You’ve just finished (or are perhaps still involved) with the consumption of calorie laden holiday treats and are now wishing that you didn’t eat that
second third slice of pecan pie, never mind God knows how many Christmas cookies. While some might pause to reflect on waistlines or thighs, your main concern is your vagina. Is this sugar binge going to lead to a yeast infection?
As a specialist in vulvovaginal disorders, I hear concerns about diet and yeast infections all the time. The specific concern being sugar consumption will cause yeast to over grow and then, voila, there is a post-holiday tempest in the vagina to wrangle.
On the surface the idea sounds plausible. After all, sugar is a food source for yeast and bacteria, like fertilizer. So, too much of a good thing and the secret garden could be over run in no time with all manner of yeastie beasties.
Except that’s not how it works.
The sugar consumption-yeast connection is an urban myth, perpetuated it seems both by many well-meaning, but ill-informed, health care professionals as well as purveyors of snake oil (you know the ones who want to sell you the cleanses, diets, and books designed to help you rid your body of yeast).
First of all, yeast is normally found in the vagina. At some point in a given year 70% of women with no vaginal symptoms will have yeast in their vagina.(1) It is the over-growth of the normally present yeast that produces symptoms and what we call a yeast infection. Typically, yeast over grows when the vaginal ecosystem is somehow upset and lactobacilli, the good bacteria that keep yeast and bad bacteria in check, somehow get depleted.
Second of all, eating a lot of sugar does not increase the colonization of the bowel with yeast (and it is normal to have yeast in the bowel), which is how the yeast actually gets into the vagina (2). So if you challenge you bowel with a binge of pie, cake, and candy canes, while you may get some indigestion and gas, your bowel will not be run amok with yeast. As a corollary, the fact that diet doesn’t change yeast colonization in the bowel clearly means that cleanses are of no value in the prevention of yeast infections.
And finally, having a lot of sugar does not change the level of sugar in the vagina (yes, some one studied this, see reference 3#). The researchers gave women with and without a history of vaginal yeast infections a drink with a lot of sugar (glucose) and measured their blood and vaginal sugar before and after the drink. The sugar levels in the vaginal secretions did not change for either groups, women with a history and those without a history of yeast infections. Basically, if you are not a diabetic, your body can handle its sugar.
So enjoy a little holiday cheer. Don’t go nuts re-arranging your diet if you think you have chronic yeast (although get a correct diagnosis as almost 70% of women who have been told they have chronic yeast have actually been misdiagnosed) and steer clear of any providers and web sites selling or promoting dietary therapies and cleanses for yeast.
1) Beigi et al. Obstet Gynecol 2004;104:926-30.
2) Weig M et al. Am J Clin Nutr 1999.
3) Ehrström S et al. Obstet Gynecol. 2006 Dec;108(6):1432-7.