAT), which can actually measure the level of Candida yeast in the body.
The OAT, created in the late 1990s, is extremely useful because it can reveal the existence of specific chemicals that would only be present in your urine if the toxic byproducts of Candida yeast were alive in the body creating them. If the OAT finds these specific chemical markers, then it means that there is a measurable yeast overgrowth present.
- Learn more about the Organic Acids Test.
When a Candida overgrowth attacks your entire digestive tract, it’s important to fight back with beneficial bacteria, or probiotics, that can boost your immune system and kill off the yeast.
- Learn more about the benefits of probiotics.
- “Low Progesterone or Estrogen Dominance,” The Analysthttp://www.digitalnaturopath.com/cond/C8769.htmlAccessed August 2005
- “Estrogen Dominance Syndrome,” Conscious Choicehttp://www.consciouschoice.com/1999/cc1209/hmd1209.htmlAccessed August 2005
- Yeast Infection Resource.comhttp://www.yeastinfectionresource.com/Accessed August 2005
- “PMS and Candida Syndrome,” Great Smokies Diagnostic Labshttp://www.gsdl.com/home/assessments/finddisease/pms/candida.htmlAccessed August 2005
- “Sexual Dysfunction in Women,” Discovery Healthhttp://health.discovery.com/encyclopedias/illnesses.html?article=2058&page=1Accessed August 2005
- “Is Candida an Endocrine Disorder?” National Candida Society UKhttp://www.candida-society.org/ncs/digestv1i3.htmAccessed August 2005
- “Candida Connection,” Kristi NewMyer, MDhttp://altmed.creighton.edu/endometriosis/candida_connection.htm