We have a lot of anecdotal evidence about the value of home remedies for yeast infections, but is there any real proof that these remedies work as well as the anti-fungal agents which are routinely prescribed for men and women alike?
Lactobacillus and other probiotics
As you may well know if you are a sufferer of vaginal or vulvovaginal yeast infections, there is a great deal of anecdotal evidence which suggests that probiotic bacteria such as Lactobacillus acidophilus can help to cure, or even prevent, Candida albicans infection.
The important question is, of course, is this true?
In 1992, Eileen Hilton and colleagues conducted a year-long study designed to prove whether or not eating yogurt containing Lactobacillus acidophilus on a daily basis could actually prevent these infections.
They conducted a trial which lasted for at least one year during which women were examined for infection with Candida albicans while eating a diet which contained yogurt, or a diet which did not.
The researchers worked with 33 women who’d had recurrent candidal vaginitis.
Thirteen patients completed the study, which was a disappointingly low number, but nonetheless may be considered large enough to provide reliable findings.
And it certainly seems from their study that Lactobacillus is indeed an effective prophylactic against Candida.
There was a threefold decrease in Candida albicans infection among women who consumed yogurt containing Lactobacillus compared to the control group who were not taking yogurt.
This seems to demonstrate conclusively that the anecdotal evidence about the effectiveness of yogurt as a home remedy for yeast is supported by scientific research.
In short, Lactobacillus is a good way of guarding against Candida infection, and by implication is also a good cure for Candida albicans infection. (By the way, the women consumed 8 ounces of live yogurt per day.)
Tea Tree Oil
One of the most popular remedies against yeast infections is tea tree oil. And one of the most assiduous researchers in the field of its effectiveness is Professor TV Riley of the University of Western Australia.
He quite reasonably started his research from the position that unless scientific research has been conducted on the claims of therapeutic efficiency of such compounds, complementary medicine is unlikely to establish a place in conventional health care.
So his research over many years has had a really useful function: not only does it demonstrate whether tea tree oil actually works against Canada, but it helps to persuade the medical profession that this particular home remedy for yeast infection may well be worth incorporating into a normal treatment regime.
We know that many things can change the flora of the vagina and provide an opportunity for Candida albicans and other species to flourish out of control, causing the typical symptoms of yeast infection.
In fact, 80 to 90% of thrush is caused by Candida albicans. Other common species are glabrata, tropicalis, and parapsilosis.
Remarkably, despite the popularity of essential oils such as tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) oil, as late as 1998, no scientific research had been conducted to establish whether or not it really was an effective agent against Canada.
Professor Riley used isolated Candida organisms from the Department of Microbiology at the University of Western Australia and tea tree oil which complied with the International standard ISO 4730.
(The concentration of terpin-4-ol and 1,8-cineole – the the active ingredients – were 37% and 3% respectively.)
By growing the yeast organisms on nutrient medium, and then adding the essential oil in different concentrations, Professor Riley was able to establish exactly what antimicrobial properties could be ascribed to tea tree oil.
(He also tested a number of other essential oils, including sandalwood coriander, lavender and so on.)
Naturally enough, he discovered that essential oils such as sage and sandalwood, well known for generations for their antiseptic and antimicrobial capacities also seem to have anti-candida properties as well.
In fact it turned out that tea tree oil is active as an antibacterial agent for a wide range of bacteria species. As far as its activity against Candida was concerned, concentrations as low as 0.5% show significant antifungal effectiveness.
Subsequent research has demonstrated that tea tree oil and its active ingredients have a massive effect on the cell membranes of Candida albicans at concentrations as low as 0.25% to 1.06%.
For the technically minded, tea tree oil, and its constituent terpenes, are thought to induce alterations in cell membrane permeability by disrupting the fatty acyl molecular chains that make up the membrane lipid bilayers.
Of course this research is being done in the laboratory, and what was really needed for convincing proof of the effectiveness of tea tree oil as an antifungal agent is a study “in vivo”.
There have now been many such studies, including one in which fourteen strains of Candida albicans which were resistant to fluconazole and itraconazole were assessed for their susceptibility to tea tree oil.
What would you expect?
You’d be right if you said the Candida organisms were killed by the tea tree oil.
Of course, tea tree oil is well known among non-scientists. It has been used as a germicide since 1925, and native Australian aboriginal medicine has used the leaves of the Melaleuca plant for many generations to protect wounds against infection.
Although the early work in vivo was conducted on rats, it still produced convincing evidence that tea tree oil was an effective antifungal agent.
To those who have supported the therapeutic use of non-conventional and non-prescription natural home remedies, this will come as no surprise.
But for those who regard the testing of alternative and complementary therapies as a necessary part of the process of acceptance, in vivo research is an absolutely essential element in demonstrating the power of any traditional remedy before it is released onto the market as a safe holistic medication.
This is a paper in which Professor Riley and colleagues consider the molecular structure of the components of tea tree oil that give it its anti-microbial properties.
Essentially tea tree oil is a toxic substance which can be dangerous if ingested at levels of about 1.5 g per kilogram – at least in rat species. (You’ll be glad to know there haven’t been any human deaths reported due to tea tree oil.)
With a properly prepared compound, marketed specifically for the purpose of infection-control, there need be no danger.
There has long been a massive amount of in vitro data demonstrating the power of tea tree oil control bacterial and fungal infection. From around 2005, evidence began to accumulate about the in vivo effectiveness of terpinen-4-ol, the main bioactive ingredient in Melaleuca alternifolia.
Francesca Mondello and colleagues in Italy demonstrated that tea tree oil and its constituents were effective against Candida species, regardless of their resistance to antifungal drugs.
As they observed, their work showed that terpinen-4-ol treatment was equally efficacious against azole-susceptible as well as against azole-resistant organisms.
This is certainly an article worth reading, even though it’s rather old, because it considers whether or not the easy availability of azole compounds for use as fungistatic drugs has contributed to the growth of Candida resistance.
The article also considers how antifungal agents actually work. The answer seems to be that the most effective antifungal agents cause weakness of the cell membrane, making the fungal cells leaky and resulting in electrolyte imbalance and cell death.
So how much of a surprise would it be to you to hear that garlic, or rather its active ingredient allicin, has been used as an effective antifungal agent for generations, and that scientists have now discovered that it can kill Candida because of the damaging effect that it has on the yeast cell membranes?
Admittedly, the mechanism is not quite the same as that by which the azoles operate, but nonetheless bears a parallel.
The simple fact is, garlic has been known for centuries to possess all kinds of interesting properties: it has cardiovascular, antioxidant and antimicrobial benefits.
Its active ingredient, allicin, is a potent inhibitor of growth in many Candida species, and may even be effective against systemic or invasive candidiasis.
Researchers have demonstrated that allicin inhibits the growth biofilm, which is part of the Candida cell’s mechanism for developing resistance to antifungal drugs.
And one study has demonstrated that administering garlic paste is just as effective at suppressing oral candidiasis as a solution of clotrimazole.
Furthermore, believe it or not, a vaginal cream which contain the right proportion of garlic and thyme has been shown to be just as effective against Candida species as a vaginal cream containing clotrimazole.
Garlic oil was investigated many years ago as a yeast infection home remedy, but early reports suggesting that it had no antimicrobial activity deterred other research.
Now scientists are investigating whether it could be an effective remedy for yeast infection.
Due to researchers like Chung, 2007, we do know that garlic oil is a powerful inhibitor of yeast infection, both as a fungistatic agent and as a fungicidal agent.
By using garlic oil and allyl alcohol in combination there is a massive synergistic increase in antifungal activity.
(The latter is a compound derived from allicin by prolonged heating, and combined with garlic oil containing allicin, the antifungal activity of the two compounds is significantly increased.)
So do home remedies for yeast infections work? Yes, they do – without a doubt. More proof needed? Prepare to have your conventions shattered! Check the link and see for yourself – what we knew all along really is true!