First it was parsley, next it was cocaine and then, for a brief period in time, it was an aubergine bath bomb. Now, in the latest addition to bizarre items that definitely do not belong in a woman’s vagina, is garlic.
Gynaecologist and writer Dr Jennifer Gunter went viral this week with a series of tweets which stressed that there are countless reasons why women should avoid inserting garlic at all costs. You may be wondering why this was necessary – is it really possible that there are women out there putting garlic in their vaginas? Well, apparently so.
For years there have been rumours that garlic can help treat yeast infections. Despite no clear scientific evidence to this effect, there are several clips on YouTube of women who recommend using it as a treatment.
One blogger, for example, posted a video that has garnered more than 2.5 million views advising women to insert garlic into their vaginas to treat a yeast infection. Another posted a clip suggesting the same advice, which has been viewed more than 42,000 times. Neither women claim to have a medical background and recommend the treatment based on their own experiences.
In 2014, a doctor told Scientific American that as many as 10 per cent of his patients had tried using garlic as a cure for a yeast infection.
Two recent studies have examined whether or not creams containing garlic could be used to treat yeast infections, one of which, published in the Iranian Journal of Nursing and Midwifery Research in 2010, said it was no more beneficial than a conventional treatment.
The second study, published in the journal BJOG in 2013, looked at the effectiveness of taking an oral garlic supplement to reduce vagina yeast counts, but concluded that it didn’t work. Yet it seems people are still spreading the claim.
According to Gunter’s tweets posted earlier this week, garlic contains allicin, which is a compound that “may have antifungal (ie anti-yeast) properties” when used in a laboratory in, say, a dish of cells. But “your vagina is not a dish,” Gunter continues.
“Lots of vaginal garlic aficionados (I SHOULDN’T HAVE TO TWEET THAT IN 2019, BUT HERE WE ARE) recommend inserting a clove. This means they don’t understand for allicin to be released the garlic has to be cut or crushed. Sigh.”
In fact, garlic could contain bacteria from the soil, Gunter adds, which could be pathogenic and further irritate an already “inflamed yeasty vagina”.
“Garlic can cause biofilms on braces,” she added, “so could garlic contribute to biofilms in the vagina? Biologically plausible. Biofilms are bad. You do not want them to form especially when you have yeast. Effect of garlic good bacteria also unknown.”
The gynaecologist also suggested that 50 to 70 per cent of women mistreat themselves for yeast infections, when they might not even have one or have another condition altogether.
“My advice, do not take medical advice from anyone recommending vaginal garlic for yeast or anything else,” she concluded.
At the time of writing, her thread has been retweeted 2,500 times and has almost 9,400 likes.
Dr Vanessa Mackay, spokesperson for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, concurs that placing foreign objects such as garlic into the vagina "could disturb this balance of natural flora which may lead to irritation, infection (such as bacterial vaginosis or thrush) and inflammation”.
“It's a good idea to avoid perfumed soaps, gels and antiseptics as these can affect the healthy balance of bacteria and pH levels in the vagina and cause irritation," she tells The Independent.
"Women are advised to use plain, unperfumed soaps to wash the area around the vagina (the vulva), not inside it, gently every day.”
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A common form of yeast infection in women is thrush, which the NHS explains is usually harmless but can cause discomfort if left untreated.
Treatment is usually administered at a sexual health clinic in the form of an antifungal medicine.
“This can be a tablet you take, a tablet you insert into your vagina (pessary) or a cream to relieve the irritation,” the NHS website states, adding that symptoms should clear up within a week.