12 Jan Could hormones be behind your yeast infections?
Say the words “vaginal yeast infection” to any woman and she’ll reflexively cringe. The itching, burning, cottage cheese-like clumping nightmare is something most women have suffered through like some kind of horrible rite of passage into womanhood worse than freshman year hangovers.
The good news is that nowadays we can head to the drugstore at the first sign of a yeast infection for over-the-counter antifungal treatments.
If you’re old enough, like I am, you may to remember it wasn’t always this easy. To get any antifungal vaginal yeast infection treatment, first you had to go through this awful exercise:
- Schedule an appointment with your doctor—and hope she or he could fit you in within the week. (All the while using cold milk compresses, garlic clove suppositories and anything else you could find to calm the fire down below.)
- Undergo a full pelvic exam to confirm that the itchy, burny sensation you were experiencing was, in fact, the yeast infection you were already damned well sure it was.
- Get a prescription from your doctor to obtain antifungal cream—because, you know, keeping those dangerous antifungal creams locked up in the back next to the codeine and morphine was clearly a necessity.
- Trek to the pharmacy to get your prescription filled—and hope they could fill it quick!
By the time you got your antifungal treatment, you could be out a huge wad of cash for the exam and Rx, have missed a big chunk of work or school while at the doctor’s office, and be in so much pain, you were practically crawling back home.
It wasn’t until sometime in the mid-1990s that antifungals became available over the counter without a prescription.(1,2,3) When that breakthrough finally happened, it allowed women to treat these infections right away while bypassing the expensive, time-sapping, pain-searing route we had to take up till then.
Still, yeast infections are no fun. And, chances are, you’d like to avoid them at all costs.
Well, here’s some good news: You can reduce your risk of developing a vaginal yeast infection by simply knowing which phases of your menstrual cycle they’re more likely to pop up. That’s because you can take pre-emptive steps to lower this risk.
The hormone-yeast connection
If you’re susceptible to vaginal yeast infections, there are two phases in your cycle when they’re more likely to develop: Your Week 2 (the week leading up to and including ovulation) and your Week 4 (the 6 days prior to your next period known as your premenstrual phase).
During your Week 2, high estrogen helps the organism that causes yeast infections—Candida albicans—grow and take hold in the vaginal tract while at the same time reducing your body’s resistance to its growth.(4)
During your Week 4, plunging estrogen can alter the pH (measure of acidity) of the vaginal tract, leading to a reduction in the yeast-blocking bacteria Lactobacillus acidophilus.(5)
But, it’s not all bad news: There’s actually a time during your cycle when you’re less prone to developing a vaginal yeast infection: during your Week 3 (the 8 days following ovulation). Researchers discovered that rising progesterone on these days helps keep these yeast-causing organism from flourishing.(6)
How can you dodge a yeast infection?
Now that you know when you’re more likely to experience a vaginal yeast infection, you can take more precautions on the days leading up to and including these vulnerable spots in your menstrual cycle. These precautions include:
- Avoiding foods that feed the Candida albicans fungus, which include alcohol, fruit, fruit juice, “simple” carbohydrates (such as white rice and white bread) and sugar-sweetened foods and beverages.
- Opting for loose-fitting clothes over tight-fitting pants, leggings, pantyhose or thong underwear to prevent a buildup of moisture that can contribute to fungal overgrowth.
- Skip using tampons during menstruation since they can alter the pH in your vaginal tract.
- Taking a daily probiotic supplement that contains the “good” bacteria strain Lactobacillus acidophilus, which may help keep the ratio of bacteria in your vagina balanced.
- Supplementing with 600 IU of vitamin D3 (the most absorbable form of vitamin D) daily. Emerging research suggests a link between this vitamin and resistance to the fungus that causes vaginal yeast infections.(7,8,9)
Not sure if you have a yeast infection?
No doubt you want to get the jump on treating a vaginal yeast infection right from the start to avoid discomfort, but sometimes those first few symptoms can make you wonder if it’s really a yeast infection or maybe something else, like chafing from intercourse or pants with a short inseam.
Fortunately, you don’t need to immediately head to the doctor to find out. That’s because, like antifungal creams, tests to confirm whether or not your symptoms are due to a yeast infection are also available over the counter. You can find them at drugstores, Walmart and Amazon (such as Monistat Complete Care Vaginal Health Test).
If the test shows you don’t have a yeast infection or symptoms persist after using an antifungal treatment, see your healthcare provider since it could be an indication that you have a different type of infection (such as bacterial vaginosis or trichomoniasis) that requires antibiotics.
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