Ever been in a meeting or out running errands when suddenly you’re hit with an uncontrollable itch…down there? As soon as you feel it, you know what you’ve got: a dreaded yeast infection.
Yeast grows naturally all over your body, but it especially loves dark, damp nooks and crannies, so it’s often found in fat folds, armpits and, of course, vaginas.
It’s actually a myth (or a pipe dream) that we can stamp out the yeast forever. That’s done with probacteria, especially acidophilus, which creates an acidic environment that yeast doesn’t like. When acidophilus is running low or sugars are running high, the yeast gets a leg up and starts to multiply.
Three out of four women get at least one yeast infection in their lives; nearly half have two or more; and about five percent of women get four or more in a single year.
Most women can tick off the well-known causes of yeast infections: antibiotics, douches, weak immune systems or tight clothes made from barely breathable fabrics. But there are other, hidden causes that can also be common culprits:
Your estrogen is low. When you go through puberty, estrogen plumps up your vaginal tissues using a starch known as glycogen. Yeast loves glycogen, and without estrogen, they’d be all over it. But fortunately for us, estrogen feeds acidophilus, keeping the yeast at bay. Right before your period, though, your estrogen levels dip, and while they’re low, the yeast starts to grow. Symptoms tend to crop up right before your period shows up, but estrogen spikes again post-period to help even the score.
If you tend to get hormonal yeast infections, then in the week before your period, avoiding sugar or extra carbs and eating more yogurt or unsweetened kefir (a liquid European yogurt with plenty of acidophilus) is the best idea.
You eat too much sugar. Blood sugar spikes mean that a lot of glucose is running around in your system, which is like a dinner invitation to yeast. Sweets are one culprit, but plenty of healthy-seeming diets can be sugary traps. Eating a lot of fruit, juice or high-carb foods can cause blood sugar spikes, especially in the morning when your blood sugar is low.
Adding coffee to a sugary breakfast just makes matters worse. The caffeine causes blood sugar to surge even faster, which makes for some really happy yeast. Instead, she recommends starting your day with plain yogurt sprinkled with almonds, cinnamon and a dash of vanilla extract.
You use spermicidal condoms. The active ingredient in most spermicides is nonoxynol-9, which is not the gentlest substance. That means spermicide creams, jellies, foams, gels, films and suppositories can all be problematic, along with diaphragms, which are usually paired with spermicidal creams, jelly or gels that can cause irritation. If you suspect that spermicide is behind your yeast infections, talk to your gynecologist about spermicide-free protection options like Durex condoms.