Yeast infections are caused by various species of fungus. The most common culprit is Candida albicans, which can proliferate in people with weakened immune systems or unbalanced internal flora and fauna. Candida yeasts prefer warm, moist areas of the body, such as the vagina and underneath the breasts. If left untreated, yeast infections can spread throughout the body and become toxic. Localized yeast infections can be treated with anti-fungal drugs, although some people prefer natural antiseptics, such as witch hazel, because they produce fewer side effects.
Causes of Yeast Infections
A primary cause of yeast infections is a weakened immune system, which allows the microbes to proliferate relatively unchecked. Immunity can become weakened by diseases, such as AIDS and cancer, or from their treatments, such as antiviral drugs and chemotherapy. Chronic stress, malnourishment and sleep deprivation can also hamper immune function. Other common causes of yeast infections include poor hygiene, overuse of antibiotics, long-term use of birth control pills and poor dietary choices. Yeast thrive in acidic environments and feed off of sugars, so consumption of soda pop, sweet coffee, chocolate and refined carbohydrates not only reduce immune function, but they also provide the conditions that allow yeast to proliferate within the body.
Yeast Infections of the Vagina
The most common yeast infection in women occurs within the vagina and is caused by Candida albicans. The book, "Fungal Infection: Diagnosis and Management," notes that about three-quarters of American women experience a vaginal yeast infection and almost half experience multiple infections during their lifetimes. Vaginal yeast infections, which are referred to as candidiasis, cause a host of symptoms, such as severe itchiness, inflammation, pain during intercourse and from tampon use, burning sensations while urinating, unpleasant odors and a light colored, cheesy discharge. Vaginal yeast infections can be triggered by sexual relations, pregnancy, gynecological procedures and bacterial infections.
Benefits of Witch Hazel
Witch hazel grows as a shrub-like tree and produces leaves and bark that have antiseptic properties. Witch hazel contains tannic acid, which acts as a powerful astringent, is able to dry the skin out quickly upon contact. According to "The Essential Book of Herbal Medicine," witch hazel also contains carvacol and eugenol, which are oils that display strong antimicrobial properties. Being able to kill both bacteria and yeast is important because vaginal yeast infections sometimes co-exist with bacterial infections. Witch hazel can be distilled and made into oils, ointments and extracts.
Methods of Witch Hazel Use
Witch hazel extract can be added to distilled water to make an astringent solution and used in a vaginal douche. This makes a safe and affordable internal cleanse that can be done daily. The same solution could be used as a rinse for infections of the mouth, called oral thrush. However, swallowing it may cause stomach or intestinal irritation. Witch hazel oils can be added to bath water, which is less effective for vaginal yeast infections, but appropriate for skin infections. For quick relief of itchiness, witch hazel ointment can be added to compress and dabbed externally to the affected area.