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  • The vagina harbors hundreds of different kinds of microorganisms.

  • Some tend to be especially prevalent, like Lactobacilli.

  • These bacteria produce an acid that lowers the vagina's pH,

  • limiting what can survive there and preventing against certain infections.

  • Candida yeasts are also usually present in small quantities.

  • Most of the time, these fungi are harmless.

  • The body's immune system keeps them in check while other microorganisms,

  • like Lactobacilli,

  • combat and outcompete them for nutrients and territory.

  • But under certain conditions, Candida yeasts can cause infections.

  • One species in particular, called Candida albicans,

  • is the usual culprit of vaginal thrush or yeast infections,

  • which affect 3 out of every 4 people with a vagina.

  • So, how exactly does a yeast infection happen?

  • Candida albicans yeasts are shapeshifters.

  • And when the balance within the vagina is disrupted

  • like the pH increases or there are fewer microbes to compete with

  • Candida albicans may assume their disease-causing forms.

  • They multiply and metamorphose

  • substituting their rounded structures for elongated thread-like forms called hyphae.

  • Then, they secrete enzymes that degrade the epithelial cells lining the vagina and permeate the tissue.

  • Immune cells rush to the site,

  • generating some of the most recognizable symptoms of yeast infections:

  • itching, burning, swelling, and redness.

  • These may also be accompanied by a change in vaginal discharge,

  • the fluid that's frequently flushed from the vagina to keep it healthy and clean.

  • During a yeast infection, discharge may become thicker and whiter

  • because the vagina is shedding more epithelial and Candida cells.

  • A few major factors, like antibiotic treatments and lower immunity,

  • can make people more susceptible to vaginal yeast infections.

  • When someone's immune system is compromised, from illness or otherwise,

  • their body may be unable to control Candida effectively.

  • And in treating bacterial infections, antibiotics kill harmful bacteria,

  • but they can also wipe out beneficial ones, like Lactobacilli,

  • allowing Candida to multiply more easily.

  • Many other factors also help set the stage for yeast infections.

  • Hormonal changes and diet alter the vaginal microbiome.

  • Semen is relatively basic, so it can disrupt the vagina's pH.

  • Tight, non-breathable, and wet garments incubate moisture

  • and are thought to facilitate a more Candida-friendly environment.

  • Soaps can damage the protective mucus that coats the vagina,

  • making it easier for Candida to permeate.

  • That's why many doctors recommend just gently washing the vulva with water.

  • And it's important to wipe from front to back

  • to avoid introducing more Candida as well as other potentially harmful microbes

  • to the vagina.

  • Most yeast infections are mild and clear up within two weeks.

  • Antifungal medications usually offer dependable treatments

  • by reducing the number of Candida cells,

  • allowing the immune system and other microorganisms to regain control.

  • And interestingly, the solution to treating some yeast infections

  • could be more yeasts.

  • Preliminary studies with probiotics containing the harmless yeasts

  • we use in brewing and baking have shown promise in keeping Candida in check

  • while reducing inflammation.

  • But some yeast infections require more extensive therapies.

  • About 5 to 10% of people with vaginas

  • experience at least 4 yeast infections a year.

  • For some of those, the cause seems to be genetic.

  • Some people have gene variants that make it harder for their immune systems

  • to recognize and regulate Candida cells.

  • But why many others have recurrent infections is currently unclear

  • and requires a lot more research.

  • In fact, so does basically everything we've just talked about.

  • We don't know nearly enough about the vaginal microbiome.

  • This is probably because of stigma and underfunding

  • when it comes to topics that traditionally fall under the umbrella

  • ofwomen's health.”

  • For instance, while erectile dysfunction affects a much smaller percentage

  • of people than vaginal yeast infections,

  • there's about 6 times more research on the subject.

  • Hopefully, we'll soon have a better understanding

  • of the many microorganismal multitudes we contain

  • and how best to keep them in balance.

The vagina harbors hundreds of different kinds of microorganisms.

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B2 US TED-Ed yeast vagina vaginal immune immune system

What causes yeast infections, and how do you get rid of them? - Liesbeth Demuyser

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    たらこ posted on 2022/05/24
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