I'm a writer and, I must confess, hypochondriac, who loves to write about anything medically-related. I also love to cook and travel.
In this article, we will be discussing yeast infections in women, in particular those affecting the genital area. If you just happened to get one, or you have been having recurrent yeast infections for some time, it's normal for you to ask yourself: How did I get a yeast infection in the first place?
In order to understand the exact dynamics, it's necessary to learn a little bit more about how things work down there.
A Matter of Balance
As in the gut, the genital area in women is colonized by several micro-organisms that keep the natural flora balance in this area just right to prevent infections.
According to WebMD, a healthy genital area has secretions with a pH between 3.8 to 4.5. Consider that pH-values are anywhere between 0 to 14, with the highest values meaning that we are looking at alkaline secretions while the lowest values signify acidic secretions.
The human body has varying levels on the pH scale that vary based on what part of the body we’re talking about. A genital area with a pH between 3.8 to 4.5 means it's quite acidic; which is ultimately a good thing for that area!
This acidity is caused by bacteria known as lactobacilli, which produce lactic acid. The acidity caused by these friendly bacteria is meant to create a natural barrier against harmful entities such as yeast and bacteria.
When Things Go Topsy-Turvy
As great as these good bacteria are in keeping a healthy, acidic environment, sometimes things though may get out of whack. When for one reason or another (we'll take a look at causes later on), the genital area's pH changes and becomes less and less acidic, bacteria start to proliferate in the area.
Candida albicans, a common resident of the area that is normally present even in healthy people, may therefore take over and grow quickly, leading to an annoying yeast infection.
As mentioned, there are many triggers that affect our acidic ecosystem allowing unhealthy microorganisms to take up shop. Many of these things we do lower the pH of the area making us more susceptible to problems. Let's now take a look at things we do that negatively affect our healthy, natural flora.
So How Did I get a Yeast Infection? You Disrupted Your PH
There are many things you may be doing that are triggering those annoying yeast infections. The following are a few possible causes that cause a disruption in your pH, causing it to lose it's acidity and become more alkaline.
You Got Your Period
Tracking when your yeast infection appears during your menstrual cycle can help you determine possible causes. For instance, if your yeast infection coincidentally appears during or after your period, this can be happening because of the presence of blood. Blood has a pH of 7.4, so its presence in the area contributes to making the area alkaline instead of acidic.
As mentioned, yeast thrives in an alkaline environment causing it to proliferate. Using a tampon makes only problems worse since it retains the blood in the area and increases exposure time.
Solution: infections may be kept at bay during these critical times by using RepHresh Brilliant, a special tampon containing the active ingredients: citric acid and L-lactide. The purpose of these tampons is lowering the pH of the genital area.
You Had Intercourse
You're not imagining things if you notice that every time you spend a romantic evening with your significant other, a yeast infection raises its ugly head.
This is likely to happen when you happen to have intercourse without a barrier method (no condoms). Semen has a pH between 7.1 and 8, making the area, again alkaline and prone to problems.
Solution: utilize protection during intercourse so you aren't exposed to the pH lowering semen. If you are in a stable relationship and don't wish to use protection, you may opt instead to make it a good habit to urinate after intercourse and wash the area with just warm water. Another option may be to use lactobacillus suppositories right after intercourse to restore the healthy balance again.
You Used Soaps and Douches
It feels good to shower and use a soap down there to smell fresh and clean, but that soap or body wash may actually be contributing to your yeast infections. Soap has a pH over 8, with some brands even reaching level 9 and 10, therefore it's stripping you from the healthy flora that makes the area acidic.
Not many women know that the genital area is effective as much as a self-cleaning oven in keeping itself clean. There is no need for harsh soaps and douches! For those not aware of the meaning of douching, this means introducing a device meant to deliver a stream of liquid into the genital area for hygienic purposes.
Solution: get into the habit of cleaning yourself down there with just water. There's no need to insert harsh products or douches into the genital area. Alternatively, you may look for products with low pH specifically made to clean the area. Choose products that enhance natural protection instead of stripping it away. Intimore produces a line of intimate wipes with lactic acid.
How did I get a yeast infection? You Gave Yeast Some Loving
There are several things yeast loves. We have already seen how yeast enjoys an alkaline environment, but there are other things you may be doing that yeast just loves and thanks you for taking the time doing.
Eating Sweets and Carbs
Yeast loves sugar just as much as you do. If you got a yeast infection after the holidays, it can likely be because you had too much gingerbread, chocolate tree bark and grandma's fudge. But sugar isn't the only culprit, so are carbs. Cookies, chocolate, donuts, soda, pasta and bread are just a few examples of problematic foods.
Solution: reduce your sugar intake and adopt a diet meant to fight yeast. There are several books on the subject. Look up the Candid diet. Good food choices include plain, white yogurt rich in lactobacillus, supplements containing lactobacillus and/or acidophilus, cranberry juice to acidify urine and garlic to fight any unwelcomed bacteria. Avoid all sweets, white flour and rice, alcoholic drinks.
Keeping Moist and Warm
Other than sweets, yeast loves moisture and warmth. You may be providing yeast with the perfect environment by keeping your genital area moist after taking a bath or shower, wearing underwear made of nylon and other synthetic fabrics, using pantyhose, tights, leggings and snug-fitting pajamas.
Another common problem is posed by tight-fitting jeans which lead to insufficient ventilation. And if you love long baths or soaking in the hot tub, consider that the more you stay soaked, the more you become vulnerable.
Solution: wear breathable clothing. Invest in white, cotton underwear, and if possible, at night don't wear any. After taking a shower, bath or working out, dry the genital area carefully. Some suggest using a blow dryer to ensure dryness. And for the nighttime, skip that snug pajama and opt instead for a loose, flowing nightgown.
Being on Birth Control Pills
For a good reason, yeast infections tend to affect women the most, the reason being birth control pills. Yeast loves the hormone progesterone and yeast thrives on it. Yeast also binds to the hormone estrogen.
Progesterone and estrogen work in a see-saw fashion, the lower your estrogen, the higher your progesterone. Yeast has learned to feed off estrogen in order to get more progesterone. This is something you really may not have much control over as estrogen rises during pregnancy, whilst on birth control pills, before your period and around menopause.
Solution: find an alternative to birth control pills. Condoms or fertility computers such as Lady Comp may be helpful.
We saw above how yeast loves sugar, so if you're diabetic you're more likely prone to yeast infections for the simple fact that you tend to pass more sugar through your urinary tract creating a favorable environment for yeast. This occurs the most in un-diagnosed diabetes or poorly controlled diabetes.
Solution: have your doctor check if you have diabetes, and if you have it ask your doctor to check how well it's being managed.
How Did I get a Yeast Infection? You Murdered Good Bacteria
Remember how we earlier said how we have healthy bacteria populating our genital areas to keep things in check? If you are getting yeast infections, it could be you may be unknowingly killing good bacteria somehow.
You Took Antibiotics
Antibiotics are very helpful in curing even serious infections that once resulted in fatalities; however, along with killing bad bacteria, they also kill the good--and this mostly affects the flora of the gut and genital area.
“Any woman may be at risk for a yeast infection if she takes an antibiotic for more than four or five days,” says Dr. Etingin.
Solution: ask your doctor to prescribe you a course of probiotics to help re-establish your healthy ecosystem. Dr. Etingin also recommends talking with your doctor about using an over-the-counter cream or tablet to fight off yeast overgrowth.
Some women claim that AZO works well taken once a day to prevent yeast infections. Last, but not least, avoid antibiotics for colds or upper respiratory infections. These are caused by viruses and won't respond to antibiotics.
You Used a Spermicide or Lubricants
We previously saw how sperm may affect the acidity of your private areas, and how the use of condoms may lower this risk, but there are condoms and condoms.
If you happen to use condoms that are covered with spermicide, or use Nonoxynol-9 straight from a tube or lubricants, consider that these tend to kill friendly microbes. Charlene S. Dezzutti, an obstetric, gynecology, and reproductive sciences professor at the University of Pittsburgh, found during a test that K-Y Jelly murdered all three species of Lactobacillus found in the genital area.
Solution: unfortunately there aren't many options for gentler spermicides. Contragel is a natural alternative, but it's produced in the UK and it can get costly getting it shipped. Another option is to use a fertility monitoring device such as Lady Comp.
You Used Harsh Chemicals
We already mentioned how soaps and douches can trigger a yeast infection, but there are other chemicals that may predispose you to one because they cause irritation, allergies and risk killing the friendly bacteria that are meant to protect you.
Examples are perfumes, dyes (avoid colored underwear opt white 100% cotton instead) perfumed toilet paper, laundry detergents, fabric softeners, bubble baths, bath salts, scented tampons and feminine deodorant spray.
Solution: use less harsh products, perhaps try an ecological brand and fragrance-free products.
How Did I Get a Yeast Infection? You Lowered Your Immune System
As with other illnesses, a lowered immune system paves to path to yeast infections. There are several medications or medical conditions that will lower your defenses making you more susceptible to this annoying consequence.
Steroids are often prescribed to temporarily lower the body's immune responses. While this is helpful for whatever condition your doctor diagnosed you with, in the long run a suppressed immune system becomes a breeding ground for yeast. Same goes if you are prescribed medications that treat autoimmune diseases or chemotherapy.
And then there are health conditions that lower the immune system paving the path to yeast infections. Stress, as other illnesses, may lower your immune system, especially when chronic.
Last but not least, there are serious diseases such as auto-immune diseases, diabetes, cancer or AIDS that may be lowering the immune system's defenses triggering yeast infections.
This is why anyone with recurrent yeast infection may want to see the doctor to make sure there's isn't an underlying medical condition triggering them.
Also, those who got a yeast infection the first time, should also see the doctor as at times, what looks like a yeast infection is instead a case of bacterial vaginosis which requires a totally different treatment!
Finding a Yeast Infection Treatment
Now that we have seen several causes for yeast infections, it's important to take a multifaceted approach to prevent them from re-occuring. This would entail, avoiding the culprits we have seen above, keeping the area down there acidic and strengthening the immune system by investing in good bacteria.
While yeast infection creams and antifungal meds such as Flucanazole may help treat isolated events, if the infections are recurring it may be a sign that you must do something more. See your doctor to rule out any underlying medical conditions. Then if all comes back clear, you can increase the good bacteria in your vagina and keep the pH acidic.
Often yogurt or probiotic supplements are recommended, because they contains lactobacillus acidophilus, but there are other strains of lactobacillus that are better targeted for the area.
For instance, a study found that Lactobacillus rhamnosus GR-1 and Lactobacillus reuteri RC-14 interfered with the build-up of harmful bacteria and yeast in the vagina. A product that contains these strains and has received many positive reviews is RepHresh Pro-B.
To keep the pH acidic, another great product from the same line is RepHresh pH Balancing Vaginal Gel. This can be used at those times where you are most vulnerable to yeast infections such as before or after your period or after intercourse.
As seen, there are several causes of yeast infections and things to avoid. You can decide to treat them as you get them with creams and medications or you can opt to try to go to the root of the problem and prevent future occurrences with helpful probiotics and pH balancing products.
Please note: this article is for educational purposes only and not meant to be a substitute for medical advice. Medical information tends to change from time to time, so this article may not be updated with the latest findings.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2015 Alex Ferris