Coconut trees are sometimes called "trees of life" because they, and their fruit, have so many uses. The oil alone has been used in cooking, in cosmetics, and in medical remedies for centuries in regions including South Asia, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands. But recently, you may have heard that the slippery stuff can even be used to treat yeast infections. And that claim is giving some doctors pause.
It's true: Coconut oil has been found to have some anti-fungal properties. And candida albicans, which is responsible for most vaginal yeast infections, is a type of fungus. So on its face, the rumour makes sense. But in reality, it's not quite so simple.
"I really don't think that coconut oil does much for yeast infections," Mary Jane Minkin, MD, gynaecologist, professor at Yale School of Medicine, tells Refinery29. She acknowledges that the oil may help alleviate any yeast infection-triggered dryness. (Though using coconut oil as lube does have some drawbacks.) But its purported anti-fungal properties may not be strong enough to nix yeast infections, and more research would need to be done to say it's safe and effective in this context.
At best, coconut oil could do nothing, which would prolong the misery of your yeast infection. But Dr Minkin cautions that trying to use coconut oil as a remedy might actually make your yeast infection worse — and that's definitely not a favourable outcome. According to a blog post from River Place, coconut oil can create a biofilm in your vagina, essentially a layer that protects fungus and bacteria from being easily washed away. It may mess with your vaginal pH or microbiome too, which can up your risk of a future infection.
Dr Minkin says to opt for an over-the-counter anti-fungal medication, such as Monistat or Vagistat. If these don't work, you can head to your doctor for a stronger treatment. Once the yeast infection is gone, Dr Minkin often recommends RepHresh Vaginal Gel, a pH-balancing gel that can alleviate itch and prevent yeast infections in the future. "It will make the environment of the vagina more acidic, and hostile to bad bacteria and yeast," she says.
Coconut oil isn't the first "natural" remedy for yeast infection that's made the rounds. Greek yogurt, essential oils, and even garlic have all been touted as cures — and in general, doctors aren't fans. "Pertaining to 'natural' remedies, I haven’t come across any studies that support their effectiveness for treating yeast infections," Angela Jones, MD, Astroglide’s resident gynaecologist, tells Refinery29. "Remember, less is always more when it comes to the vulva and vagina."
She backs the OTC remedies too, and says the absolute best advice she can give is to focus on prevention: Get out of workout clothes immediately after exercising, and avoid products with perfumes or scents, two common triggers for yeast infections.
In general, experts seem to agree that it's best not to put something inside your vagina, unless that's the explicit purpose of the substance (think: tampons).