Vaginal yeast infections occur when conditions stimulate the growth of the Candida albicans yeast fungus. The acidic vaginal environment normally limits candida growth. When candida flourishes, the yeast forms a thick white or yellow discharge. Candida's metabolic byproducts irritate the skin, causing itching and burning. Many people believe that eating yeast aggravates a yeast infection, but brewer's yeast -- a different organism -- does not cause vaginal yeast infections.
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Strains of Saccharomyces cerevisiae yeast used in the brewing industry convert the sugar in grain or fruit to alcohol. Brewer's yeast dies when alcohol concentrations exceed its tolerance level of about 16 percent. Collected and processed, the brewer's yeast becomes a nutritional supplement high in protein, B vitamins and trace minerals. Brewer's yeast contains all the B-complex vitamins except vitamin B-12. It also helps control blood sugar levels and cholesterol. Baker's yeast, a live strain of the same fungus, causes intestinal gas and thiamine deficiency if eaten as the raw powder. Neither baker's nor brewer's yeast causes vaginal or skin infections.
Whether you are male or female you could suffer some form of candida yeast infection repeatedly during your lifetime. Most of us carry candida fungus constantly, but populations of beneficial bacteria on our skin and within our digestive system prevent candida from becoming a problem. When that balance shifts, explosions of candida growth cause many types of infections. Candida infects toenails and fingernails, in addition to the damp skin between toes and in the groin. Athlete's foot, ringworm and jock itch all stem from the candida fungus. Candida also causes 40 percent of all vaginitis, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center.
Anything that disturbs the balance of healthy bacteria living in the vagina could open the way to candida infection. Antibiotics taken to treat other problems could eliminate the good bacteria, allowing candida to flourish. If you're pregnant or overweight, your chances of getting the infection increase. Higher levels of sugar in the urine of diabetics encourages candida growth, and tight clothing creates a more favorable environment. A poor diet does not cause candida infection but could lower your resistance, so it's a good idea to eat a balanced assortment of foods and avoid overeating highly refined carbohydrates such as white flour and sugar.
Even though no clear evidence links the consumption of brewer's yeast to vaginal yeast infections, if you suffer recurrent problems you may wish to avoid nutritional yeast products and yeasty baked goods, as a yeast allergy could intensify some symptoms. Most yeast infections respond to over-the-counter medicines, but if you experience new symptoms or stubborn problems, see your doctor. Cutting back on sugar and dairy products and avoiding alcohol, refined carbohydrates and yeast products could help prevent new infections, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Live priobiotic foods such as yogurt and acidophilus milk also help maintain your internal balance.