Originally published in EverydayHealth.com’s Everyday Solutions: Understanding Yeast Infections and written by Gina Roberts-Grey. Medically reviewed by Rosalyn Carson-DeWitt, MD.
What you eat, what you wear, and even how much you sleep can lead to a yeast infection.
Want to cut your chances of developing a yeast infection? Doctors say modifying some everyday habits can alleviate yeast infection symptoms and reduce the odds you will have a vaginal infection. “Many women don’t realize they have the ability to reduce their chances of developing a yeast infection,” says Robert Goldfarb, MD, an obstetrician/gynecologist at Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital in West Bloomfield, Mich.
If you’ve had more than two yeast infections in a year, consider making a few of these lifestyle changes to cut your chances of developing another one.
Control Your Sweet Tooth
A diet rich in refined carbohydrates, such as white sugar, white flour, and white rice, including bagels, sugary sweets like cookies, cakes, candy, and alcohol, which has a lot of sugar in it, has led some women to experience vaginal itching, odor, and other classic symptoms of a yeast infection.
The exact link between a sugar-filled diet and a yeast infection is unclear, but one theory is that elevated glucose levels in the blood make it easier for the yeast organism Candida albicans to “stick” to the vaginal cells. “Another theory is that elevated glucose levels affect the immune response of the vagina so it can’t fight off the yeast as well as it should,” says Saul Weinreb, MD, a gynecologist at Franklin Square Hospital in Baltimore.
Clean Out Your Closet
Tight jeans, thongs, and underwear not made from cotton don’t allow air to circulate around your vagina. “Yeast thrives on moist, dark environments,” says Dr. Goldfarb. “And the increased moisture caused by these clothes creates the perfect environment for yeast to grow.”
If you have recurrent yeast infections, switch to cotton underwear and alternate between jeans and clothes that allow better air flow. In addition, Goldfarb suggests changing out of damp clothes immediately after working out. “And don’t spend hours in a wet or damp bathing suit after swimming,” he adds.
Tossing and turning all night long or not getting a full eight hours of sleep can lead to a weakened immune system. “Getting a restful sleep helps your body repair itself and maintain optimal health,” says Goldfarb.
A weakened immune system can lead to higher levels of naturally occurring vaginal acidity, which lowers your vagina’s pH level, creating an environment that allows vaginal yeast to grow. “Some women aren’t able to naturally fight off yeast when their vaginal pH dips low,” says Goldfarb. “And they develop a yeast infection.”
Say Goodbye to Stress
Stress compromises your immune system. That’s why many women develop a yeast infection when they’re going through stressful, major life changes like planning a wedding, getting a divorce, facing unemployment, or moving.
To cut down your chances of a yeast infection, consider stress-reduction techniques, such as meditation, yoga, and regular exercise.
Forgo Feminine Sprays
Whether they’re scented or unscented, feminine wipes and sprays strip your vagina of bacteria — and not all bacteria need to be cleaned away. “Altering the vaginal environment with feminine sprays may cause yeast to grow because these products reduce the body’s natural bacteria that help fight yeast growth,” says Dr. Weinreb. “These products can be very irritating to the skin around the vagina, too.”
To freshen up, Goldfarb recommends skipping feminine wipes and sprays, instead opting for washing with a mild soap and warm water. “Always use a clean washcloth,” he adds.
Monitor Your Medications
A yeast infection is one of the most common side effects women experience as a result of taking certain prescription medications, including oral contraceptives, antibiotics, and steroids.
The reason birth control pills lead to women developing a yeast infection is that they increase estrogen levels in a woman’s body. “Those increased estrogen levels can increase a woman’s susceptibility to vaginal yeast,” says Weinreb. And some women are more susceptible to that excess yeast growth. While antibiotics kill bacteria that may be causing disease, they also kill “friendly” bacteria, which have antifungal properties, giving more space for yeast to grow. Steroids can lead to yeast infections because they dampen the body’s natural immune defenses.
If you develop a yeast infection while taking a certain medication, talk to your gynecologist or primary care doctor. Your doctor may be able to switch you to another medication.
Not all women will develop a yeast infection as a result of these habits. “But for women who are predisposed to yeast infections,” Goldfarb says, “making some lifestyle adjustments can greatly reduce the number of yeast infections they experience in their lifetime.”
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