Yeast infections are a problem for many people.
They are most often caused by Candida yeasts, especially Candida albicans ().
If you think you may have a yeast infection, the first thing you should do is talk to your doctor.
However, there are several foods or dietary changes that may also help.
This article lists 5 diet tips that can be effective against Candida.
Candida yeasts are microscopic fungi found around the skin, mouth or gut ().
They are usually harmless, but may cause infections when your body's defenses are weakened. Plants have their own defenses against yeasts and other fungi, and some produce compounds that are toxic to fungi.
A good example is lauric acid, a saturated fatty acid widely studied for its antimicrobial and antifungal effects.Coconut oil is almost 50% lauric acid. This makes it one of the richest dietary sources of lauric acid, which is otherwise rarely found in high amounts in food.
Test tube experiments suggest that lauric acid is very effective against Candida yeasts, and coconut oil may have similar effects (, , ).
For this reason, using coconut oil like a mouthwash -- a method known as oil pulling -- might be a useful strategy against Candida infections (thrush) in the mouth.
Bottom Line: Test tube experiments indicate that one of the main components of coconut oil, lauric acid, may be effective against Candida infections. However, human trials are needed to confirm these results.
Several factors may make some people more prone to Candida infections, including diabetes and a weakened or suppressed immune system.
Antibiotics may also increase risk, as strong dosages sometimes kill a portion of the beneficial bacteria in the gut (, ).
These bacteria are a part of the body's natural defenses against Candida yeasts. They protect against infections by competing with them for space and nutrients ().
Consuming probiotics may help restore these populations of beneficial bacteria ().Probiotics are live bacteria often found in fermented foods, such as yogurt with active cultures. They can also be taken in supplements.
Studies suggest that probiotics may be a useful preventive or complementary treatment against Candida infections ().
One study of 215 elderly patients showed that taking lozenges containing two strains of the probiotic Lactobacillus reuteri for 12 weeks significantly reduced the amount of Candida yeasts in their mouths ().
Another study of 65 patients with Candida infections in the mouth found that taking probiotics significantly improved the effectiveness of a conventional antifungal treatment ().
Probiotics may also reduce the growth of Candida in the gut, and there is some evidence that vaginal capsules with Lactobacillus probiotics may be effective against vaginal yeast infections (, , , ).
Bottom Line: Probiotics may reduce Candida growth and protect against infections in the mouth. Vaginal capsules may also be effective.
Yeasts really like sugar, and grow faster when it's readily available (, , ).
In fact, high levels of sugar in the bloodstream increase the risk of Candida infections (, , , ).
In one animal study, sugar increased Candida growth in the digestive system of mice with weakened immune systems ().
In a human study, rinsing with dissolved sugar (sucrose) has been linked with higher numbers of yeasts in the mouth and increased infections ().
On the other hand, another human study found that a high-sugar diet had no effect on Candida growth in the mouth or digestive system ().
However, human trials on this subject are limited, and more research is needed ().
And, even if a low-sugar diet may not always be effective against yeasts, eliminating added sugar from your diet will improve your health in many other ways.
Bottom Line: Candida yeasts favor high-sugar environments. However, there is limited evidence for the benefits of a low-sugar diet against Candida infections.
Garlic is another good example of a healthy plant food with strong antifungal properties. This is partly due to allicin, an antifungal substance that forms when fresh garlic is crushed or damaged ().
When given to mice in high amounts, allicin seems to fight Candida yeasts, but is slightly less effective than the antifungal drug fluconazole ().
Test tube experiments also indicate that garlic extract may reduce yeasts' ability to attach to the cells lining the mouth ().
However, keep in mind that garlic provides only tiny amounts of allicin, whereas most studies have used high amounts of isolated allicin.
One 14-day study in women found that taking garlic supplements in capsules had no effects on vaginal yeast infections ().
Overall, more clinical trials are needed to confirm whether eating garlic has any treatment value in humans.
Nevertheless, using garlic to spice up your food is safe and healthy. It might also work well alongside conventional Candida treatments.
Yet keep in mind that using raw garlic in sensitive areas, such as the mouth, can be harmful and cause severe chemical burns (, ).
Bottom Line: Allicin, found in garlic, acts against Candida. However, it's still unclear if eating garlic has any effects on yeast infections.
Curcumin is one of the main active components of turmeric, a popular Indian spice ().
Test tube experiments indicate that curcumin may kill Candida yeasts, or at least reduce their growth (, , , ).
Another experiment indicates that curcumin may reduce yeasts' ability to attach to cells from the mouths of HIV patients.
Curcumin was actually more effective than fluconazole, an antifungal drug ().
Unfortunately, the available evidence is limited to test tube experiments, and it is unclear whether curcumin supplements have any clinical relevance in humans.
Bottom Line: Curcumin, one of the active components of turmeric, may kill Candida yeasts. However, the evidence is limited to test tube experiments, and human trials are needed before any solid claims can be made.
Yeast infections are unpleasant. If you think you might have one, see your doctor right away for an anti-fungal medication.
However, yeast infections can be recurrent or even resistant to drugs.
If you tend to get a lot of yeast infections, following a healthy diet or taking supplements like probiotics may help.
On their own, these diet strategies are far from a miracle cure. But as a preventative measure, or alongside medication, they may just make a difference.