Thrush can affect the mouth or throat, causing oral thrush, or the genital area, causing yeast infections. Targeted probiotics can help prevent thrush and fight yeast infections by restoring the body’s beneficial microflora and supporting immunity.
Thrush is a frustrating, often stubborn health issue that can occur when the body’s microbiome is out of balance. Imbalances in the microflora of the oral cavity can lead to oral thrush, while those in the genital area can cause yeast infections.
Vaginal yeast infections are a common problem with a variety of causes. While oral thrush shares some of the same risk factors, there are also causes that affect the mouth or throat more specifically.
Addressing the root causes of thrush can help protect against future infections. There’s evidence that adding probiotics can benefit both your body’s microbiota and immune system.
What is Thrush?
Candida yeast (a type of fungus) normally inhabits our bodies and skin without issue, but if something disrupts the good bacteria in our bodies, Candida can multiply, leading to infection. Common infection sites include the mouth/throat and the genital area.
Thrush is another term for a Candida infection and typically refers to oral Candida, but it may also be used to describe genital Candida, or yeast infections. Candida albicans is the most common species found in both the mouth and the vagina.
Candida is normally present in the mouth in small amounts. The issue arises when it grows unchecked. This can contribute to problems such as dental plaque, cavities, and oral infections. Oral thrush is a Candida infection occurring in the mouth or throat, also termed oral candidiasis.
Symptoms include white patches on the tongue and in the mouth or throat that may be accompanied by burning, pain and redness, dry mouth, foul taste, and cracking at the corners of the mouth. In severe cases, oral thrush can cause bleeding in the mouth and difficulty eating.
Oral thrush is uncommon in healthy adults but occurs more frequently in young infants or the elderly, and people with certain health conditions. The frequency is increasing due to the increasing use of antibiotics and immunosuppressive medications and higher rates of people with immune-related chronic illnesses. Oral thrush is very common in people with HIV.
In some cases, particularly when immunity is compromised, thrush can spread to the esophagus and cause pain and difficulty with swallowing, and decreased appetite. More severe, invasive infections can occur if thrush is left untreated, generally in immunocompromised people.
Vaginal thrush refers to a yeast infection of the vulva and vagina. Also called vaginal or vulvovaginal candidiasis, vaginal thrush is most commonly caused by Candida albicans, although occasionally, other Candida species can cause infections that may be more challenging to treat.
Symptoms of vaginal yeast infections include white, curd-like or watery discharge, itching, burning, soreness, discomfort when urinating, and pain during intercourse.
Vaginal thrush infections are common; worldwide, 70-75% of women will have at least one infection in their lifetime, while about 40-45% will have multiple occurrences.
If untreated, vaginal Candida infections can spread, causing infection in other parts of the body; this generally occurs in individuals with compromised immune systems. In pregnancy, vaginal yeast infections have been linked with a higher risk of preterm labor.
Genital thrush can affect men too. Symptoms of a penile thrush infection include redness or rash, a white curd-like discharge, burning, itching, irritation around the head of the penis or under the foreskin, and pain during urination.
Causes and Risk Factors for Thrush
Thrush can occur when something disturbs the beneficial bacteria in part of the body, leading to an overgrowth of Candida.
Risk factors that can lead to yeast overgrowth include:
- Lowered immunity, as occurs in HIV infection, some types of cancer, or the use of corticosteroid or chemotherapy drugs
- Diabetes with poor blood sugar control
- Use of broad-spectrum antibiotics. The body’s beneficial bacteria normally protect against yeast and other pathogens, but antibiotics can kill them along with the target bacteria, allowing Candida to take hold
For oral thrush:
- Advanced age
- Use of dentures (especially those that fit poorly) or orthodontic appliances
- Use of inhaled corticosteroids (typically for asthma) or medications that cause dry mouth
- Heavy alcohol use is associated with thrush infections in the esophagus
For vaginal thrush:
- Elevated estrogen levels due to pregnancy
- Use of oral contraceptives or hormone replacement therapy
- Vaginal Flora Imbalances
How Probiotics May Help with Thrush
Candida infections indicate disturbance in the balance of the body’s microflora, which can affect oral or vaginal health. Probiotics can help to restore this balance and aid the body’s response to pathogens like Candida.
In oral Candida, research has found that probiotics compete with harmful pathogens in the mouth and improve immune response. The effects of probiotics include modifying oral pH and creating byproducts that interfere with Candida’s growth.
One study found that oral application of the probiotic Bacillus clausii, in addition to an antifungal medication, led to a significant decrease in yeast count and symptoms of oral thrush.
A review of studies found that many strains of probiotics, specifically Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria species, significantly reduced oral Candida counts in a variety of subjects. The methods of probiotic delivery varied but included lozenges, capsules, and dairy products.
One study found that adding a multi-strain probiotic to nystatin antifungal treatment for young children with oral thrush significantly improved rates of resolution and recurrence.
Other studies haven’t found improved outcomes when adding probiotics to antifungal treatment for active thrush infections. Overall, the number of studies on probiotic use for oral thrush is limited.
One review of studies found that probiotics were more beneficial for preventing rather than treating oral thrush. A number of studies providing elderly patients with probiotic supplements, mainly multi-strain or Lactobacillus species, found significant decreases in their salivary Candida counts. Some studies have also found that probiotic treatment increased saliva production in patients with reduced salivation, a risk factor for oral thrush.
Vaginal thrush may respond more robustly to probiotics, judging from a small study of women– some who were positive for HIV–supplementing with probiotic yogurt. While the probiotic treatment reduced both oral and vaginal Candida colonization, results were only significant for vaginal Candida.
In the vagina, Lactobacilli are the most common beneficial species of bacteria. They fight off Candida through multiple mechanisms, including boosting immunity, creating byproducts that maintain acidity and interfere with Candida’s growth, and blocking its attachment sites. Some studies have noted an altered balance of protective vaginal bacteria, specifically Lactobacillus species, in vaginal Candida infections.
There’s evidence that supplementing with probiotics, particularly those with Lactobacilli bacteria, can aid in resolving vaginal yeast infections.
A review of studies found that providing women with probiotics along with conventional antifungal treatments for vaginal yeast infections significantly improved their symptoms. Probiotic strains varied and included Lactobacillus and multi-strain products.
Are Probiotic Foods or Supplements More Effective for Thrush?
While some microbes found in a variety of fermented foods may have beneficial health effects, they don’t typically survive passage through the gastrointestinal tract in sufficient numbers to qualify as probiotics.
Some commercial yogurts and kefir do contain proven strains of probiotics, and there is research supporting their anti-Candida effects in the body. Plant-based alternatives are available for those who avoid dairy or are lactose-intolerant.
Information on the number of colony forming units (CFU) of live probiotic bacteria may not be available for many food products, making it tough to know how much you’re getting. Probiotic foods should contain at least 106 CFU per gram at the time of consumption for health benefits.
Probiotic supplements can offer more specific health benefits and more targeted applications, as options include a variety of well-researched strains. Additionally, many common probiotic strains are of human origin, which generally have a better ability to survive the human GI tract and colonize in the intestines than dairy-based probiotics.
Supplement labels should list the number of viable bacteria for the end of their shelf life and should contain 107 to 1011 CFU for optimal effects.
What is the Best Probiotic Supplement for Thrush?
Lactobacillus strains are the most well-studied probiotics for anti-Candida effects. They are also the most common species in a balanced vaginal microbiota.
More research is needed to determine which strains of probiotics are most effective against oral thrush. Multi-strain products may be the best option for providing a range of activity against Candida.
Omni-Biotic Balance contains four different Lactobacillus strains that can help restore a balanced gut microbiome and optimize digestion and immune function. It includes the species Lactobacillus acidophilus and Lactobacillus casei, which both have documented anti-Candida effects. Furthermore, in a preliminary in vitro study, multi-strain probiotic Omni-Biotic Balance more effectively decreased the growth of Candida albicans than single strains of Lactobacilli.
Other Ways You Can Reduce Your Risk of Recurring Thrush
Research suggests that a diet high in simple sugars can disrupt the body’s microflora and fuel Candida growth. Malnutrition is a documented risk factor for oral thrush. On the other hand, a well-balanced diet high in critical nutrients and limited in simple sugars can boost immunity and help ward off infections like thrush.
For genital thrush: Avoid bubble baths, hot tubs and overly hot baths, douching, deodorant sprays, scented pads and tampons, and underwear or clothing that’s tight in the genital area. Wear underwear with a cotton crotch, and change out of wet bathing suits or workout clothing promptly.
Be sure to seek healthcare if you have recurrent thrush or yeast infections or continued symptoms after trying over-the-counter treatments. Untreated infections can cause complications, particularly if you have lowered immunity.
To prevent thrush, consider any steps you could take to improve your oral health or body care routine. In addition, adding probiotics to a healthy diet may help by benefiting your body’s microbiota and supporting your immune system.