Vitamin D and Yeast Infections

If you have suffered from recurring yeast infections, you will know how annoying it is. Some people, unfortunately, seem to get these infections again and again. Luckily, there are things that you can do about it.

No doubt you have already tried everything you possibly can to stop these infections. You will watch what you wear, change out of swimming costumes and more. Yet it still seems to come back. Scientists say that if you have more than four yeast infections each year, you suffer from a ‘recurrent problem’. Between 5% and 8% of women are believed to fall in this category.

This is frustrating for patients and doctors alike. However, by learning a bit more about yeast infections, and by considering the link between these infections and vitamin D, you may just be able to resolve the problem. Let’s take a look.

What Are Yeast Infections?

Yeast is a type of fungus that is always present in a woman’s vagina, albeit in small numbers. When an infection occurs, it means that these cells are growing exponentially. It is very common for this to happen and while they are annoying, it is generally not serious and it is easy to treat. Usually, it is caused by Candida albicans, which is the type of yeast that resides in the vagina. Candida albicans is kept in check by Lactobacillus acidophilus, which is a bacterium that also lives in the vagina.

If there is an imbalance in either the yeast or the bacterium, an infection can take place. This can be caused by a variety of factors, and there are many different treatment options as well. The infection causes the vagina to itch and be sore and it can also lead to pain during intercourse or urination. In some women, a white, odorless, clumpy, thick discharge is also present, most often compared to cottage cheese.

It is very easy to diagnose yourself with a yeast infection. However, if you have never experienced it before, you may need to seek medical advice. Generally speaking, over the counter medicine is enough to clear the infection.

Causes of Yeast Infections

There are a number of different causes of yeast infections. Some of the most common ones include:

  • Your DNA. It is possible that you have a genetic mutation that causes the yeast in your vagina to grow too quickly. If other women in your family frequently suffer from it, this may be the cause.
  • Your boyfriend could be causing it. While yeast infections are often associated with women, men can have it as well, although it is known as ‘balanitis’. Between 12% and 15% of men suffer from this after having sex with a woman who has a yeast infection. Unfortunately, this then leads to the man re-infecting the woman and the cycle continues.
  • You could be pregnant. During pregnancy, you go through a variety of hormonal changes and you will also have more sugar in your vaginal secretions. This can feed the yeast, causing them to increase in number.
  • You wear panty liners. Panty liners are supposed to stop moisture from occurring in your underwear and this is generally the best way to stop microbial growth. Unfortunately, what actually happens is that moist conditions happen inside the panty liner, actually creating the perfect growing environment for the microorganisms.
  • You may have a lower immune system. A number of medications suppress your immune system and it is very common for women to develop yeast infections as a result. Steroids are often culprits in this. People who suffer from immune system disorders, such as those who have leukemia or HIV, are far more susceptible to these infections. In fact, if yeast infections stay in place despite numerous treatments, it may be an early sign of HIV.
  • You may have high blood sugar. Again, the Candida feeds on sugar. So, if you suffer from diabetes, you are also more likely to suffer from such an infection. Similarly, those who eat too many carbohydrates are more likely to suffer from this.
  • You could be approaching menopause. Pre-menopausal women go through drastic hormonal changes. Just as with pregnancy, this can cause the yeast microorganisms to grow out of control.
  • You may have a disability. Those who are wheelchair bound are more likely to have yeast infections, due to the moist environment on which they sit each day.
  • Your treatment may have been too short. Because yeast treatments are available as over the counter remedies, most people treat themselves and stop treatment as soon as the symptoms have disappeared. You may simply have needed to use the medication for longer.
  • The strain you have may be very rare. Two out of three yeast infections are caused by Candida albicans. However, you could also suffer from infections from Candida glabrata, Candida guilliermondii, Candida parapsilosis, Candida krusei or Candida tropicalis.
  • It might not be a yeast infection. Because these infections are common and medication is available over the counter, we generally diagnose ourselves. However, we’re not very good at this. You may, for instance, be suffering from vulvodynia instead, or perhaps you have some form of trauma to the vagina.

Signs and Symptoms of Yeast Infections

The signs and symptoms of yeast infections have been well-documented and include:

  • Moderate to severe vaginal itching.
  • Odorless, clumpy, thick, white vaginal discharge.
  • Redness and irritation around the labia, the opening to the vagina.
  • Pain during urination, particularly when the urine touches the skin.
  • Pain inside the vagina itself during sexual intercourse.

Types of Yeast Infections

Type  Symptoms
Thrush – Esophageal or Oropharyngeal Candidiasis This develops in the mouth or throat. Those who suffer from it will experience white patches on various membranes. It is uncommon amongst adults, except in breast feeding women, or in those who have had oral sex with someone who suffers from thrush.
Vaginal Yeast Infections – Vulvovaginal or Genital Candidiasis This is the most common type of yeast infection and happens when there is an overgrowth of yeast present in the vagina. Around 75% of women experience this at least once in their lifetime.
Invasive Candidiasis This is an infection caused by the Candida microorganism. It is a more serious infection than those that affect the mouth, throat or genitals. It can affect the bones, eyes, brain, heart, blood and other parts of the body. It is most common in patients who are hospitalized.

Diagnosis of Yeast Infections

Through your medical history, vaginal symptoms and possibly a vaginal examination, a medical professional is able to diagnose these types of infections. If the symptoms you experience are atypical, a vaginal discharge or wet mount test can be ordered as well. Other tests may be conducted if you suffer from recurring infections. These include:

  • Vaginal cultures, which confirm whether or not a yeast infection is present. Here, a sample of discharge is taken during a wet mount test and if too much yeast grows in a period of time, it is likely that you have a yeast infection.
  • Blood tests, which will look for issues such as diabetes or HIV, or any other condition that is likely to cause yeast infections.
  • Pap tests, which are routine tests that can diagnose a yeast infection. However, this is not done as standard, unless you are pregnant.

Hope for Yeast Infections: Vitamin D

Through a number of different studies, we are starting to learn that there is a strong link between vitamin D and prevention of yeast infections. The role of vitamin D is to create cathelicidin, which is an anti-microbial peptide. It is, in fact, critical to support the body in its fight against infections, which includes candida infections.

A number of studies have now taken place on the effects vitamin D has on candida. In the most recent one, it was found that patients who suffered from candidiasis had much lower levels of vitamin D than what is the norm, effectively suffering from vitamin D deficiency. In the same study, mice infected with candida were administered vitamin D in various doses. The study found that the fungal burden was significantly reduced in those mice that were injected with vitamin D, with those who did not receive the activated treatment sometimes dying from the infection. However, what they also uncovered was that the dosage had to be just right. Low amounts of vitamin D worked, but high amounts led to poor outcomes.

Trials have now found that low dosages of activated vitamin D were able to induce responses of a pro-inflammatory nature. Higher levels of vitamin D3, however, negated these effects. The researchers are now conducting similar trials on human populations to find out whether the results can be replicated.

The fact that vitamins and minerals are beneficial to the body’s health is no secret. In fact, there has been a recent recommendation by both the U.S. Food and Drug Administation (FDA) and the American Medical Association (AMA) that everybody should take at least one multivitamin supplement each day. Additionally, we consume a variety of products that destroy nutrients. Our country fares worst in the world in this regard, with nutrient levels down by as much as 87%. Some of the common causes of nutrient depletion that affect vitamin D include:

  • Chlorine
  • Sedatives
  • Cortisone
  • Stress

Scientists are now considering whether people who are regularly exposed to the above, are more likely to suffer from yeast infections as well. By staying away from the above, vitamin D levels return to normal and this may mean yeast infections will become less common.

Getting Help for Yeast Infections

Office on Women’s Health, U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services
American Academy of Family Physicians

Resources and References:

Bimodal Influence of Vitamin D in Host Response to Systemic Candida Infection – Vitamin D Dose Matters – Research on the effect of vitamin D dosage on fighting Candida infection. (NIH.gov)
Maternal Vitamin D Deficiency Is Associated with Bacterial Vaginosis in the First Trimester of Pregnancy – Maternal vitamin D deficiency and bacterial vaginosis during pregnancy. (NIH.gov)
Vitamin D: The ‘Sunshine’ Vitamin – Getting vitamin D from sun exposure. (NIH.gov)
Candidiadis – Facts about Candidiasis. (CDC.gov)
Antimicrobial Implications of Vitamin D – Antimicrobial effects of Vitamin D. (NIH.gov)