Natural Antifungal Remedies

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Overview

Fungal infections affect over a billion people worldwide.1,2 Among an estimated 150,000 fungal species, 700 are associated with humans. Some reside naturally within the body, while others are triggered by a weakened immune system. While most fungal infections are manageable with medication and natural remedies, some can be life-threatening and must be treated by professionals.3 More mild fungal infections affecting the skin, scalp, nails, and vaginal region can be treated using natural remedies, due to the limitations of antifungal drugs currently available. Natural remedies can involve using essential oils, aloe vera, and garlic topically on the skin. Diet, hygiene and other minor lifestyle adjustments, like wearing breathable clothing, may also reduce infection.

Common types of fungal infections

There are around 150,000 identified species of fungi, and of these, 700 have been associated with humans.1 Of these 700, some live naturally within the human body and are kept under control by the immune system, which prevents any health problems from arising.1,2 Some, however, cause illness and disease when there is overgrowth of the fungi, often when the immune system is weakened.1 It is estimated that there are a billion people with fungal infections globally, most of which are superficial, meaning they do not affect the entire body’s systems.2,3

The most common fungal infections occur on the skin, scalp, or nails.2,3 These are commonly caused by groups of fungi called Dermatophytes or Candida, as well as some other less common fungi.4,5 On the scalp, Dermatophytes manifest as broken hairs, hair loss, and sores. Other fungi on the scalp can cause greasy and scaly skin, commonly known as dandruff. On the face, body, feet, and hands, fungal infections can cause the formation of rashes that have raised, red bumps, red patches, or greasy and scaly skin. On the feet, this is often referred to as athlete's foot and is caused by a common fungus called Tinea.2,4,5 A fungal infection commonly known as ringworm also occurs on the body, causing a rash with circular red rings to form.4 On the nails, fungal infections cause them to discolour and deform, becoming yellow or green with unnatural and rough textures.4 

Hundreds of millions of people are affected by oral, throat, and vaginal infections due to overgrowth of the Candida fungi.2,3,4 These are very common among women, often known as yeast infections or thrush, and are identified by yellowish-white plaques that are expelled from the mouth or vagina.2,4,6,7 Fungal infections in the groin area can also cause red patches and scaly skin.4

There are also allergic infections, which affect around 23 million people and are types of common fungal infections.2 These are  fungal infections in the sinuses that  cause sticky mucus and the infected sinus to become blocked. 

Consultation and professional advice

It is important to note that some fungal infections can be life-threatening, cause serious illness, and significantly affect quality of life.3 This is usually when fungi enter your body through the airways or by ingestion and cause systemic issues.2 These types of infections affect several million people worldwide, often those with weakened immune systems, and have high fatality rates. So if you think you may have a fungal infection, particularly one causing widespread issues throughout your body, make sure to consult your doctor immediately before trying natural remedies.1 Early diagnosis and prescribed therapies are imperative to prevent serious illness and death. In this article, we focus only on the application of natural remedies to superficial fungal infections that are not life-threatening and only affect a localised area.

Current antifungal drugs

The antifungal drugs currently available have some limitations. They lack specificity, meaning that they may act on other areas or on other fungi in the body, rather than the intended target.6 They are also toxic, and because they are not specific enough, they may also act on human cells, causing side effects. These drugs, particularly those that act on oral and vaginal thrush infections, are sometimes not effective enough, resulting in resistant fungi that do not respond to the drugs.6,8 Many antifungal drugs have limited effect  and are not used due to toxicity, cost, and their interactions with other drugs.9 This is why home remedies and preventative lifestyle changes can be beneficial if you have recurring fungal infections.

Plant and herbal remedies

Some herbs and plants contain antifungal properties that control fungal growth and prevent infection.8 Many medications also use these properties as active ingredients to fight infections. In particular, studies have shown conclusive evidence that essential oils extracted from plants and herbs have antifungal properties, these include:5,7,9,10,11

The exact mechanism of preventing fungal growth and infection by essential oils is not known, but there is evidence that shows essential oils are effective in reducing fungal infection.7,9,10,11 Essential oils are thought to have antifungal and antiseptic properties that reduce fungal growth and also have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects on the body. Other essential oils thought to be effective in treating fungal infections but have less substantial evidence include lemongrass, citronella, lemon myrtle, palmarosa, and patchouli oils.7 Essential oils can be applied topically to the area of your infection. Pure and concentrated essential oils need to be mixed with a carrier oil, like coconut oil, for safe application.

Garlic comprises a compound that interferes with fungal cell processes, weakening and killing fungal cells and preventing infection.5,11,12 Garlic cloves can be crushed into a paste, or garlic essential oil can be mixed with a carrier oil, like olive oil or coconut oil, and applied topically to a fungal infection. Aloe vera gel from the aloe vera plant has been shown in some studies to have soothing effects on fungal infections and is applied topically to the infected area to stimulate healing.13 

Remedies for thrush

A natural remedy for vaginal thrush is mixing yoghurt and honey and applying it inside the vagina for around a week.15 A study has found that, when compared to antibiotic cream, using a mix of yoghurt and honey had similar effects and was more effective at soothing symptoms. This may be due to these natural products  having antimicrobial properties that stimulate the immune system and prevent the growth of fungi. Wearing loose, cotton underwear is also helpful in relieving symptoms.15 

Dietary adjustments

The environment inside your body, particularly the bacteria and fungi that grow in your gut microbiome, is a major contributing factor to fungal growth and the occurrence of infection.6 Eating disorders, malnutrition, and certain deficiencies can cause fungal infections like oral candidiasis, an infection in the mouth. Deficiencies in iron, zinc, magnesium, vitamin A, and vitamin B may put you at higher risk of recurring infections, so incorporating foods high in these nutrients into your diet may reduce that risk. 

Some studies also suggest that making dietary changes may reduce your likelihood of developing fungal infections in your gut, and potentially have an effect on your overall susceptibility to infections elsewhere:6,9

  • Avoid high-sugar foods
  • Reduce consumption of carbohydrates, particularly complex carbohydrates
  • Incorporate antifungal herbs such as ginger, clove, turmeric, and garlic
  • Incorporate probiotics to reduce fungal and bacterial growth

Lifestyle changes for preventing fungal infections

Fungal infections like thrush can be caused by poor hygiene, so proper hygiene practices should be incorporated into your everyday life to prevent fungal overgrowth.6,15 Wearing breathable clothing such as loose cotton will reduce further irritation of the infected area on the skin or vaginal area. Regularly cleaning the infected area with unscented soaps is beneficial, as soaps can be toxic to some fungi.9 It is also a good idea to avoid damp or humid environments where mould is likely to grow, or to get a dehumidifier to reduce the humidity where you work or live.

Summary

The use of natural remedies to combat fungal infections, affecting  more than a billion people worldwide, is becoming an important tool alongside the current drugs available. These antifungal drugs are essential, particularly for life-threatening fungal infections; however, they are not always effective, can cause side effects, and drug resistance can cause recurring infections. There are many topical treatments that can be applied to fungal infections, such as essential oils, aloe vera gel, garlic paste, and yoghurt and honey cream. A reduction in sugar and carbohydrate intake, as well as the addition of probiotic yoghurt and certain herbs, into your diet can also be helpful. Incorporating these treatments and making small dietary and lifestyle adjustments could be a beneficial and proactive way to prevent fungal infection.

References

  1. Mendonça A, Santos H, Franco-Duarte R, Sampaio P. Fungal infections diagnosis – Past, present and future. Research in Microbiology [Internet]. 2022;173(3):103915. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8634697/
  2. Rokas A. Evolution of the human pathogenic lifestyle in fungi. Nature Microbiology [Internet]. 2022 May 1;7(5):607–19. Available from: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41564-022-01112-0
  3. Bongomin F, Gago S, Oladele R, Denning D. Global and Multi-National Prevalence of Fungal Disease - Estimate Precision. Journal of Fungi. 2017 Oct 18;3(4):57.
  4. Gräser Y, Saunte D. A Hundred Years of Diagnosing Superficial Fungal Infections: Where Do We Come From, Where Are We Now and Where Would We Like To Go? Acta Dermato Venereologica. 2020;0.
  5. ‌Abd Rashed A, Rathi DNG, Ahmad Nasir NAH, Abd Rahman AZ. Antifungal Properties of Essential Oils and Their Compounds for Application in Skin Fungal Infections: Conventional and Nonconventional Approaches. Molecules. 2021 Feb 19;26(4):1093.
  6. Vila T, Sultan AS, Montelongo-Jauregui D, Jabra-Rizk MA. Oral Candidiasis: A Disease of Opportunity. Journal of Fungi [Internet]. 2020 Mar 1;6(1):15. Available from: https://www.mdpi.com/2309-608X/6/1/15/htm
  7. K. Mazu T, A. Bricker B, Flores-Rozas H, Y. Ablordeppey S. The Mechanistic Targets of Antifungal Agents: An Overview. Mini-Reviews in Medicinal Chemistry. 2016 Mar 7;16(7):555–78.
  8. ‌Stéphane Dorsaz, Tiia Snäkä, Favre-Godal Q, Marc P, Boulens N, Furrer P, et al. Identification and Mode of Action of a Plant Natural Product Targeting Human Fungal Pathogens. Antimicrobial agents and chemotherapy (Print). 2017 Sep 1;61(9).
  9. ‌Negri M, Salci TP, Shinobu-Mesquita CS, Capoci IRG, Svidzinski TIE, Seki Kioshima E. Early State Research on Antifungal Natural Products. Molecules [Internet]. 2014 Mar 7 [cited 2021 Aug 26];19(3):2925–56. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6271505/
  10. D’agostino, Tesse, Frippiat, Machouart, Debourgogne. Essential Oils and Their Natural Active Compounds Presenting Antifungal Properties. Molecules. 2019 Oct 15;24(20):3713.
  11. ‌Parham S, Kharazi AZ, Bakhsheshi-Rad HR, Nur H, Ismail AF, Sharif S, et al. Antioxidant, Antimicrobial and Antiviral Properties of Herbal Materials. Antioxidants [Internet]. 2020 Dec 21;9(12):1309. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7767362/
  12. Khounganian RM, Alwakeel A, Albadah A, Nakshabandi A, Alharbi S, Almslam AS. The Antifungal Efficacy of Pure Garlic, Onion, and Lemon Extracts Against Candida albicans. Cureus [Internet]. 2023 May 6;15(5):e38637. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10241316/
  13. Chelu M, Musuc AM, Popa M, Calderon Moreno J. Aloe vera-Based Hydrogels for Wound Healing: Properties and Therapeutic Effects. Gels [Internet]. 2023 Jul 3;9(7):539. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10379830/
  14. Darvishi M, Jahdi F, Hamzehgardeshi Z, Goodarzi S, Vahedi M. The Comparison of vaginal cream of mixing yogurt, honey and clotrimazole on symptoms of vaginal candidiasis. Global Journal of Health Science [Internet]. 2015 Apr 3 [cited 2020 Feb 25];7(6):p108. Available from: http://www.ccsenet.org/journal/index.php/gjhs/article/view/43971
  15. Martins N, Ferreira ICFR, Barros L, Silva S, Henriques M. Candidiasis: Predisposing Factors, Prevention, Diagnosis and Alternative Treatment. Mycopathologia [Internet]. 2014 May 1;177(5-6):223–40. Available from: https://bibliotecadigital.ipb.pt/bitstream/10198/10147/4/Natalia_Review_Mycopathologia-Revised.pdf

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This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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