15 Oct 2018
As a healthcare practitioner you are probably often asked about thrush. Thrush is a fungal/yeast infection which can be oral (causing white patches and sometimes pain in the mouth) or vaginal (causing itching or soreness around the vagina and vulva). Men can contract genital thrush as well, but it is much more common in women. Traditional medical treatment involves anti-fungal creams, pessaries or pills.
The yeast causing thrush is called Candida, and is usually the species Candida albicans(head over to the Probiotics Learning Lab to find out more). Candida occurs naturally within the intestines, mouth, skin and vagina of most people - yet problems occur when this yeast is able to overgrow, in which case thrush can occur. Candida is thought to overgrow when the body's balance of good and bad bacteria is disrupted. This disruption may occur due to factors such as antibiotics, hormonal changes including pregnancy, and by a disruption of the natural pH balance of the vagina caused by factors such as scented intimate products and soaps. Thrush is not commonly known as an STD but it may sometimes be passed on from one sexual partner to another.
Whilst probiotics may not be a quick acting cure for thrush, studies have shown that optimising one's friendly bacteria with probiotics could help to maintain a healthy balance of beneficial flora in the gut, thereby reducing the ability of pathogenic yeasts like Candida to overgrow. A number of clinical trials show in particular two probiotic strains, Lactobacillus reuteri RC-14® and Lactobacillus rhamnosus GR-1® have been hugely helpful in supporting health in those with thrush, significantly reducing the incidence of thrush infections developing. These two strains of natural bacteria, L. reuteri RC-14® and L. rhamnosus GR-1®, are some of the most researched probiotics to date, and are certainly the most researched in terms of women's intimate health.
In short, we would hope not! Good quality probiotics should never be the cause of thrush. However, please be mindful that if sufferers are taking their daily probiotic in the form of a sugary yoghurt drink, they may be exacerbating their symptoms, as sugar feeds the yeast (Candida) that causes thrush.
As well as taking a good probiotic there are some other things one might want to consider to prevent thrush from recurring, such as avoiding tight-fitting underwear and tights, choosing cotton underwear rather than synthetic materials, and avoiding irritants in perfumed soaps and shower gels - this includes products marketed specially for the vagina.
The above information relates to vaginal thrush. More scientific research is needed but preliminary studies do support the theory that probiotics could have a role to play in the management of oral thrush. As a health care professional you might find the following blog post interesting: Could probiotics help with oral thrush?
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