Treating Thrush with functional medicine

Thrush is caused by an overgrowth of a yeast called Candida Albicans. This yeast naturally lives in and on our bodies in small numbers. It is normally kept under control by our friendly bacteria and the immune system. However, if these become compromised and the conditions are favourable the Candida will use the breach in defences to overgrow, causing thrush.

Thrush can affect the mouth, intestines or genitals.

Oral thrush is characterised by:

  • White, cottage-cheese-like deposits in the mouth
  • A loss of taste or an unpleasant taste in the mouth.
  • Redness inside the mouth and on the tongue
  • Cracks at the corners of the mouth.
  • A painful, burning sensation in the mouth.

Genital thrush symptoms include:

  • White discharge from the vagina or penis
  • itching and irritation around the genitals
  • Soreness and stinging during sex or when you pee
  • Difficulty pulling back the foreskin for men

Whereas intestinal thrush manifests as:

  • Gas and bloating especially after eating starchy or sugary foods
  • Constipation and/or diarrhoea
  • Tiredness and fatigue
  • Sugar cravings
  • Brain fog and difficulty concentrating

Common risk factors for developing thrush include:

Antibiotics – damage the levels of friendly bacteria without affecting the yeast, making space for the yeast to overgrow.

Steroids and other immune system suppressing medications – these hamper the immune system making it easier for a yeast infection to take hold.

Eating a diet high in sugar and refined carbs – Candida lives on sugar and carbohydrates so eating a lot of these provides a feast allowing the yeast to proliferate rapidly.

Diabetes – If not properly controlled diabetes can lead to suppressed immunity and high blood sugar levels, both of which can make conditions more favourable for thrush.

A weakened immune system – this could be as a result of a long-standing illness such as HIV or due to medical treatment such as chemotherapy.

High-stress levels – long-term stress depletes levels of an immune protein called secretory IgA. This is one of the first lines of defence against candida overgrowth.

Thrush is typically treated with medical antifungals. However, these can have side effects and if the condition keeps reoccurring or become chronic then its possible there are underlying imbalances that need addressing. This is where functional medicine can help

A functional medicine practitioner can:

  • Do a culture or stool test to identify whether a yeast is responsible for your symptoms and if so what type
  • Design a diet program that will help to reduce the yeast population
  • Recommend a programme of natural antifungals to help kill the yeast along with digestive and liver support to help reduce side effects.
  • Support the immune system with diet and supplements to restore levels of secretory IgA
  • Restore the levels of friendly bacteria in the affected area so the yeast no longer has space to overgrow
  • Suggest foods, nutrients and herbs soothe and restore mucous membranes.