If you are reasonably aware of your body and can catch yeast infections early enough, you almost never need to rely on "medical" treatments.
When I'm getting a yeast infection, I always start by treating it myself with one or more of the remedies listed below. There lots of reasons for this: I like to have control over my own body and not have to rely on the medical establishment except when really necessary; doing it myself is generally easier and cheaper than using medical treatments; and home remedies tend to be milder, cleaner, better-smelling, and have fewer side effects than drugs do. In addition, some of these treatments rely on substances that you can grow yourself, so you have can minimal participation in our increasingly corporate culture. Still, if your infection seems resistant or you can't get these to work soon enough to make you happy, you may want to escalate to the more powerful fungicides available over the counter in most American pharmacies.
The remedies listed below are in no particular order, except that the more common ones are towards the top of the list. These treatments should clear up most Candida infections; do feel free to combine 2 or 3 of them if you think you need it.
- YOGURT is the #1 choice of do-it-yourselfers everywhere, and is so common that even some professional medical types recommend it. Yogurt contains Lactobacillus acidophilus, a bacterium that also happens to be found in healthy vaginas. Acidophilus kills yeast by producing hydrogen peroxide. Most wimmin using yogurt to treat a yeast infection simply apply it directly to the vulva and gently inject some into the vagina by any means necessary. But how to get in there? Here's a method suggested by one reader: put the yogurt in plastic tampon applicators and freeze them, and then you've got little yogurt-sicles to use next time you get a yeast infection. She says "It is really cold, of course, inserting the tampon, but I find it actually soothing compared to the fires of a damn yeast infection." I love it! another reader who has access to disposable gloves says she fills the fingers with yogurt and freezes them to make her yogurt -sicles. (Given that freeze-dried acidophilus tablets are available in health food stores, I'm guessing acidophilus can survive being made into a popsicle.) Other people use syringes (with no needle!) to squirt it up there. However you do it, be sure to use plain, unflavored yogurt with no added sugar, and be double sure that it contains live acidophilus cultures (available in natural foods stores and many supermarkets). Apply once or twice a day until at least a day after your symptoms clear up. Another possibility is to insert acidophilus pills from your local supermarket or health food store (look in the refrigerated section); check to make sure the capsule is made of something soft enough to melt inside you.
Also, some people think that you may be able to get some of the same effects by eating a lot of yogurt, the idea being that some of the acidophilus will make it through your digestive system and then crawl from your anus over to where you want them, i.e., in your vagina. Seems to me like a hell of journey; I say if you want 'em in your crotch, just put 'em there. But some people do use this method to try ward off yeast infections, and report good success. Also, if you are the parent of a young child with a yeast infection and don't want to try suppositories or strong drugs, this may be your best option.
Unfortunately, the production of dairy products is a definite downer from the cow's point of view, given the factory farming methods used in the US today. If you are a vegan, you may want to think about getting some of the same benefits by using acidophilus pills from a natural foods store. You can easily open up the capsules and powder your vulva with the contents, or you can mix with water and then squirt it inside or dip a tampon in it and use it that way. I bet this delivers far more acidophili than you would get from applying yogurt. I don't know if this is really such a great solution, though: i don't know where this acidophilus comes from (how vegan is it?), and the capsules used by most companies contain gelatin, which is an animal product.
- GARLIC contains natural antifungal substances that kill off yeast. It's my favorite home remedy for yeast infections; I always try it first, and it usually does the trick. To try it, find yourself a fresh clove of garlic and carefully peel all the papery skin off it. Next, make a little tampony thing by wrapping it in gauze or cheesecloth, tying the ends with unwaxed dental floss, and leaving a bit of string dangling so you'll be able to pull it out afterward. Now, believe it or not, insert it into your vagina. Don't worry about losing it up there, because of course it can't get through your cervix. Leave it in for several hours at a time, like overnight, and be sure to remove it in the morning. For early or mild infections, nighttime treatments may be enough; try several nights in a row, until one day after the symptoms disappear. If your infection is more severe, put a fresh clove in every morning and every night. (Actually, I find the dry gauze painful to insert, and unnecessary. Most of my friends and i have found that an unwrapped clove shoved up there will eventually work its way out, and even if it doesn't just fall out it can usually be expelled by bearing down and squeezing like you are trying to take a dump. But don't try this unless you are willing to face the possibility of asking a friend or medical professional to retrieve it later!) Most sources say to be careful not to nick the clove as you are peeling it, maybe because the juice stings some people, but I don't know anyone who has had a problem with that. If this makes you nervous, you could also try the garlic capsules that are sold as a dietary supplement in many health food stores, but be sure to get the kind with a soft coating that will dissolve inside you. Either way, it's fun to try: it makes your crotch taste divine, and you can walk around all day smirking to yourself, thinking how shocked people would be if they knew why it is that you reek of garlic. The downsides are that it's a fairly moderate treatment and won't work by itself for some really stubborn infections, and that people are allergic to garlic and can't go shoving it in their orifices without getting really sick.
- TEATREE OIL is available in the US at many natural foods stores. A terrifically helpful woman wrote to tell me that in Italy, teatree oil is widely used for yeast infections. She said that her pharmacist told her to coat the top half of a non-applicator type tampon with a lubricant (such as K.Y. jelly or even olive oil), then apply a few drops of pure tea tree oil and insert. The lubricant keeps the teatree oil from absorbing into the tampon. She also said that she finds that the teatree oil can sting if it comes in contact with the vulva, so she uses an applicator tampon, by just lifting off the top part of the applicator to expose the tampon, applying the K.Y. jelly and tea tree oil, and putting the tampon back into the applicator. What a great idea!
- BORIC ACID is a great remedy for a cockroach-ridden apartment, and it turns out to kill yeasty pests, too. Amazing. The idea is load up some size 00 capsules from a pharmacy or natural foods store with boric acid to use as suppositories*; the heat and moisture in your vagina will melt the capsules and release the boric acid. Insert 2 capsules filled with boric acid, about 600 mg total, into your vagina every night for a week. (To be extra sure, continue this treatment twice a week for the next 3 weeks.) This is a pretty strong treatment, and is capable of effectively treating even severe or persistent yeast infections. Some wimmin find that the boric acid causes some superficial burning and discomfort for the first few days, and may cause large amounts of vaginal discharge. Discontinue use if the burning is severe. (*NOTE to readers in the UK: by "suppository" I am talking about what you would call a "pessary"; don't put this in your arse!)
- POTASSIUM SORBATE is a potent fungicide that is widely used in preserving foods, and is often used in brewing beer to stop the growth of the yeast at the correct time. Potassium sorbate is therefore available at places that sell home-brewing supplies, and at some natural foods stores. To use it, make a 3% solution by adding 8 gm (about 1 tablespoon) potassium sorbate to a cup of water. The idea is to dip a cotton tampon in the solution, insert it at bedtime, remove it in the morning, and continue this treatment for a few days until the symptoms are gone. For the life of me, i can't figure out how you'd get a soaking-wet, expanded tampon into a vagina, so I've never tried it. Maybe if you used a tampon in one of those horrible plastic applicators you could manage it. Another idea, suggested to me by a doctor friend, is to insert a dry tampon and then squirt a bunch of the solution up afterward, so the tampon will absorb the fluid and hold it in place. Sounds like it should work... if you try it and it works, let me know.
- GENTIAN VIOLET is a traditional remedy for yeast and other infections that pre-dates most modern antifungals and antibiotics. It used to be carried in pharmacies; some still have it, usually in the same section as iodine, and some friendly pharmacists will order it for you if you ask. The idea is to swab it all over the vulva and up into the vagina once or twice a day for a few days. Wear black clothes or use thick pads, because the stuff is brilliant purple and stains everything it touches. I should warn you though that some wimmin are allergic to it, and I received this email from a very distressed woman: "It was recommended to me, and my experience was frightening. A friend ... advised me to dip a tampon into the solution and insert. The next day I was in so much pain, my mom had to drive me to the doctor, who painfully investigated the area, and after inspecting a swollen, itchy, PURPLE twat, told me I had a reaction. She gave me some medication ... I hope you can pass the word of caution on to other women!" Also, i heard from a reader in the UK that the stuff is a suspected carcinogen and is now unavailable in some EU countries. Overall, then, you might want to think twice about using it, but it's your call.
- CRANBERRIES are often used in treating urinary tract infections, which apparently works because the berries contain substances that inhibit bacteria from clinging to the walls of your urinary tract. Cranberries also lower the pH of your urine, which may be useful in helping combat yeast infections, since the acidic urine passes over some of your infected parts on its way out. As such, it's a pretty mild remedy, which might be useful if you think you may be coming down with a yeast infection; for more serious infections, it can be used in combination with other remedies. Because i can't handle the extreme sourness of the unsweetened juice, I sometimes take small handfuls of cranberry pills (available in natural foods stores) during the entire course of a yeast infection as a supplement to other home remedies.
Although douching is generally a bad idea when you are healthy, there are many effective home remedies for yeast infections that involve douching. Be careful when douching to keep the bag below your pelvis and to exert only slight pressure, as really strong pressure might drive the solution up through the cervix into the uterus. Also, be careful when inserting and removing the nozzle, as damage to the vaginal walls can lead to more serious yeast or bacterial infections.
- HYDROGEN PEROXIDE is produced naturally by bacteria in your vagina, and kills yeast. If the bacteria aren't doing enough by themselves, try mixing 1 teaspoon of ordinary 3% hydrogen peroxide from your market or pharmacy with 1 cup of water. Use as a douche once a day until the day after your symptoms disappear.
- TEATREE OIL is an effective anti-yeast treatment and can be used straight (see above), but needs to be highly diluted to use as a douche. Make a stock solution by combining 1 teaspoon tea tree oil with 1 teaspoon isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol, which should turn milky white. Store in a dropper bottle. Make a douche by adding 10 drops of the stock solution to a pint of water, and use once a day for a week.
- HERBAL DOUCHE: this one's a little complicated, but apparently worth the trouble. Combine equal parts of sage, raspberry or comfrey leaf, and mullein (optional), with 1/4 part goldenseal. Then make a tea using 4 tablespoons of the herb mixture and a quart of boiling water. Steep for 15-20 minutes, remove the herbs, and let cool to at least body temperature. Then add 2 tablespoons cider vinegar, and if you want to really go all-out, add 1 tablespoon acidophilus powder or 1/4 cup yogurt. For milder infections, douche every other day until a day after symptoms disappear; for more severe infections, use daily.
- ACIDIC DOUCHES restore the natural pH of the vagina, which is relatively inhospitable to yeast. Try making a solution with a quart or liter of water and 2 tablespoons of white or cidar vinegar, or the juice of half a lemon, or 1 teaspoon vitamin C. Use every day to treat mild infections, or in combination with other treatments for more severe infections.
To relieve vulvar itching, try making a paste of slippery elm powder and a little water, and then apply as needed. Another option is to keep aloe vera juice in the fridge, and then soak a cotton pad in it and apply it to your vulva as needed. Slippery elm or aloe will only relieve itching, though, and won't kill yeast, so they must be combined with an antifungal treatment to really stop the problem.
Although it might seem logical to relieve itching with baking soda, DON'T try it. It will just raise the pH of your vagina, make the yeast happier, and make you unhappier (see causes).
I have been asked by an unhappy reader to alert everyone not to try using echinacea/goldenseal capsules to relieve yeast infections. She apparently was experimenting with her own home remedy, and ran into a spot of trouble. Here's her testimonial: "Ok - you know how echinacea as a tea can tingle your tongue? It burns the shit out of your crotch. I mean pure fire. And this was a totally stupid thing to do -- but I figured -- don't ask what I figured. Just please tell people NOT to do it." So remember, girlfriends, goldenseal by itself is fine, but don't try echinacea.
Another reader who was obviously desperate for relief and feeling experimental writes "you should never put Nivea on a burning crotch. It sends it straight to hell and since Nivea absorbs quickly, you can't wash it off either."