How Dietary Changes Affect Candida Growth
Research has shown that making changes to your diet has the potential to aid both your body in fighting yeast infections, especially whilst using effective thrush treatments.
Updated: Monday 16 October 2023
Recent research has shown that the food you eat could have an impact on your body’s ability to fight against thrush infections. Read on to find out why this is and what dietary changes can be made to help reduce the frequency of thrush outbreaks.
What is thrush?
Thrush is a yeast infection that has been caused by an overgrowth of a fungus known as Candida albicans. There are several different forms of the condition depending on where the overgrowth is located, but one of the most common forms is genital thrush.
Symptoms of genital thrush in men typically include irritation and redness around the head of the penis and under the foreskin. There may be a burning sensation around the genital area and difficulties pulling back the foreskin. In addition to this, there may also be a white discharge from the penis that resembles ‘cottage cheese’ and smells unpleasant.
For women, symptoms will usually include irritation and itching around the vagina, and a white, odourless discharge coming from the vagina that resembles ‘cottage cheese’. They may also experience stinging or a burning sensation whilst urinating or during sex.
Whilst genital thrush affects both men and women, it typically affects women more than men with an estimated 75% of women likely to experience vaginal thrush at least once in their lifetime . Although genital thrush can sometimes appear after sex, it is not regarded as a sexually transmitted infection.
What is the link between intestinal and genital thrush infections?
Research has shown that there is a strong link between cases of intestinal and vaginal candidiasis infections, suggesting that by managing the intestinal thrush infection through changes to diet, the likelihood of experiencing recurring outbreaks of genital thrush may be reduced.
A 2011 study investigated the relationship between vaginal and intestinal Candida in patients who were experiencing vaginal yeast infections . The researchers found that there was a prominent association between experiencing genital thrush and also experiencing an overgrowth of Candida in the gastrointestinal tract. They also discovered that participants who had their vaginal thrush infections treated were still likely to experience a recurrent infection if their intestinal candidiasis infections were not treated also.
The gastrointestinal tract inside the human digestive system hosts the gut microbiome - a diverse body of trillions of microorganisms including bacteria, pathogens and fungi such as Candida albicans. Many of the microbes play important roles in keeping the body healthy and functioning but some can have negative effects. An imbalance of the microbes in the microbiome, which results in more of the ‘bad’ microbes than the ‘good’ ones, can increase the chances of experiencing illness and infection.
What dietary changes may help reduce candida overgrowth?
Coconut oil is made up of lauric and caprylic acid; compounds known to have antifungal properties. Some studies have shown that lauric and caprylic acid are effective at reducing populations of Candida albicans by suppressing mycelial growth in its membranes, causing it to rupture.
Lower sugar intake
Evidence shows that Candida favours high-sugar environments, meaning if you consume a lot of sugar in your diet, it could lead to an increase in the growth of Candida in the gut microbiome. By reducing your intake of sugar, this lowers its presence in both your gut and bloodstream, which could help to reduce the population of Candida present in your body.
Greek and natural yoghurt are known to contain a type of bacteria called lactobacillus that is regarded as a form of ‘good’ bacteria that are usually present in the digestive system and vagina. Lactobacillus releases hydrogen peroxide which kills Candida, reducing the growth.
Vitamin C is known to boost the immune system, but it also provides support to your adrenal glands, which are crucial for the regulation of your blood sugar. An overgrowth of Candida can cause harm to your adrenal glands by hindering their function due to an increase in the ethanol released by the Candida. Consuming more vitamin C is an effective way at ensuring they continue functioning. Not only this, but ascorbic acid found in vitamin C can help to maintain your stomach’s acidity, which can reduce overgrowth of Candida as the fungus requires alkaline conditions to populate and spread.
This is one of the main components of turmeric. Studies have shown that curcumin has anti-inflammatory and antifungal properties, and can inhibit the growth of Candida albicans, as well as other fungal strains. Other research has found that curcumin was able to stop Candida binding with human cells, and that when combined with ascorbic acid found in vitamin C, its effectiveness of reducing Candida growth increased significantly.
Genital thrush treatments
Whilst making changes to your diet may help reduce the risk of Candida overgrowths, the most effective way to treat genital thrush is still using a clinically proven thrush treatment. There are a number of different treatments available that can prove effective against eliminating the fungus and reducing symptoms of thrush:
Fluconazole is a branded oral capsule treatment for genital thrush that aims to clear the symptoms within two days. Its active ingredient targets the Candida fungus by disrupting the production of ergosterol which is essential for the functioning of the fungal cell membranes. This disruption causes the membranes to break down which prevents Candida from spreading. Diflucan, a generic form of Fluconazole, is another effective oral treatment.
Clotrimazole is a powerful antifungal topical treatment that helps clear genital thrush. The popular brand Canesten offers a variety of treatments that can provide relief from symptoms depending on the severity and location of the infection. For internal relief, Canesten Internal Cream and Canesten Thrush Pessary can be used to fight thrush from the source of infection. Treatments that can be applied externally to relieve symptoms of itchiness and irritation include Canesten External 1% and Canesten External 2%. Clotrimazole External 1%, a generic form of Canesten External 1%, is also an effective, fast-acting topical treatment.
Preventative measures for genital thrush
Other preventative measures can be taken to ensure the genital area does not contribute to creating an environment suitable for excess growth of Candida, which is typically moist and warm folds of skin. These include:
- Washing the genital area with a non-perfumed, pH-balanced body wash
- Ensuring the genital area is completely dry after washing
- Wearing loose-fitting underwear
Informed Health, Vaginal yeast infection (thrush), 2019.
Xiao-li Lin, 2011. Study on the relationship between vaginal and intestinal candida in patients with vulvovaginal candidasis, Zhonghua Fu Chan Ke Za Zhi.