Yeast infections are a problem for many people.
Theyâ€™re most often caused by Candida yeasts, especially Candida albicans (1).
If you think you may have a yeast infection, the first thing you should do is talk to your medical provider.
However, several foods and dietary changes may also help.
Here are 5 diet tips to fight Candida infections.
1. Coconut oil
Candida yeasts are microscopic fungi found around the skin, mouth, or gut (2).
Theyâ€™re usually harmless but may cause infections when your bodyâ€™s defenses are weakened.
Plants have their own defenses against yeasts and other fungi, and some produce compounds that are toxic to fungi.
Coconut oil is almost 50% lauric acid. This makes it one of the richest dietary sources of this compound, which rarely occurs in high amounts in food.
Test-tube studies suggest that lauric acid is very effective against Candida yeasts. As such, coconut oil may have similar effects (3, 4, 5).
For this reason, using coconut oil as mouthwash â€” a method known as oil pulling â€” may curb thrush, or Candida infections in your mouth.
Keep in mind that human studies are needed to confirm these benefits.
Several factors may make some people more prone to Candida infections, including diabetes and a weakened or suppressed immune system.
Antibiotics may also increase your risk, as strong dosages sometimes kill a portion of the beneficial bacteria in your gut (1, 2).
These bacteria are a part of your bodyâ€™s natural defenses against Candida yeasts. They protect against infections by competing with them for space and nutrients (6).
Probiotics may help restore these populations of beneficial bacteria (7).
Probiotics are live bacteria often found in fermented foods, such as yogurt with active cultures. They can also be taken in supplements.
Studies suggest that probiotics may fight Candida infections (8).
A 12-week study in 215 older adults showed that taking lozenges containing 2 strains of the probiotic Lactobacillus reuteri significantly reduced the amount of Candida yeasts in their mouths (9).
In another study in 65 people with thrush, taking probiotics significantly improved the effectiveness of a conventional antifungal treatment (10).
Probiotics may also reduce the growth of Candida in your gut, and some evidence indicates that vaginal capsules with Lactobacillus probiotics may combat vaginal yeast infections (11, 12, 13, 14).
3. A low-sugar diet
Yeasts grow faster when sugar is readily available in their environment (15, 16, 17).
In fact, high levels of sugar in your bloodstream increase your risk of Candida infections (1, 18, 19, 20).
In one study, sugar increased Candida growth in the digestive system of mice with weakened immune systems (21).
In a human study, rinsing with dissolved sugar (sucrose) has been linked to increased infections and higher yeast counts in the mouth (22).
On the other hand, another human study found that a high-sugar diet did not affect Candida growth in the mouth or digestive system (23).
However, human studies are limited, and more research is needed (24).
Even if a low-sugar diet may not always be effective against yeasts, eliminating added sugar from your diet will improve your health in many other ways.
Garlic is another plant food with strong antifungal properties. This is partly due to allicin, a substance that forms when fresh garlic is crushed or damaged (25).
Test-tube research also indicates that garlic extract may reduce yeastsâ€™ ability to attach to the cells lining your mouth (27).
However, garlic provides only tiny amounts of allicin, whereas most studies use high doses.
One 14-day study in women found that taking garlic supplements in capsules did not affect vaginal yeast infections (28).
Overall, more clinical trials are needed to determine whether eating garlic has any treatment value in humans.
Nevertheless, spicing up your food with garlic is safe and healthy. It might also work well alongside conventional Candida treatments.
Keep in mind that using raw garlic in sensitive areas, such as your mouth, can be harmful and cause severe chemical burns (29, 30).
Curcumin is one of the main active components of turmeric, a popular Indian spice (31).
Test-tube research indicates that curcumin may kill Candida yeasts â€” or at least reduce their growth (32, 33, 34, 35).
Another study suggested that curcumin may reduce yeastsâ€™ ability to attach to cells from the mouths of people with HIV. In fact, curcumin was more effective than fluconazole, an antifungal drug (36).
Nonetheless, studies are limited to test tubes. Itâ€™s unclear whether curcumin supplements have effects in humans.
The bottom line
If you think you have a yeast infection, see your medical practitioner for an antifungal medication.
If you tend to get a lot of these infections, following a healthy diet or taking supplements like probiotics may help.
On their own, these diet strategies are far from being an effective treatment. But as a preventative measure, or alongside medication, they could make a difference.