The truth about yeast infections

January 12, 2010 3:18:22 PM PST
The truth about yeast infections: debunking dangerous myths and what you need to know about treatments and protecting your health. So you think you have a yeast infection?

It's definitely possible; up to 75% of women have at least one yeast infection in their lifetime and 5 % of women have recurrent infections (meaning 4 or more a year).

This makes vaginal discharge the most common reason for a trip to the gynecologist, with more than 1 million doctor visits every year and another 3 million or so infections treated with either an over the counter (OTC) anti fungal or left over medication from the last go round.

For some reason there is a lot of urban mythology about yeast infections. Do a quick internet search and you will find web sites that claim yeast is the cause of every ailment under the sun from allergies to chronic fatigue, and many are promoting potentially dangerous cures.

So let's get to the truth of the matter.

  1. Get the right diagnosis. We all think we know when we have a yeast infection. Right? Wrong. Studies actually show that 2/3 of women who think they have a yeast infection and start treatment (traditional medication or otherwise) actually have a different medical condition, so many women are self-treating for an infection they don't even have. Women who had been previously diagnosed with yeast are no better at self-diagnosis than first timers. Other causes of vaginal irritation and itching include bacterial vaginosis (another vaginal infection), allergic reactions, vulvodynia, skin conditions, and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

  2. Why is yeast misdiagnosed? Yeast infections have become the catchall for every vaginal symptom. We are bombarded with ads on TV and in print about medications for yeast while little attention is given to other more common, and potentially harmful, causes. Because many conditions can produce the same symptoms and the presence of yeast in the vagina can be normal putting the pieces of the puzzle together can be difficult, even after a thorough medical exam.

  3. Does diet affect yeast? Only if you are a diabetic. Sugar makes every bug grow, and yeast is no exception. However, as long as you are not a diabetic your body can handle sugar and will keep your blood levels normal. A medical study has even been performed that indicates eating a high sugar meal does not affect the level of sugar in the vagina. Eat a healthy diet and if you are having recurrent infections or you are overweight and have yeast, testing for diabetes may be a good idea. Gluten and wheat also has no effect.

  4. What about yogurt? I heard that helps. The idea behind yogurt is that it is filled with a healthy bacteria called lactobacilli. The vagina is filled with this bacteria and it helps keep yeast and other potentially harmful bugs at bay. The problem with yogurt? It has the wrong kind of lactobacilli. So have some yogurt as part of a healthy diet, but it won't cure your vaginal problems and most certainly do not douche with it.

  5. What about a cleanse, to rid my body of toxins that may be causing yeast? Stop right there. Your liver takes care of toxins just fine and the bowel should have yeast. Some people promote dangerous cleanses, like the Master Cleanse, 10 days of drinking lemon juice, cayenne peer, and maple syrup. There is no science behind this and a no protein diet for 10 days is potentially dangerous.

Some debunked myths are below

The myth : Itchiness, burning sensations, and red blotches in the external genitalia and the vagina are symptoms of yeast infection.

The truth: Most women might assume that they have yeast infection if they're itching, burning, having vaginal discharges, or finding it painful to urinate. But this is not always the case. You might be suffering from more serious vaginal infections like bacterial vaginosis or trichomoniasis if you are experiencing such symptoms. Women with sexually-transmitted diseases like gonorrhea and chlamydia might also suffer from vaginal sores and irritation.

Doctors always recommend that you undergo clinical examinations to confirm if you have yeast infection or other types of vaginal infection or sexually-transmitted diseases.

The myth: Only women can suffer from yeast infections.

The truth: Although yeast infection is not mainly a sexually-transmitted disease, men can acquire yeast infections through sexual contact with an infected female. Men who have higher risks of developing yeast infection are those who:

    1) have weakened immune system, like those who already have AIDS
    2) have been using antibiotics for a prolonged period
    3) have been suffering from elevated blood sugar level or diabetes
Newborn babies can also acquire yeast infection. An infected mother can pass the fungus to her baby upon delivery through the birth canal. The baby might develop oral thrush, which is the manifestation of whitish deposits inside the baby's mouth.

As the fungus can travel through the digestive tract and the rectum, the baby might also develop diaper rash as a symptom of yeast infection. A baby's immune system is not yet well-developed, so infections should pose a significant concern for the mother.

The myth: Yeast infection is not a serious condition.

The truth: For those who are suffering from weakened immune system, yeast infection can become systemic; this means that other parts of the body other than the mouth or the genitals can infested by the Candida fungus. People with weak immune deficiency diseases (e.g. AIDS) may develop yeast infection in their esophagus and in their skin on other parts of the body. Once the Candida fungus gets into digestive tract, it hooks itself into the intestinal walls. This can cause punctures or holes in the intestinal tract, allowing food particles and toxins to leak into the bloodstream. The fungus can invade the liver, the lungs, the urinary tract, and even the brain. This is how systemic yeast infection carries very high mortality rate among patients.

Another drug-resistant Candida yeast strain has evolved in the recent past and is a potentially growing threat in the hospitals. These aggressive stains tend to attack themselves to the surfaces of the hospital and even to the clothing of staffs, thus spreading rapidly.

These strains are almost untreatable and can as well pose to be serious threat to patients.

The myth: Yeast infections are caused by yeast.

The truth: The pain, itching and burning is caused by the Candida yeast, which is true, but it need not be an infection all the time. There are many other factors (other than yeast) that contribute to the development of a yeast infection. Using harsh soaps and chemicals can be one of the causes of such infections.

But there could be some other serious causes as well such as diabetes, AIDS or some other underlying illnesses.

To learn more about yeast infections, visit

Learn more about Jennifer Gunter here

Follow Jennifer Gunter on Twitter