An acquaintance of mine was always suffering from recurrent vaginal thrush. She was always in discomfort from it and she was so frustrated at the fact she could not get rid of it; not to mention the time she spent on regular trips to the doctor and the price she had to pay for anti-yeast medications each time. Yes, her recurrent thrush recurred so often that that she had to use creams and suppositories nearly every day. Does this sound familiar to you?

Well out of desperation my friend came to me for advice. I am a microbiologist and she thought I may have some ideas about what she could do to prevent these persistent outbreaks of her vaginal yeast infection. And so began the process of educating her about the causes of recurrent thrush, the signs and symptoms, the triggers and finally the different treatments available to eliminate thrush – both pharmaceutical remedies and the natural ones.

Recurrent vaginal thrush is mainly caused by a species of yeast called Candida albicans. Candida usually resides on the mucous membranes of the genital tract and in other warm moist sites on the body including the gastro-intestinal tract. At least 80 to 90 % of women will carry Candida in their vagina but under normal healthy circumstances the yeast is kept at bay and does not overgrow and cause yeast vaginitis. The reason for this is that a healthy vagina also harbours Lactobacillus, a species of bacteria which is resident in the vagina as part of the normal flora. The role of Lactobacillus is two fold. A) It competes with Candida and other pathogens (disease causing microbes such as Candida) for space and nutrients and B) It produces lactic acid as a metabolite, which assists in keeping the vagina at the acid pH which is needed for the health of the vagina and for fertilisation.

Certain conditions cause changes to the vagina and the delicate natural balance of the vaginal flora is altered. The growth of the Lactobacillus is inhibited and it may even die off completely. There is then nothing to prevent Candida from overgrowing and establishing a yeast infection with the symptoms of vaginal thrush.

The factors which affect the growth of Lactobacillus and contribute to the ongoing symptoms of recurrent vaginal thrush are:

– Hormonal changes such as those associated with pregnancy, menstruation, menopause, oral contraception or hormone replacement therapy

– Antibiotic therapy for bacterial infections

– Diabetes, especially if it is not in good control

– Diets high in carbohydrates or refined or processed foods

– Intolerance to external chemicals such as washing detergents or douches

– Physical intolerance to things like synthetic underwear or tight jeans

– Other infections such as colds and flu’s

– Serious illnesses such as cancer, transplant or AIDS

– Use of steroids

– Stress and fatigue

– Sexual intercourse with an infected person may also play a role in transmission of recurrent thrush

With this knowledge behind her my friend was able to determine that the most likely trigger for her from this list was the pill she was taking and so she decided to change the contraceptive pill she was on to see if it made a difference to her. She also decided to try some natural therapies which I suggested to her. She went on a health diet which reduced her sugar intake and she ate only fresh organic foods. She also introduced plain natural yoghurt to her diet and used it as a vaginal application for a week. She made changes to her lifestyle ensuring she ate well, exercised more and got a good night’s sleep.

Within a short period of time not only was she feeling better within herself and much more energetic, but she also realised that she had not had an outbreak of recurrent thrush for several weeks. Her life had returned to normal and she was very thankful for the advice I had given her.

So yes the contraceptive pill can be the underlying cause of your recurrent vaginal thrush. If you often suffer from recurrent yeast vaginitis it is recommended that you find a contraceptive pill which you can tolerate better. But it is also important to make some dietary and life style changes so that you approach the control of recurrent vaginal thrush in a holistic way.