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Expert Advice-Treatment of Vaginal Yeast Infections in Traditional Chinese Medicine(TCM):|
Chinese Medicine for Vaginal Yeast Infections
Vaginal yeast infections are one of the commonest health problems around. Generally, my patients come to me for other reasons, but they often suffer from yeast infections as well. One day recently three women who came to my clinic asked me if I knew of something they could use for a yeast infection. Each of these women is a good example of a typical yeast infection pattern.
Judith is a school teacher who has had a persistent vaginal infection for nine months. The various suppositories, creams and gels she has tried give temporary relief, but her symptoms of intense burning, itching, and redness have never completely disappeared. The onset of the vaginal infection was preceded by a sinus infection, for which Judith took antibiotics. Not everyone who takes antibiotics develops a subsequent yeast infection, but there is a strong correlation between the two. Antibiotics inhibit all types of bacterial growth, including the beneficial bacteria that inhabit the digestive and reproductive organs. Without bacteria to maintain a normal balance, yeast cells often increase dramatically.
Rebecca is the mother of three small children. She experienced her first vaginal yeast infection during her first pregnancy, and has continued to have them since then. Rebecca’s infections are particularly likely to recur when she is under stress, when her immune system is deficient, or when she is taking birth control pills. She, too, has tried most of the over-the-counter remedies available to combat her symptoms of itching and cottage-cheese-like discharge, but she seems to be on an endless cycle of infections.
Nancy is a heavy-set woman in her fifties with diabetes. Abnormally high sugar levels in the blood disrupt the body’s normal acid-base or pH balance and promote yeast overgrowth. Because of her diabetes, Nancy has a long history of yeast infections.
From these cases, we can make a list of common triggers for vaginal yeast infections: stress, pregnancy, diabetes, antibiotics, steroids, birth control pills, pH imbalance, and obesity. The immune system is probably the most important factor in whether or not we develop infections. Living in a constant state of stress weakens the immune system. Steroid drugs like cortisone suppress the immune system, leaving the way open for bacteria, viruses, and fungus to proliferate.
Because the species of fungus that causes yeast infections is Candida albicans, a condition of yeast overgrowth is often called candidiasis. Some Western doctors have been reluctant to consider candidiasis an actual disease because C. albicans is a normal inhabitant of the human body, rather than an invasive organism. Ordinarily, fungus, bacteria, and viruses are kept in balance by each other, by the normal feedback systems in our bodies, and by our immune systems. The standard approach of Western medicine to control a pathogen is to kill off the organism or sharply curtail its growth. The medications used to treat vaginal yeast infections are designed to kill off yeast cells and nothing more.
The approach of Chinese medicine is more comprehensive. Acupuncture, Chinese herbal formulas, and dietary modification are used in combination. The goal is to bring the yeast cells under control, reduce the nutrient-rich environment that is encouraging them to grow, and strengthen the immune system to prevent recurrence. I will give you an idea of the approach I use at my clinic to treat vaginal yeast infections.
First, excess yeast cells are killed by external application of an herbal formula. Raw herbs are boiled with water to make a liquid that can be used as a douche or to wash the affected area. Some standard herbs with anti-fungal properties are: Radix Sopharae Flavescentis (Ku Shen), Cortex Dictamni Dasycarpi Radicis (Bai Xian Pi), Cotex Phellodendri (Huang Bai), Semen Cnidii Monnieri (She Chuang Zi), Rhizoma Atractylodis (Cang Zhu), Semen Soicis Lachryma-jobi (Yi Yi Ren), Flos Chrysanthemi Indici (Ye Ju Hua), and Herba Taraxaci Mongolici cum Radice (Pu Gong Ying). Other herbal formulas are taken internally. These are designed to boost the functioning of the immune system, and to clear the body of conditions that promote yeast overgrowth. One of the best things about these herbs is that they don’t have harmful side effects. They can be used safely over a period of time without problems. Many women keep a spare bag of the anti-fungal herbs on hand in case they develop an infection suddenly.
Acupuncture treatments work with herbs to stimulate the immune response, clear excess heat and eliminate dampness from the system, and rebalance the body’s energy.
Once an infection is under control, the next step is to prevent further infections. A healthy diet and a strong immune system are the keys to permanent freedom from recurring infections. The typical American diet is high in sweets, dairy, and wheat, all of which promote yeast growth. These foods are not really good for anyone, even healthy people, but they are especially risky for anybody who has ever had a yeast infection. A complete yeast-elimination diet is very difficult to achieve, but it is important to cut down as much as possible on sweets, fats, dairy products, wheat-based products (bread, pasta), fermented foods (alcohol, tamari sauce, vinegar), and mushrooms. You can often substitute soy products for dairy products, using soy milk, soy cheese, or soy yogurt, and you can use tofu as a substitute for cream cheese in cooking. Rice and oats are good alternatives to wheat, and it is possible to obtain yeast-free breads at a number of stores.