Herbs for Athletes Foot

Use herbs to fight and prevent athletes foot with home remedies.

| July/August 1997

For four years, Robert Landis, a forty-three-year-old long-distance cyclist from Vashon Island, Wash­­ington, suffered from athlete’s foot. The soles of his feet itched almost constantly and were covered in red scales, his toes were inflamed, and his toenails were gray. At times, his feet burned. Although Landis kept his feet clean and tried both over-the-counter and prescription antifungal creams, nothing helped. Finally, he sought the advice of an herbalist, who carefully analyzed Landis’s condition, then suggested he try garlic, an herb containing compounds that fight fungal infections. After following the herbalist’s recommended regimen of nine deodorized garlic capsules a day for six weeks, Landis says, his feet didn’t itch for the first time in four years. He continued to take garlic, but at a reduced dosage. Gradually, his feet returned to their normal color, the redness and scales disappeared, and his toenails began to grow in normally.

An equal opportunity invader

When rubbing your toes becomes more of a compulsion than a relaxing time-out, you, like Landis, may be among those suffering from athlete’s foot. Toes and soles of the feet that burn, sting and/or itch are often a sign of this pesky infection. The skin may crack, peel and display a rash, and itchy bumps filled with fluid may appear on the sides and/or soles of the feet.

Athlete’s foot is medically termed tinea pedis, a Latin referral to fungal foot infection. This miserable condition may be caused by the same types of fungi that cause ringworm (t. corporis), jock itch (t. cruris), and fungus nail (onychomycosis or t. unguium). They all result from a class of fungi called dermatophytes—microscopic parasitic fungi that invade only dead skin tissue and thrive in warm, moist areas.

Although dermatophytes prefer people who perspire a lot, they don’t discriminate. They prey on athletes as well as those whose heaviest workout is picking up the remote control, and they attack people of all ages, including preadolescents, high school ­students, and senior citizens. The infection is mildly contagious through contact in public showers and swimming areas, shared towels, or contaminated bath mats. Poor hygiene, continually moist skin, and minor skin or nail injuries increase the chances of being attacked by dermatophytes. Age, sex, disease, and/or taking medication may also alter skin flora and make individuals more susceptible to attack by dermatophytes.

Athlete’s foot fungi penetrate into layers of dead and dying cells of the hair, nails, and outer layer of skin to ­establish a foundation below the skin surface but not inside the body. Because of this position, they can’t be reached by circulating blood, so the immune system has a difficult time recognizing and destroying the invaders. This makes athlete’s foot notoriously difficult to treat through internal ­avenues, including pharmaceuticals. Antifungal drugs must sometimes be taken at high doses to have an effect, a situation that can pose risks, including liver toxicity. External applications for treating athlete’s foot can also be doomed to failure, killing as they do only the surface portion of the fungus. Topical preparations are thought to control athlete’s foot at best, not to cure. Relapse is almost universal.

Taking care of your feet

The most effective remedy, then, is good hygiene. It can help prevent infection as well as help speed treatment. Keep your feet dry—always dry them thoroughly after bathing. Avoid socks manufactured from synthetic fibers because they don’t absorb moisture very well. Instead, buy socks made of cotton, wool, or a combination. Change your socks frequently and wear well-ventil­ated shoes with leather soles, not those with synthetic uppers or hard rubber soles. Change shoes a couple of times daily, so each pair can dry thoroughly.



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