An estimated 75% of women will develop vulvovaginal candidiasis (a vaginal yeast infection) during their lifetime, with a significant number (approximately 140 million women worldwide) experiencing recurrent yeast infections. Of these, 90% have infections caused by Candida albicans, a naturally occurring fungus that lives on your body. These infections are treatable with oral, topical, or suppository anti-fungals. However, doctors are noticing that yeast infections are becoming more and more treatment-resistant — and current treatment options don’t always work as well as they could.
According to ScienMag, a new study from researchers at the University of Exeter MRC Centre for Medical Mycology recently explored a potential intervention in reducing yeast infection symptoms and recurrence: zinc. Zinc, explains the Harvard School of Public Health:
is necessary for almost 100 enzymes to carry out vital chemical reactions. It is a major player in the creation of DNA, growth of cells, building proteins, healing damaged tissue, and supporting a healthy immune system.
Just like our bodies need zinc, Candida albicans also needs zinc to survive. The Candida albicans creates a zinc scavenging molecule called Pra1. Pra1 is pro-inflammatory and causes itching and inflammation: two of the major symptoms of vulvovaginal candidiasis.
In the study, published in Science Translational Medicine, the researchers took two approaches to understanding how Pra1 played a role in yeast infection development. First, in murine (mice) models, the researchers genetically deleted Pra1 from Candida albicans; after infecting the mice, no vulvovaginal inflammation was seen. Alternately, researchers applied low levels of a zinc solution to the mice models, which highlighted how zinc stopped Pra1 production and prevented inflammation from occurring.
The research team then further evaluated a zinc cream in women with frequent and recurrent yeast infections. Women in the study had a yeast infection at least one time every three months, or at least four yeast infections per year. 83% of participants had no recurring yeast infection during the course of the study.
Although these results are promising, more research is needed to better understand how zinc could be used in the realm of vulvovaginal candidiasis. In the meantime, the researchers remind everyone not to put any products in or on your genital area that are not meant to be there.
About Vulvovaginal Candidiasis
As explained above, Candida albicans is the most common cause of vulvovaginal candidiasis. However, the CDC shares that vulvovaginal candidiasis can be caused by other fungi or forms of Candida. You are more likely to get a yeast infection if you are pregnant, using hormonal birth control, are taking antibiotics, have diabetes, or are immunocompromised. A yeast infection is not a sexually transmitted infection (STI).
Symptoms, which can be extremely disruptive to daily life, can include:
- Vulvar or vaginal itching and/or irritation
- A burning sensation that might worsen during sex or while urinating
- Abnormal vaginal discharge
- This could be thin and watery or thick and white.
- Vulvar redness and swelling
- Vaginal rash