Q & A: Herbs For Vaginitis

I am a seventeen-year-old and am very interested in natural remedies. For a year, I have been seeing a gynecologist for what I thought at first was a yeast infection. Later she informed me that bacteria was producing itself in great quantities. I had taken some over-the-counter products such as Monistat 7 previously and I informed her about this. Now I take MetroGel-Vaginal 0.75 percent. I have been taking it for three months. It is only recently that I have quit drinking. I believe now that my adolescent partying on the weekends might be affecting my recovery.

I’ve had this illness for a year and my symptoms are inflammation of my inner vaginal lips, redness, irritation, discomfort, and sometimes when it gets bad I get a clear discharge, which appears yellowish when dried. I have been tested for HIV (it was negative) and I am not sexually active. The symptoms never go away. What do you suggest? Are allergies a possibility? And how would I tell if I’m allergic to a certain food? I’ve cut out caffeine, alcohol, candy, and I’m working on completely cutting out smoking. I have started to exercise also; so far it’s been at least three times a week. Thank you so much for the magazine and your time.
–S. K., Anchorage, Alaska

Keville responds: Good for you for working on cutting out drinking, smoking, and sweets! It will certainly make you healthier, because all of these play a role in weakening the immune system. I’m assuming that you’ve talked with your gynecologist about why this infection is so persistent and haven’t come up with any clear leads. You are right that allergies can impair your health. Because you already suspect this is a reason you aren’t healing, try selectively eliminating foods from your diet for a couple of weeks to see if that makes any difference. Milk products, as well as other proteins, are the most notorious substances for causing allergic reactions, so that’s a good place to begin. You can also be tested for food allergies. The tests aren’t completely reliable, but they do give you an idea about what is the culprit.

You say the infection sometimes gets “bad,” so that means at other times it’s better. That’s a clue for you to pay attention to lifestyle, dietary, and seasonal changes that promote this change to help you determine what aids the infection and what dampens it. Whatever the source of your infection, it seems your immune system isn’t properly fighting off the invasion. Take herbs such as echinacea (Echinacea spp.) to strengthen it, as well as infection-fighters such as Oregon grape root (Mahonia aquifolium).

Another useful herb is vitex (Vitex agnus-castus) to make sure that your hormones are properly regulated. Your drinking may have impaired your liver, which affects hormone balance, and in turn can promote infections. That means turning to liver herbs such as milk thistle (Silybum marianum) and burdock (Arctium lappa). All of these herbs can be taken together and combined into one formula for convenience. Also take supplements of vitamins C and A (as beta-carotene). You should check with an herbalist or other health-care practitioner to determine the right doses for you.

You can find herbal suppositories at health-food stores that contain a diluted amount of tea tree essential oil (Melaleuca alternifolia). This oil destroys both yeast and bacterial infections and the vaginal suppositories place the oil right where you need it. Try this once a day while lying down with your feet propped up on some pillows. (This is a good opportunity to catch up on reading about natural healing.) Be sure to encourage air circulation by wearing breathable cotton pants and underwear and avoiding pantyhose as much as possible. Another strategy is relaxation because stress, even fun-related stress, can impair the immune system. Because it doesn’t seem to be working, I’d be tempted to stop taking the MetroGel-Vaginal while giving these natural remedies a chance to do their thing. Good healing to you!

Khalsa responds: The most common cause for infectious nonspecific vaginitis is the bacterium Gardnerella. The fact that you have had this chronic infection for so long is a sign that your immune system is not doing its job. Congratulations on the positive immune-system-supporting changes you’ve made in your life. You should consider adding some long-acting immune tonics such as astragalus, eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus), reishi, and cat’s claw (Uncaria tomentosa). These herbs will strengthen your immune response over time and prevent further infections. High doses of echinacea for a few days might get the immune system pepped up. The cooling Chinese herb isatis root (Isatis tinctoria) is also a natural here. It is a potent antimicrobial and an effective anti-inflammatory. Take up to 15 grams per day for up to two weeks as necessary.

To treat the current infection, goldenseal root (Hydrastis canadensis) can be taken internally to kill the invader. Use a high dose of up to 15 grams per day of powder in capsules until the symptoms resolve, usually no more than five or six days. You may also insert a capsule of goldenseal root as a vaginal suppository during the night. The capsule will melt overnight and the herb will saturate the tissue that needs the medicine. Be aware that there might be a bit of gritty residue in the morning. Adding additional boric acid in the capsule often improves the effect. Myrrh resin (Commiphora spp.) kills bacteria and will help treat this condition externally. Best used as a tincture, dilute a teaspoon of myrrh in a pint of water and swab the irritated area daily. For the current inflammation, use soothing herbs as a wash, douche, or cream. Good choices would be plantain leaf (Plantago officinalis), calendula flower (Calendula officinalis), or licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra). A wash of yarrow flower (Achillea millefolium) will tighten the tissues, reduce discharge, and soothe the vaginal membranes.

Kathi Keville is director of the American Herb Association (www.jps.net/ahaherb) and the author of eleven herb and aromatherapy books including Herbs for Health and Healing (Rodale, 1996). She teaches seminars throughout the United States.

Karta Purkh Singh Khalsa has more than twenty-five years of experience with medicinal herbs and specializes in Ayurvedic, Chinese, and North American healing traditions. He is a licensed dietitian/nutritionist, a massage therapist, and a board member of the American Herbalists Guild.

The information offered in “Q & A” is not intended to be a substitute for advice from your health-care provider.

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