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10 Tips for Getting Rid of a Yeast Infection While Pregnant

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How to Get Rid of a Yeast Infection While Pregnant

If you are pregnant and have a yeast infection, put down the cake! I repeat, PUT DOWN THE CAKE! If you want to learn how too much sugar (and a lack of probiotics) creates a breeding ground for yeast infections during pregnancy, check out my blog Why Pregnant Women are More Prone to Yeast Infections. But if you’re just “itching” for a cure, read on.

After five pregnancies and plenty of yeast infections, I think I’ve finally figured out how to get rid of yeast infections while pregnant. Getting a yeast infection while pregnant is the worst because it can be painful, bothersome, and really hard to get rid of. In addition, it can lead to thrush in both you and your new baby after birth, and dealing with thrush makes having a yeast infection while pregnant seem like a walk in the park. So you really really really want to make sure your yeast infection is gone by the time you give birth.

28 weeks pregnant at a midwife appointment

28 Weeks Pregnant with Ophelia

How to Know if You Have a Yeast Infection

It’s recommended that the first time you have a yeast infection, you go to the doctor to have it properly diagnosed, but once you’ve gotten them a few times, you’ll just know. Here are the things to look for.

  • Itching
  • Soreness
  • Pain or burning during urination or sex
  • Redness
  • Swollen
  • Possibly a thick, clumpy, white discharge that has no odor and looks like cottage cheese

Bacterial vaginosis (and some sexually transmitted diseases) can have many of the same symptoms, but the bacterial vaginosis discharge will have a “fishy” odor to it. They say you’ll need antibiotics to cure it, but if you take antibiotics, it will wipe out all of your bacteria (both good and bad), and it will make your chances of getting a yeast infection EVEN WORSE. I can only imagine that going from bacterial vaginosis to a yeast infection would be no fun!

When to Try Natural Remedies

Whenever I’m pregnant, I can feel my body changing in many ways, and with each subsequent pregnancy (currently rocking #5 as I update this blog), I can feel my candida issues flare up again. I know this is because of the way my body processes sugar and other things (read more about WHY pregnant women are more prone to yeast infections here), and it’s never any fun to deal with.

I always start with all of the natural remedies first when I feel the faintest itch of a yeast infection tingling, and by doing so, I am often able to keep things at bay…but once my symptoms turn into a full blown yeast infection, then the natural remedies actually seem to make things worse.

When you think about how candida albicans works, you have to understand that first of all it is a natural part of our digestive system living in our colon helping us ferment our undigested food (i.e. prebiotics…read more about the fascinating world of digestion here), and second of all, during pregnancy it can very easily grow out of control. It is a living organism and will fight to survive, hence the reason why it grows stronger and more resilient when you start to battle it. But stay strong sister, and you can win this war!

1. Over the Counter Anti-Fungal Medication

So, if I’ve tried all of the natural preventative measures and things still progress to a full blown yeast infection, I’ll run out to the drug store and shell out the $15 for the cheapest 3 or 7-day anti-fungal treatment. Now, don’t make the same mistake that I did with my first pregnancy and get the one day treatment. You are too sensitive while pregnant to handle such intensity, and it will burn like the dickens!

Most over the counter brands will list clotrimazole or miconazole as the active ingredient. The miconazole is more specifically designed to kill fungus in the vagina and the clotrimazole is typically used for skin fungus, so I would go with that miconazole first. (This is my favorite 3-day treatment.) Then, insert the capsules/cream every day for the full amount of recommended time. Even if your symptoms go away, keep going the full three or seven days or else the fungus will come back even stronger!

Now, it’s important to note that this remedy only treats the symptoms, not the cause. So, if you were to use ONLY this treatment, it is very likely that the underlying reasons that caused the yeast infection to appear in the first place will still be in place and cause yet another yeast infection.

2. Chamomile

I recently attended a nutrition class for pregnant women and learned that chamomile is actually very good at killing candida overgrowth! It is also super safe for pregnant women and has a calming effect as well. You can drink chamomile tea or even take chamomile supplements. You might want to start here before using the over the counter medication as well.

3. Apple Cider Vinegar Rinse

This is what I did during my fourth pregnancy that helped me to FINALLY get rid of my chronic and ongoing yeast infection! All of the other tips certainly help as well, but this was truly the nail in the coffin. Apple cider vinegar is an anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-viral miracle worker. It acts like a sponge and draws out germs and toxins from the surrounding tissue. It also stimulates acetolysis in which toxic wastes (like candida) are broken down and rendered harmless.

To make an apple cider vinegar rinse, take a peri bottle and fill it with about 2 T. of apple cider vinegar and the rest filtered water (chlorine free), and put it near your toilet. After you wipe (always front to back), squirt the solution on the outside of your vagina and let it air dry. (Stand in front of a fan for extra relief!) I would also do this after getting out of the shower. I continued to do this for at least a week or two after my symptoms were gone to make sure the infection was really eliminated, and this was REALLY helpful!

You can actually squirt it inside the vagina or douche with it if you want, but I would wait until the irritation is gone, however, or else it will really burn. You can also make the solution a little stronger if you’re brave enough, but if it’s too strong, it will burn even if you’re not irritated at the time.

4. Garlic

Garlic is one of nature’s greatest infection fighters. Not only does it help to stimulate the immune system, but it destroys candida (among other pathogens) and inhibits its growth.

At the first signs of a yeast infection, you can take a peeled clove of garlic and insert it into your vagina, usually at night, and then take it out the next morning. If the yeast infection is in the early stages, you might be able to kill it off this way after one or two nights. I have heard stories of this working for others, but it has just never worked very well for me…plus I don’t like how it makes my entire body smell like garlic.

I prefer instead to take these garlic supplements instead. They provide all of the benefits of garlic without giving you garlic breath! Whenever you use any natural method, you want to mix things up a bit so that the yeast doesn’t become resistant to your treatments, so I’ll typically take these garlic supplements for a few days (in the morning, 20 minutes or so after eating some food), give it a break for a few more days while using something else, and then use them again until my symptoms are gone.

5. Eat Fermented Foods

Fermented foods such as anything like sourdough, kombucha, yogurt, keifer, and sauerkraut are full of healthy probiotics (such as lactobacilli) that help to crowd out the yeast and keep it from growing out of control. I always try to eat as many of these foods as I can anyways, but especially so when I’m pregnant. I always have a jar of sourdough starter on my counter, and when I feel the mere tinglings of a yeast infection, or just as a preventative measure, I like to eat a small spoonful of the starter first thing in the morning (after a bit of food would probably be better, but I never remember that!). Recently, I had a friend make me some lacto-fermented sauerkraut, and I’ve really been enjoying that as well.

When you’re trying to get rid of a yeast infection, it’s really a balanced approach between killing the fungus and then crowding it out with good bacteria. Fermented foods are an excellent way to populate your vagina (along with your gastrointestinal tract) with good bacteria.

If you have good gut health, it’s also important to include plenty of prebiotic foods so that the probiotics will have something to feed on. Prebiotics are different kinds of fiber that we can’t digest, but that encourage beneficial species of gut flora to grow. They include dandelion greens, garlic and onions, asparagus, and chicory (found in teccino, a wonderful coffee substitute). If you have poor gut health, however, these prebiotic foods may cause stomach pains, gas, and bloating.

6. Probiotic Supplements

While fermented foods are great, sometimes you just need an extra boost, especially if you’ve recently taken a course of antibiotics that have wiped out not only the bad bacteria, but the good as well, and you need to repopulate your gut.

I have taken many different types of probiotic treatments, and these two have been my favorite. Bio Kult Candea is specifically designed to deal with candida. It has a garlic component that makes it have a bit of an odor, but it really works. Custom Probiotics come very highly recommended and work very well for eliminating yeast infections. When I have felt a yeast infection coming on, I like to alternate between these two brands and take two every morning after eating a bit of food. I have tried other probiotic supplements (such as the ones you’ll find in the grocery store) in the past and didn’t really notice much of a difference, but with these brands (and by following these other steps), my yeast infection would go away and not keep reoccurring.

*Note: With my fifth pregnancy, I added a probiotic to my daily vitamin routine, and it was really helpful with preventing yeast infections.

7. Coconut Oil

Coconut oil has capric acid, caprylic acid, and lauric acid that are all medium chain fatty acids that have great anti-fungal propertiesDr. Bruce Fife, a naturopathic physician and certified nutritionist and president of the Coconut Research Center in Colorado Springs, CO, explains that,

“Medium chain fatty acids penetrate cell membranes….when they’re absorbed by an organism that is not beneficial, they penetrate the cell membrane and weaken the cell, so it just disintegrates. Then white blood cells go in and gobble up the waste material.”

I love using as much coconut oil (I like this brand of coconut oil.) in my cooking as possible to help prevent and treat yeast infections, but you could also put a spoonful in your tea every morning, just batten down the hatches and eat a spoonful straight up, or you can take a caprylic acid capsule. Whenever I feel a yeast infection starting, I pop a few of these every morning.

8. Eliminate Sugar

Ok, so I’m hiding this one towards the end, because it sucks, but it is really THE most important step. If you are pregnant, past your 23rd week, and battling a yeast infection, you absolutely have to give up sugar (which is basically in all processed foods) to help get rid of your yeast infection for good. You can read my blog: The Real Reason Why Pregnant Women Get Yeast Infections to learn more about the science of why this is, but basically, your hormones are causing your blood sugar to sky rocket which creates an optimal breeding ground for candida. In order to really get rid of the candida, you have to reduce its food source…sugar.

Now, I’m not talking about complex carbohydrates here…you need those to fuel your body and your growing baby. I’m talking about pure sugar…Little Debbies, Laffy Taffy, Oreos, white bread, etc.

I think it’s best to eliminate sugar cold turkey. You might feel miserable at first because as the candida dies, it tries to fight it and you get these nasty die off symptoms (head aches, brain fog, fatigue), but they’ll go away after a short time, and then you will feel better than ever. When I’ve gone on a candida cleanse, this website has been really helpful in providing dietary guidelines.

Just beware that if you ever cut out ALL carbohydrates to try to completely starve the candida, it will turn into its most virulent form, and that can reek even more havoc on your body. You’re not trying to completely eliminate the yeast, just keep it under control. 

9. Take Care of Yourself

If you’re like me, the first trimester tiredness is just brutal, and as you enter the 2nd trimester, you might take for granted how good you feel and start to get a bit lax on the sleep. But by taking care of your body by first of all getting PLENTY of rest, your body’s immune system can work in its optimal state to help you fend off pathogens like candida. Next, it’s important to fill yourself with nutrient dense food and avoid commercially processed crap as much as you can. You are growing a human being, and you need to eat…and eat well! Don’t wait until you’re starving and then eat an entire bag of potato chips! Plan out those meals in advance (check out my favorite recipes here), and feed yourself and your growing baby some good food!

If you’re feeling a bit under the weather, these Pure Radiance 100% natural vitamin C capsules are AMAZING! I also like taking this Organic Liquid Prenatal Formula (I hate swallowing big bulky prenatal pills!) and this Fermented Cod Liver Oil (or this if our budget is a little tight). 

10. Let Your Vagina Breathe

Candida thrives in warm wet areas where there is no oxygen, and so in order to prevent candida from growing out of control, you want to let your vagina breathe. You can do this by wearing cotton panties like these, which are very comfortable while you’re pregnant anyways!

A big mistake I made while pregnant was wearing panty liners every day for any accidents (Watch yourself when you sneeze, you will pee a little bit!) and/or leakage, but I really think this contributed to my yeast infection problem. A better option would have been something like this or just changing my underwear more often. You’ll also want to avoid wearing super tight skinny jeans, and instead opt for something more comfortable like these. And of course, don’t sit around all day with a wet bathing suit on.

Other Remedies

  • Gentian Violet: When I was researching Gentian Violet for my oral thrush article, I came across a comment from a verified purchase on Amazon where the woman soaked tampons in Gentian Violet and inserted them for seven days and totally healed her chronic yeast infections. Gentian Violet worked wonders getting rid of my baby’s oral thrush, so I would have to say that this sounds like a pretty good idea if you’re desperate for a cure.
  • Hydrogen Peroxide: I have heard a lot of positive information lately about using a hydrogen peroxide rinse to get rid of yeast infections. This makes sense since when the lactobacilli in a healthy vagina “feed” on glycogen, one of their byproducts is actually hydrogen peroxide. But when I’ve tried this remedy, I’ve found that it has no effect.

Remedies to Avoid While Pregnant

  • *Grapefruit Seed Extract: Grapefruit seed extract can be taken orally or applied topically, and in addition to killing yeast, it has vitamin A, E, and bioflavanoids. But it’s not technically recommended for pregnant and breastfeeding women because it can be toxic if taken at 4,000 times the suggested dose (so I think it’s okay to use at the recommended dosage). I tried it when I was battling thrush with my little newborn baby, it only sort of worked, and it seemed to bother her, so I’m not sure about this one.
  • *Boric Acid: The link above also mentions putting some boric acid into a hydrogen peroxide douche, and while boric acid is good at treating persistent and recurring yeast infections where you may be battling a different strain of candida, it is not recommended for pregnant women.
  • *Oregano Capsules: Oregano oil is really great at preventing and treating yeast infections because it contains two very effective antimicrobial agents called carvacrol and thymol that react with the water in your bloodstream to dehydrate and kill the Candida yeast cells. Unfortunately, it increases the blood flow to the uterus which weakens the lining around the fetus, so you don’t want to take it while you’re pregnant.
  • *Oral Fluconazole: Fluconazole (or the brand name Diflucan) are both oral antifungal medications. They are processed by the liver and enter the bloodstream where they attack the fungus. but this is very hard on your liver, and if you’re pregnant, it can harm the fetus. Also, if you are taking oral birth control, it can make it less effective. (But geez louise, I hope you’re not taking birth control when you’re pregnant!) The oral medications are recommended for women that have been battling an ongoing yeast infection for a year or more.

In Conclusion

Treating any type of candida overgrowth is really a three step process.

  1. Kill the Fungus/Control the Overgrowth – You can never completely get rid of it because it’s a part of the digestive process, but you can control the overgrowth.
  2. Probiotics – Candida and probiotics both feed on the same thing…sugar, so make sure you have more probiotics in your gut rather than candida.
  3. Diet – Eliminate processed foods and sugar and instead opt for as much nutrient dense food as you can.

Treating a yeast infection while pregnant can be a very stressful and frustrating thing when you feel like no matter what you do, you can’t really get rid of it. It’s not something to be taken lightly, however, because if a baby is born vaginally when the mother has a yeast infection, it can pass the candida on to the baby, which may turn into thrush. Thrush can make breastfeeding both difficult and painful, and it is even harder to get rid of than a yeast infection during pregnancy. Read by blog: How to Identify and Deal with Oral Thrush in Babies for more information about this topic.

So, do whatever you can to completely eliminate your yeast infection during pregnancy by following the steps that make sense to you and your situation. Good Luck!

Why Pregnant Women are More Prone to Yeast Infections and Gestational Diabetes

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Why Pregnant Women are More Prone to Yeast Infections

The real reason why pregnant women get yeast infections (or any woman for that matter) isn’t really talked about or widely known in laymen’s terms. The same reasons are what also contributes to pregnant women getting gestational diabetes. When I’ve asked the Internet to tell me about this topic, every single blog, website, and article seems to regurgitate the same simplistic information, but I am sick of treating the symptoms of yeast infections during pregnancy without really knowing WHY, and so I set out to find the root cause, and this is what I found.

Eating Ice Cream While Pregnant

Eating Ice Cream While Pregnant

The real reason why pregnant women get yeast infections has to do with these two main factors:

  1. The increase in estrogen while pregnant (which also occurs during menstruation, from oral contraceptives, and through hormone replacement therapy) leads to an increase in glycogen, which is supposed to “feed” the lactobacilli that reside in a healthy vagina, but if no lactobacilli are present (thanks to antibiotics for one or just poor gut flora for another) and candida is present, the candida will grow unchecked until there is an overgrowth, hence creating a yeast infection.
  2. Human Placental Lactogen hormone (hPL), which is produced by the placenta in increasing amounts until the 23rd week when it plateaus, shuttles incoming glucose to the baby, meanwhile leaving the mother hungry so she reaches for more and more “glucose” which creates higher and higher blood sugar that can lead to insulin resistance and gestational diabetes at an accelerated rate, and this high blood sugar paves the way for candida growth and yeast infections.

So basically, when pregnant women have poor gut flora and continue to eat large amounts of sugar, it sets up an environment that is the “perfect storm” for yeast infections. If you’d like to explore these concepts further, come and learn with me, but if you’re just “itchin'” for a cure, check out my blog: How to Get Rid of a Yeast Infection While Pregnant.

The Role of Glycogen in the Vagina

The vaginal walls are made up of vaginal squamous epithelial cells that store glycogen. Glycogen is how the body stores small amounts of carbohydrates which are later broken down into glucose and used by the cells for energy.

Vaginal Squamous Epithelial Cells (Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Fæ, 2013)

Vaginal Squamous Epithelial Cells (Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Fæ, 2013)

In the vagina, glycogen acts as a prebiotic that feeds lactobacilli bacteria (commonly known as a probiotic, or good bacteria). So basically, the lactobacilli bacteria feeds on the glycogen.

Lactobacillus Organisms and Vaginal Squamous Epithelial Cell (Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Rasbak, 2006)

Lactobacillus Organisms and Vaginal Squamous Epithelial Cell (Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Rasbak, 2006)

During this process of feeding on the glycogen, lactobacilli produce two byproducts. The first byproduct is lactic acid, which helps to further reduce the pH of the vagina. The second byproduct is hydrogen peroxide, which is also acidic and repels unfriendly vaginal flora, such as candida albicans, escherichia coli, and gardnerella vaginalis (this is why there are natural remedies to cure yeast infections that call for the use of hydrogen perioxide). So basically, the role of glycogen (how the body stores carbohydrates, i.e. sugar) is to feed lactobacilli bacteria, which helps to keep the vagina in its optimal acidic state.

How Estrogen Effects Glycogen

When estrogen levels are high (specifically estridol), it encourages more glycogen to be released. Estrogen levels are high during menstruation, from the use of oral contraceptives, through hormone replacement therapy, and they are especially through the roof high during pregnancy. So when estrogen levels are high, the lactobacilli bacteria should have more to feed on due to the increase in glycogen. This is the body’s way of ensuring extra protection against microbial pathogens during a special time when the body is preparing to grow life.

How Glycogen Feeds Candida

Now, let’s say that more glycogen is being released due to an increase in estrogen, but there aren’t enough lactobacilli bacteria (maybe because a dose of antibiotics wiped them all out or there were just never many to begin with due to poor gut flora) to consume them. What then? Well, what we would have then is a vagina ripe with glycogen, which will be released into the vagina as glucose. So there will be a nice sugary vagina. And let’s see, what likes sugar?

Candida!

Candida albicans is a fungus, or a yeast, that lives in everyone’s gastrointestinal tract as one of the microbes that aid in digestion.

Candida Albicans (Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Y tambe, 2005)

Candida Albicans (Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Y tambe, 2005)

It also makes it’s way into most women’s vaginas via the anus and lives there benignly until it’s given an opportunity to feed voraciously. (Don’t wipe back to front!) When someone takes antibiotics to wipe out a bacterial infection, it also wipes out all of the good bacteria (lactobacilli) too. Poor gut flora can also happen over time due to a diet rich in sugar and carbohydrates.

So without the competition of lactobacilli, candida can feed on the increased glycogen uninhibited, and it can lead to an overgrowth of candida. This overgrowth of candida is what is commonly referred to as a yeast infection. (If you want to learn more about how Candida transforms from a benign unicellular yeast to a destructive multicellular fungus, this is a great article.)

Human Placental Lactogen (hPL)

So estrogen is why menstruating women, women on birth control, and women on hormone replacement therapy are more prone to yeast infections, but human placental lactogen (hPL) is why pregnant women (who have more estrogen coursing through their veins than ever before) are even more prone to getting really serious yeast infections that are very hard to get rid of.

hPL is produced by the placenta in a greater amount than any other hormone during pregnancy. Its primary function is to prepare the breasts for lactation by stimulating breast growth and the secretion of colostrum, but it also affects the way that the mother uses food for energy. It does this by decreasing the mother’s use of amino acids (protein) and glucose (carbohydrates) so that it can instead shuttle them over to the growing fetus. It also stimulates the breakdown of maternal fats (lipolysis) which is usually done by Hormone Sensitive Lipase (HSL) when the mother is not pregnant. The mother then uses these fatty acids for energy and saves the glucose for the baby.

hPL Leads to Insulin Resistance

Insulin is what allows the cells to use glucose for energy. I like to think of insulin like a parent and glucose as a lost child. Glucose enters the body, but can’t figure out where to go. Insulin comes along, holds glucose’s hand, and leads it into the cells where it can be converted into energy via cellular respiration or stored for later use as glycogen or in fat cells. When too much glucose is in the blood stream over a long period of time, however, cells can start to become resistant to it, and so the body releases more insulin to combat the increasing blood sugar, but over time, the insulin isn’t as effective, and this is what is known as insulin resistance.

hPL makes a pregnant women rapidly become insulin resistant, and the research that I’ve seen is a little foggy on why this occurs. But by the 23rd week of pregnancy, hPL has reached its peak with a 30-fold increase. This increase in hPL can cause an increasing resistance in the mother’s tissue to insulin that can make her blood sugar start to go through the roof.

I feel like the logical explanation is that diet is at least partially to blame for this insulin resistance. If a woman isn’t fat adapted leading up to pregnancy, meaning that she’s not able to easily use fat (including stored fat) for energy, and is instead a sugar burner who can only use the fleeting resources of glucose for energy, then when hPL shuttles the incoming glucose to the baby and induces lipolysis that breaks down fat to be used for energy that she’s not able to use, she feels absolutely STARVING. And then, rather than cook some wholesome bone broth soup, or make some grass fed beef burgers, or even take the time to cook an organic baked potato loaded with butter, cheese, and sour cream, she instead reaches for a bag of chips or treats herself to a milkshake because, “Hey, I’m eating for two, for once in my life I don’t have to worry about gaining weight, and back off because…I’M STARVING!”.

And THEN, the poor hPL surging, insulin resistant, and constantly hungry mother takes her glucose screening test between 24-28 weeks, and if she finds out that her blood sugar is too high, she will have to practically eliminate all sugar so that she won’t get gestational diabetes.

Gestational Diabetes

When the mother has high blood sugar that leads to gestational diabetes, her excess sugar enters the baby’s blood stream and forces its pancreas to make extra insulin. Because the baby is getting more energy than it needs, the extra energy is stored as fat, which is known scientifically as “fat” baby or macrosomia. This can cause damage to the babies’ shoulders at birth and lead to an increased risk of c-sections.

Because of the extra insulin produced, newborns may have low blood glucose levels at birth and are at higher risk for breathing problems. (Not to mention that they’ll want to give your baby formula or sugar water at birth which could affect your breastfeeding relationship.) It also makes them more at risk for insulin resistance, obesity, and type 2 diabetes as adults. Gestational diabetes affects up to 9.2% of pregnancies

How hSL Contributes to Candida

Just as an increase in estrogen leads to the increased production of glycogen that leads to a more “sugary vagina”, the hormone hSL does the same thing by leading to insulin resistance which creates higher blood sugar, and once again, a more “sugary vagina” that gives the candida more to feed on. In a vagina that has been stripped of lactobacilli that typically feed on the increased sugar during pregnancy, the candida have no competition and can multiply unchecked until they create an overgrowth known as a yeast infection.

How to Prevent a Yeast Infection

When you get pregnant, just know that you are going to be super susceptible to getting yeast infections and take every precautionary measure that you can to prevent one from starting.

  • Don’t take antibiotics, and if you do, follow up with a good probiotic like this or this.
  • Don’t eat too much sugar (or foods that break down easily into sugar, i.e. all refined carbohydrates). Eat a balanced diet that includes lots of healthy saturated fats.
  • Eat lots of lacto-fermented foods (sourdough, kombucha, sauerkraut, keifer, yogurt) to help build a colony of lactobacilli.
  • Avoid douching and keep your vagina clean using mild, unscented soap and water.
  • Wipe from front to back to avoid spreading bacteria and yeast from your anus to your vagina.
  • Wear good cotton underwear like these. And don’t wear pantyliners every day because of “leaking”. Just change your panties! Your vagina needs to breathe.
  • Avoid tight fitting pants. Instead, get comfortable in something like this.
  • Change out of a wet swimsuit right away. This just creates an optimal breeding ground for candida.

In Conclusion

In a nutshell, the real reason that we get more yeast infections while pregnant has to do with our changing hormones, namely the increase of estrogen and the presence and increase of hPL and how they both lead to a “sugary vagina” that becomes an optimal breeding ground for candida, especially when there aren’t any good lactobacilli bacteria to consume the extra sugar.

If you’re pregnant and not experiencing any signs of a yeast infection, just be careful and take preventative measures to assure that you don’t get one, but if it’s too late for prevention, and you already have a yeast infection while pregnant (or think you might), you’ll want to check out my blog: How to Get Rid of a Yeast Infection While Pregnant. Having a yeast infection while pregnant can lead to both you and your baby dealing with thrush, and that is just nasty business. Read my blog: How to Identify and Deal with Oral Thrush in Babies to learn more about this topic.

How Insulin Can Make Us Fat…and What to Do About It

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It’s not eating fats that makes us fat, it’s too many carbohydrates that make us fat. In his book, Why We Get Fat, Gary Taubes explains how it’s not as simple as “calories in, calories out” and that it doesn’t matter how many calories we consume, but what kind.

Not all of us get fat when we eat carbohydrates, but for those of us who do get fat, carbohydrates are to blame; the fewer carbohydrates we eat, the leaner we will be” (p.134).

So WHY DO carbohydrates make us fat, and why does eating a carbohydrate rich diet make us overeat and gain weight? In a nutshell, the answer lies with the hormone insulin. Insulin is secreted to help the body metabolize glucose that comes from the breakdown of all carbohydrates. The longer our insulin levels are raised, the less time we spend burning stored fat. If we want to lose weight and access some of the fat we’ve been storing, we HAVE to lower our insulin.

The problem is that over time, for a variety of reasons, we become insulin resistant. To be more specific, our cells become insulin resistant as they protect themselves from an onslaught of glucose. When this happens, insulin is coursing through our veins even when we haven’t eaten anything or worse, when we have eaten, but none of the glucose can get into the cells and so we STARVE at the cellular level. This makes us hungry and we keeping eating and eating and eating, but we aren’t getting satisfied.

And thus begins a vicious cycle where we’re not getting fat because we’re eating too much, but we’re eating too much because we’re getting fat.

Here is a great look at how insulin makes us store fat. This diabetic man below injected himself with insulin in the same spots on his lower abdomen for more than 30 years. As a result he got lipohypertrophy, which isn’t the result of “eating too much” but rather of insulin doing it’s job of storing fat in a central and localized area.

Location of Insulin Shots

Location of Insulin Shots (Photo Credit: New England Journal of Medicine)

Insulin’s Role in Digestion

1. The pancreas begins secreting insulin when we simply think about eating carbohydrates. We may not have been really hungry before, but once we start to think about eating a freshly glazed doughnut or a big plate of spaghetti, we realize that we are suddenly STARVING. This is the insulin doing it’s job; it’s preparing our body for what we are about to eat.

2. Insulin shuttles glucose into cells. As glucose enters our bloodstream, insulin is release. Like a traffic cop directly traffic, insulin guides the glucose into the cells. (Physical activity can also drive glucose from the bloodstream into the muscles to be burned as fuel.) If cells don’t need any glucose, insulin will guide it to be stored as glycogen in the liver and muscle. Once glycogen store are full, excess glucose is converted into fat.

3. Carbohydrates are easiest to metabolize and so they are digested first. Any fat coming in at the same time will be stored as fat and dealt with later. So if you were to eat a slice of bread and butter, the bread will be digested first and the butter will be dealt with later. Protein can be used for energy if needed, but is mainly used to build and repair and therefore typically cannot be stored as fat.

4. Insulin stimulates the lipoprotein lipase (LPL) enzyme that pulls fat from the bloodstream into the fat cells. Insulin just wants us to survive. When there is a lot of glucose coming in, it is like a squirrel storing away nuts for the winter, and it tries to store away whatever glucose isn’t immediately being needed elsewhere. When insulin is present, more LPL enzymes are stimulated to pull fat into the fat cells.

5. At the same time, insulin is also suppressing the hormone sensitive lipase (HSL) enzyme which is responsible for making fat leave the fat cells. When there are individual fatty acids in the bloodstream, they are small enough to pass back and forth through the cell membrane. But once a glycerol molecule binds together with three fatty acids, it forms a triglyceride, and a triglyceride is too big to leave the fat cell. The only way a triglyceride can be broken down is with the help of HSL. When insulin is present, it prevents the HSL from breaking apart the triglyceride so the fat remains trapped inside the fat cell, and we are unable to use it as fuel.

6. Once our blood sugar levels begin to decrease, the insulin levels will also decrease (in a normal functioning metabolism). When this happens, any fat that was ingested with the carbohydrates can now be burned as fuel.

7. What if insulin levels don’t decrease? If the body is constantly bombard with more carbohydrates than it needs, it starts to become insulin resistant. This means that the insulin isn’t able to do it’s job and so the bloodstream is flooded with excess insulin and glucose leaving a person with high blood sugar.

Insulin Resistance

  • Insulin resistance starts in the womb. As the pancreas of the child develops, it must secrete more insulin if the mother has high blood sugar. When it is born, it will have a tendency to over secrete insulin, become insulin resistant, and then become fat as it gets older. Gary Taubes points out that, “in animal studies, this predisposition often manifests itself only when the animal reaches its version of middle age” (p. 132)
  • The bottom line is that too much glucose over a long period of time is too much for our bodies to handle. Too much sugar is toxic not only to the blood, but to the cells as well. In his article on the Weston A. Price Foundation website, “Treating Diabetes: Practical Advice for Combatting a Modern Epidemic“, Tomas Cowan, MD, explains that, “The cells build a shield or wall around themselves to slow down this influx of excess sugar. Insulin resistance is a protective or adaptive response, it is the best the body can do to protect the cells from too much glucose.”
  • When insulin remains elevated, the fat in the bloodstream, the fat stored in the fat cells, the protein stored in the muscle cells, and the carbohydrates stored as glycogen in the liver and muscle tissue cannot be used as fuel. As a result, the cells find themselves starved for fuel and we get hungry…starving in fact. Either we eat sooner than we otherwise would have or we eat more when we do. Meanwhile, our bodies are getting bigger because we’re putting on more fat, and we’re also building more muscle to support that fat. Gary Taubes explains that, “As we fatten, our energy demand increases, and our appetite will increase for this reason as well – particularly our appetite for carbohydrates, because this is the only nutrient our cells burn for fuel when insulin is elevated” (p. 126). And thus, we’re not getting fatter because we’re eating more, we’re eating more because we’re getting fatter.
  • Just getting older makes us more insulin resistant. As we age, we secrete more insulin, which results in more calories being diverted to fat and fewer calories being left to fuel the body. This leaves the cells to generate less energy. So we’re not getting fat because our metabolisms are slowing down, our metabolisms are slowing down because we’re getting fat. As we become insulin resistant, a whole host of other problems start to arise: our blood pressure goes up, our triglyceride levels go up, our HDL cholesterol goes down, and so on. Tomas Cowan, MD, explains that,
  • “Having a chronically elevated insulin level is detrimental for many other reasons. Not only do high insulin levels cause obesity (insulin tells your body to store fat), but they also signal that fluid should be retained, leading to edema and hypertension. Chronic high insulin provokes plaque development inside the arteries and also suppresses growth hormone needed for the regeneration of the tissues and many other physiological responses.”

Diabetes

When either the pancreas can’t make enough insulin to deal with the incoming sugar or the cells have become resistant to the insulin over a long period of time, it can lead to diabetes.  25.8 million people in America have diabetes. That’s 8.3% of the population.

Complications from diabetes can lead to heart disease and stroke, high blood pressure, blindness, kidney disease, nervous system disease, and amputation. Gary Taubes explains how diseases such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension and stroke, cancer, Alzheimer’s, cavities, appendicitis, ulcers, gallstones, hemorrhoids, varicose veins, and constipation are common in societies that eat Western diets and are virtually nonexistent in societies that don’t. But it’s not ALL aspects of a western diet, as mainstream nutritionists and public health officials would have us believe, that lead to these maladies. It’s the sugar, carbohydrates, and how our body reacts to insulin.

  1. Treating Diabetes: Practical Advice for Combatting a Modern Epidemic“, Tomas Cowan, MD “Unless eaten to great excess, fats do not contribute to diabetes–with one exception. Trans fatty acids in partially hydrogenated vegetable oils can cause insulin resistance. When these man-made fats get built into the cell membrane, they interfere with the insulin receptors. In theory, this means that one could develop insulin resistance without eating lots of carbohydrates. But in practice, partially hydrogenated vegetable oils are always used in the very high-carbohydrate foods–french fries, cookies, crackers, donuts and margarine on bread or potatoes–that flood the bloodstream with sugar. Trans fatty acids in modern processed foods present a double whammy for which the human species has developed no defenses.”
  2. “During the 1980s, researchers began to ask whether obesity, coronary artery disease, hypertension and other common medical problems that occur together are really separate diseases, or manifestations of one common physiological defect. The evidence now points to one defect and that is hyperinsulinemia, or excessive insulin levels in the blood. Hyperinsulinemia is the physiological event that links virtually all of our degenerative diseases. It is the biochemical corollary or marker of the events described in heart disease.”

How to Lose Weight

So now that we know what makes us fat (insulin), what can we do about it? In terms of weight loss, there are basically three categories.

  1. People who want to lose weight (either a lot of weight or a little weight)
  2. People who don’t want to lose weight (either because they just don’t want to or they’re not fat)
  3. People who are growing (children, pregnant and lactating women, and people who need to gain weight)

For the people who want to lose weight, here is what Gary Taubes suggests that you do.

1. The first thing to understand is why the “calories in, calories out” theory is wrong. When we see ourselves putting on a little weight, there’s a little voice in our heads that tries to to motivate us throughout the day, “Just stop eating so much!” it says. But it’s not that simple.

  • Gary Taubes talks about a group of women who tried to do just that. In 1990, the National Institute of Health conducted a study that they hoped would answer whether low fat diets prevented heart disease or cancer. So they spent one billion dollars and had 20,000 women eat a low-fat diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and fiber. These women also cut their caloric intake by about 360 calories per day. After eight years, they lost an average of two pounds each and their waist circumference increased, meaning that the weight they lost was lean muscle. Also, they still got just as much cancer and heart disease.
  • We could cut calories to the point of starvation to try to lose weight, but our bodies would just adapt in other ways. Our body temperatures would decrease, we would expend less energy, we would be cranky, irritable, and not to mention STARVING, and then the only way we could maintain this weight loss would be to maintain a lifetime of starvation. Does that seem possible? I didn’t think so. So if cutting calories doesn’t make us lose weight, increasing calories shouldn’t make us gain weight.
  • That’s because it’s not about how many calories we eat, but what kind of calories we eat. Thinking that a person gets overweight because they can’t control their eating or that they should just be better at portion control is just plain wrong. Saying that a person gaining weight is a result of their immoral gluttony is like saying an alcoholic becomes dependent on alcohol because of the sinful act of drinking. It’s kind of like, well duh! But the real questions should be: WHY do some people overeat? WHY do some people store all of their incoming calories as fat? WHY so some people drink to excess? and WHY do some people become addicted to the altered state that alcohol brings? These questions will get us to the real root cause of the problem. If it were as simple as “calories in, calories out”, then the very act of eating one extra slice of bread over the course of twenty years would make us gain an extra fifty pounds, and conversely, we should be able to lose that extra fifty pounds by eliminating the equivalent of one slice of bread to see the pounds gradually waste away. But it doesn’t work like that.
  • Also, it’s helpful to think about growing children in this scenario. Children do not grow because they are eating too much; they start to eat more because they are growing. If you were to restrict a child’s calories, they would still grow, their growth would just come at a cost to their internal organs, brain functions, and growth quality. Children grow because of hormones. The hormones are telling their bodies where and how to grow. It is the same with adults. Male hormones tell a man to gain weight in his abdomen, female hormones tell a woman to gain weight in her hips, butt, and thighs, and the hormone insulin, stimulated by the overabundance of glucose, tells our body to store fat.

2. If you don’t want your body to store fat, then don’t eat sugar. It’s as simple as that. Sugar stimulates the “reward center” of the brain in the same way that heroin, cocaine, nicotine, alcohol, and other addictive substances will. All food does this to some degree, but sugar seems to hijack the signal to an unnatural degree by flooding the neurotransmitters with an unparalleled amount of dopamine. You can quit eating sugar, but it will take the same vigilance as a drug addict trying to kick his or her drug habit. (Actually, according to a new study, sugar is more addictive than cocaine.)  When trying to decide between eliminating carbohydrates completely or simply limiting them, Gary Taubes explains, “If you continue to eat some of the fattening carbohydrates or allow yourself some sugar (or even, artificial sweeteners), though, you may always have the cravings” (p. 123).

3. What about high fructose corn syrup? High fructose corn syrup is made up of about 55% fructose and 42% glucose. So when the glucose enters the bloodstream, it raises blood sugar, and stimulates insulin. The fructose, however, is metabolized almost exclusively in the liver. When the liver is flooded with that much fructose, it turns most of it into fat. Because insulin levels are raised from the glucose, the fat is immediately shuttled into fat cells. The more high fructose corn syrup we consume and the longer we do so creates a pattern that our bodies adapt to by converting the fructose directly to fat. Over time, this also creates a fatty liver and causes muscle tissue to become resistant to insulin. A very fascinating point made by Gary Taubes states that, “It’s quite possible that if we never ate these sugars we might never become fat or diabetic, even if the bulk of our diet were still starchy carbohydrate and flour” (p. 138). He explains further that this could be why some of the world’s poorest populations live on carbohydrate rich diets and don’t get fat or diabetic. I believe that two of the biggest culprits here are sodas and breakfast cereals. Eliminate these right away!

4. Next, cut out all carbohydrates (or greatly reduce them), and replace them with fats. And not just any fats…saturated fats.  (Read The Truth About Fats, How We Were Duped Into Thinking Saturated Fat and Cholesterol Are Bad, Butter is a Superfood, and Choosing the Right Oils to Cook With to learn more about eating the right kind of fats.) As we do this, we’re creating a radical shift in the fuel our cells will burn for energy. When we consume less than sixty or so grams of carbohydrates a day (a slice of pizza has 40 grams), our body will enter what is called a state of ketosis. Now instead of running primarily on carbohydrates, our body (and brain) must get used to running on fats…including the fat that has been stored in our body. The side effects of this transition could include weakness, fatigue, nausea, dehydration, diarrhea, constipation, dizziness, and light-headedness. But these carbohydrate withdrawal symptoms are short lived and are far outweighed by the benefits of living a longer, leaner, and healthier life.

5. What about hypoglycemia? Neither hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) or hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)  is good. When blood sugar dips too low, you can become disoriented, confused, shaky, jittery, anxious, and irritable, and if the situation persists, you can slip into a coma and die. The body reacts to low blood sugar by producing adrenaline and releasing the carbohydrates we’ve stored as fat called glucogen. As a person recovers from hypoglycemia, he or she may need to be very careful by gradually reducing carbohydrates to a safe level.

6. What about protein? One point of caution with this “Atkin’s diet” mentality is trying to eat too much protein without the accompanying fat. By keeping protein to 20-25% of the diet, symptoms like weakness, nausea, and diarrhea can be avoided. So eat the egg whites with the yolk, don’t drain the fat after browning meat, and cook your food in loads of butter and coconut oil.

7. What about vegetables? Vegetables are broken down into carbohydrates. It takes much longer for them to be digested because they contain more water and fewer digestible carbohydrates for their weight than starches like potatoes. As a result, they will have a minimal effect on blood sugar. But this effect, however small it might be, could still be a problem for some people with severe insulin resistance or diabetes.

8. What about fruit? Gary Taubes explains that, “If we’re predisposed to put on fat, it’s a good bet that fruit will make the problem worse, not better” (p. 136).

9. But if I don’t eat any carbohydrates, won’t I get constipated? Gary Taubes states that, “It is a misconception that carbohydrate-restricted diets cause constipation” (p. 222). By adding sodium back into the diet (I advice Real Salt or bone broth), he explains that this problem can be easily handled. If not, I recommend getting some psyllium husk.

10. Fasting for 18-24 hours might work to break through plateaus of weight loss, but achieving weight loss through semi-starvation can only be maintained if the dieter can keep eating less and less food. When the body is in semi-starvation mode, the fat cells will be working hard to recoup the fat they’re losing.

In Conclusion

Making a major change in diet after eating the same way for a really long time can create some radical changes in the body and being able to talk to a doctor or nutritionist during this transition is advised, but Gary Taubes points out that, “physicians who tell their fat patients to eat less and exercise more, and particularly to eat the kind of low-fat, high carbohydrate diet that the authorities recommend, will not be sued for malpractice should any of those patients have a heart attack two weeks or even two months later” (p. 216). It would be nice if doctors REALLY had our best interests in mind when “guiding us”, but they are compelled to repeat the same mantra that has misled our nation into rampant obesity, heart disease, and cancer. When it comes to the nutrition for me and my family, I prefer to be an advocate for our own health, do my own research, and whenever possible let FOOD be our medicine.

For further reading: