These vagina-specific fungal infections (See? Ew.) are caused by Candida overgrowth, which can be triggered by a variety of factors that include hormonal imbalances, changes in the vaginal microbiome, and sexual activity. Grody symptoms include itchiness and burning in the area as well as cottage cheese-like discharge. (Forgive me—there really is no better way to describe that.) Plus, the potential for extreme embarrassment if your partner asks to get intimate with your nether regions.
Luckily, there are some best practices you can adopt to help minimize your risk of having your hooha held hostage by fungi; below, experts provide tips for preventing these dreaded yeast infections (and saving date night in the process).
Keep reading to keep your lady parts free of fungus.
1. Pay attention to your diet
The role that diet plays in the development of yeast infections is "controversial and unproven," according to Sara Twogood, MD, an OBGYN at USC Keck School of Medicine. No studied diet, she says, specifically prevents them; however, she recommends experimenting with dietary changes to see how your body reacts.
One of the first categories you might want to try eliminating is the sweet stuff, suggests Leena S. Nathan, MD, an assistant clinical professor in UCLA's Health Department of OBGYN. "Sugar, even excessive fruit consumption, can make women prone to yeast infections," she says.
According to Parsley Health's Adrienne Dowd, RD, however, there are more sweeping dietary changes to be made if you're suffering from frequent yeast infections, which she says can be a sign of dysbiosis, AKA an imbalance in the gut bacteria. To correct this imbalance, Dowd echoes Dr. Nathan's recommendation to avoid processed sugar, refined carbohydrates, and even naturally-occurring sugars, e.g. fruits, honey, maple syrup, dates, etc. "Alcohol should also be avoided, especially wine, beer, and high-sugar mixed drinks," she says.
As for which foods you should be eating instead, Dowd recommends an increase in non-starchy veggies, good quality lean meats, and healthy fats. (So, you know, a balanced healthy diet.) "Include probiotic foods such as as kimchi and sauerkraut as well as prebiotic foods such as garlic, onion, leeks, asparagus, and Jerusalem artichoke," she adds. "These prebiotic fibers feed the 'good bacteria' and help restore balance." To this end, Dr. Nathan also recommends plain yogurt, which contains [the probiotic] lactobacillus—and not just for breakfast or a snack. "One study showed that topical application can be helpful," she says.
Finally, you may also want to add bone broth to your diet, according to Eden Fromberg, MD, an integrative OB/GYN, holistic women’s health specialist, and founding director of Lila Yoga, Dharma & Wellness in New York City. She says it's high in glycosaminoglycans, a type of carbohydrate that's important for vaginal immune function.
2. Avoid antibiotics when possible
Dr. Nathan and Dr. Twogood agree that antibiotics are a major culprit when it comes to causing yeast infections. "Antibiotics can alter the normal vaginal flora, which allows for overgrowth of Candida," Dr. Twogood explains. Since they can't always be avoided, however, here's a cheat sheet for knowing when the meds are necessary versus when alternate remedies might work instead.
3. Try oral probiotics
Probiotics, on the other hand, could be an effective daily tool in the fight against yeast. Though Dr. Nathan notes that the evidence for their benefit in these situations is not yet definitive, she says she often recommends probiotics for avoiding recurrent yeast infections. "This falls into the category of 'works for some people'," Dr. Twogood adds.
4. Stick to cotton underwear
Both doctors are adamant about this one—nothing but cotton will do for a healthy situation down south. "Cotton underwear allows for more air circulation," Dr. Twogood explains. "Materials that do not breathe well trap moisture, which can predispose a woman to a yeast infection" This, she says, is the same reason women should not wear wet bathing suits for too long, and why panty liners can increase risk of yeast infection if changed infrequently.
5. Reconsider your birth control method
Women with increased estrogen levels may be predisposed to yeast infections, says Dr. Twogood. Since some oral birth control methods employ estrogen, it might be worth discussing alternative options with your doctor if you're frequently overwhelmed with yeast; however, Dr. Nathan caveats that the correlation here is as of yet unproven.
6. Never (ever!) douche
The vagina is a self-cleaning organ and as such, it does not need any cleaning inside, Dr. Nathan says. (This is one argument made against practices like vaginal steaming, too.) "Never douche [because] this alters the normal vaginal flora and pH," she says.
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