Yeast infections (vulvovaginal candidiasis) are the most common type of vaginal infection after bacterial vaginosis, according to a June 2007 report in the medical journal The Lancet.
Vaginal yeast infections are the result of an overgrowth of the fungus Candida albicans, and less frequently other Candida species, particularly C. glabrata.
Treating yeast infections typically requires killing the fungi with antifungal medications called azoles, which can be purchased by prescription or over-the-counter (OTC).
Azoles are very effective against C. albicans, but far less so against other Candidaspecies — these yeasts are often treated with other antifungal medications.
Natural Remedies for Yeast Infections
Despite the effectiveness of prescription and OTC medications for yeast infections, some people prefer to treat their ailments with natural or home remedies.
For yeast infections, purported natural therapies include:
- Yogurt & probiotics
- Boric acid
- Tea tree oil
- Douching (especially with vinegar)
Though some positive anecdotal reports can be found on the Internet, most natural remedies for yeast infections are not (yet) supported by rigorous clinical studies.
Yogurt, Probiotics, and “Good” Bacteria
The vagina is home to numerous beneficial microbes, which keep pathogenic (disease-causing) microbes, including Candida, in check.
The yeasts grow out of control when something — such as antibiotics or hormones — disrupts that delicate balance.
Because of this fact, one of the most common natural remedies for yeast infections has long involved restoring the vagina’s population of friendly bacteria, especially Lactobacillus acidophilus, by using yogurt or probiotics.
Overall, the evidence for consuming healthy bacteria to treat or prevent yeast infections is inconsistent at best.
A report found that studies suggest Lactobacillus recolonization of the vagina shows promise as a treatment for yeast infections. But a later review in the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapyfound that most clinical trials on the subject had methodological issues, making it difficult to draw reliable conclusions.
Another review, published in 2009 in the Journal of Chemotherapy, found that Lactobacillusstrains can help treat bacterial vaginosis, but the bacteria have no clear benefit for yeast infections.
Either way, regular ingestion of beneficial bacteria poses very little harm, so you can try the remedies without worry (though it may be a waste of money).
What is ill advised, however, is putting yogurt directly into the vagina.
This remedy has not been scientifically tested much, and may lead to treatment-resistant infections.
Boric Acid for Yeast Infections
Research shows that boric acid suppository capsules appear to be very effective against yeast infections, particularly those caused by non-albicans species.
An early study found that boric acid suppositories, when taken nightly for 7 to 10 days, have up to a 92 percent cure rate.
More recently, a 2007 article in the journal Diabetes Care found that boric acid vaginal suppositories were more effective against C. glabrata infections in diabetic women (diabetes is a risk factor for yeast infections) than an oral azole medication.
And a 2011 review in the Journal of Women’s Health found that it’s a safe alternative to azole medications for the treatment of recurrent vulvovaginal candidiasis (four or more infections in a single year) caused by non-albicans Candida.
However, boric acid can occasionally cause vaginal burning, is toxic when swallowed, and shouldn’t be used frequently or when pregnant.
Other Home Remedies
Garlic and tea tree oil are also popular natural remedies for yeast infections.
Numerous studies have shown that garlic has antifungal properties. But when taken orally, garlic has no effect on vaginal Candida counts, according to a 2013 study in the journal BJOG.
Some women promote placing garlic cloves in the vagina at night — while this treatment is unlikely to cause any major damage, there’s no scientific evidence to show it works.
To fight yeast infections, some women suggest applying diluted tea tree oil to the vagina using an applicator-type tampon.
While tea tree oils are effective against various Candida species in both laboratory and rat studies, clinical (human) trials are lacking.
Douching and yeast infections don’t mix. The cleansing may actually help promote yeast infections by removing healthy bacteria from the vagina, and if you already have an infection, douching may spread it to the cervix and into the uterus.
Douching with vinegar may be doubly bad because of the potential damage the liquid can cause to the vaginal walls.
You can find numerous other natural remedies for yeast infections online, including coconut oil, pomegranate gel, and echinacea purpurea liquid.
But before trying any alternative treatments, it’s best to check with your doctor.