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complementary and alternative medicine, yeast

Some women are treating vaginal yeast infections with garlic. Here’s why you shouldn’t.

screen-shot-2016-10-13-at-12-18-23-pmVaginal yeast infections are common, up to 75% of women will have at least one and 5% of women suffer from chronic yeast infections (meaning four or more a year). Many women out of frustration with allopathic medicine (preventing recurrent yeast infections can be challenging) or because of their beliefs turn to alternative medicine options. More and more I am hearing about vaginal garlic.

The problem with many alternative or complementary therapies for yeast is that they are built on a tiny bit of factual information, but applied incorrectly. Vaginal garlic is no exception.

Garlic has antifungal properties

Garlic or Allium sativum has been used as a medicinal plant for centuries and indeed it has antifungal properties. The process of cutting or crushing garlic released a volatile substance called allicin. This is what gives garlic it’s odor. Allicin is unstable and is converted quickly to diallyl disulfide (DDS) and diallyl trisulfide (DTS).

Several researchers have looked at garlic extract in the lab and it appears that DDS and DTS can cross cell membranes and enter a yeast cells and interfere with metabolism, thus killing the cell. It is also possible that garlic extract might stimulate the immune system to help the body attack yeast. Some studies have also suggested that these breakdown products of allicin might even be effective against yeast that have biofilms (think of a biofilm as a plastic wrap like coating that protects the yeast cell from attack by the body’s defense mechanisms and drugs). 

That’s great! Still don’t put garlic in your vagina

For garlic to even have any medical effect it has to be crushed or chopped, so putting whole clove in your vagina will do nothing except expose your inflamed vagina to the possible soil bacteria (like Clostridium botulinum, the bacteria that causes botulism) that still could be clinging to the garlic. Itis not easily removed with washing. 

screen-shot-2016-10-13-at-12-17-27-pm

What if you cut it or crush it and stick it in your vagina?

Aroma aside there are several concerning issues here:

  • It may sting. With a yeast infection the vagina is inflamed, so it will feel exactly like putting garlic on a cut where your whole vagina in the cut.
  • There is still the idea of inoculating and inflamed vagina with Clostridium botulinum
  • How will you get it out?
  • No one knows the dose

What if you cut it, crush it, and wrap it in a piece of gauze?

Still no. 

We don’t recommend putting gauze in the vagina as fibers can be left behind and the trauma caused by inserting it could potential be a risk for toxic shock syndrome. As the garlic is just little bits and not suspended in something that will bring it in contact with the vagina the breakdown products that do have antifungal properties are not likely going to make it through the gauze and to the yeast.

What about garlic oil?

No again.

While garlic in oil has been studied and does kill yeast in the lab at concentrations of 0.35 μg/mL home-made infused garlic oils in a kitchen apothecary pose a risk for botulism if not made and stored correctly. Heating the garlic to kill the bacteria (a good idea for food safety) may inactivate the allicin and breakdown products. Secondly, we don’t know what we don’t know. For example, we don’t know if garlic can also kill good bacteria (lactobacilli) the same way it can kill yeast and some studies show garlic can enhance biofilm formation.

Ok what about eating garlic then?

That’s actually been studied in a randomized placebo-controlled trial (yeah science!) and oral garlic did nothing to reduce Candida in the vagina. Then again it wouldn’t as the breakdown products of allicin are unlikely going to make it intact from the mouth, through the digestive tract and blood stream to the vagina. In fact, “allicin and allicin-derived compounds have never been detected in human blood, urine, or stool, even after the consumption of up to 25 g of fresh garlic or 60 mg of pure allicin.”

Garlic is for food, not the vagina

If you do suffer from recurrent yeast infections don’t reach for the garlic see your doctor and get a vaginal mycology (yeast) culture so you know your diagnosis is correct as more than 50% of women who are told they have chronic yeast actually have something else. The culture results will also be useful in designing the best therapy for you. Your doctor may also want to do other testing as well.

It is possible that one day a garlic extract could be used medicinally for yeast infections, but a lot more research is needed first.

So please, don’t put garlic in your vagina.

Discussion

7 thoughts on “Some women are treating vaginal yeast infections with garlic. Here’s why you shouldn’t.

  1. Reblogged this on things I've read or intend to.

    Posted by donesoverydone | October 13, 2016, 1:24 pm
  2. “If you do suffer from recurrent yeast infections don’t reach for the garlic see your doctor and get a vaginal mycology (yeast) culture so you know your diagnosis is correct as more than 50% of women who are told they have chronic yeast actually have something else. ”

    50% have something else? Wow. Definitely calls for this “vaginal mycology culture,” I would think.

    Posted by bri65 | October 14, 2016, 12:30 am
  3. I tried this once and don’t know how other women do it because frankly, it burned like hell.

    Pulled the garlic out immediately and ran around fanning my crotch. Asked the friends who suggested it why they’d ever do such a thing to their privates and had to deal with being called Vampire Vah-jay-jay for a while.

    At any rate, good to know it’s an ineffective method because women are definitely trying it.

    Posted by erinb9 | October 17, 2016, 2:54 am
  4. I have not tried this, and would certainly recommend yogurt as a first-line treatment rather than garlic. However, this column seems to me to fall into the category of allopathic scare stories. When you peel a garlic clove, you remove not just the outermost scales that cover the bulb and are visibly dirty, but the tighter covering of the individual clove. What remains isn’t exactly covered in filth. Garlic oil, if not refrigerated, can be a threat for botulism because initially minuscule numbers of bacteria can multiply in the oil (an anaerobic environment) over time. I am not aware of a single case in which eating raw or lightly cooked garlic soon after it was peeled caused botulism. Has anyone ever gotten botulism from vaginal use of garlic? Or of anything else for that matter? When a doctor is eager to tell me about how herbs will kill me, based on hypotheticals alone, but dismisses more direct evidence of potential benefit as surely irrelevant, I mentally label him/her “unscientific and biased” and start fact-checking every piece of advice given.

    Posted by jane | October 26, 2016, 12:32 pm
  5. I agree with your article, Dr. Gunter. I saw it first on MedPage, and after reading it, found myself shaking my head wondering who in the world would advise such a thing. There are good immune boosting qualities to garlic and honey, for example, but you are correct on the allicin and botulinum. Honey also has botulinum and should never be given to small children, never to be placed in mucous membranes and are to be ingested only. I had the privelege of learning a lot about medicine since I was a child growing up around doctors, nurses and EMS responders, as well as working in medicine myself. Though there is something to be said for “integrative” medicine, we really have no complete formulary to safely go by yet. If you are a patient on prescription medications, for example, you should never just try a supplement or homeopathic remedy without first consulting your physician. There are interactions that can make you seriously ill or can be potentially deadly. She is also correct about not knowing as a certainty whether that good bacteria is being destroyed at the same time. The more chronic your infections and other symptoms you may be experiencing, let your doctor know what tests to run in the event it has run more rampant than just the vaginal area, and knows how to treat it. Even though the creams are for sale over the counter also, not all red, inflamed, itchy vaginas are candida. You should always see your doctor to be sure that is, in fact, the problem.

    Posted by Rishona Bennett | November 1, 2016, 1:03 pm
  6. Nice share

    Posted by doctorsahaabblog | December 8, 2016, 5:08 am
  7. It is really strange to put garlic in vagina because even using garlic orally (during eating) you may get some burns. Natural remedy is still good but without crasy things like this.

    Posted by Mike | September 17, 2017, 12:58 am

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