Vaginal yeast infections are common, up to 75 percent of women will have at least one and 5 percent 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.
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 is 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?
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?
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 percent 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.
Jennifer Gunter is an obstetrician-gynecologist and author of the Preemie Primer. She blogs at her self-titled site, Dr. Jen Gunter.
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