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More than 12 million cases of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are reported in the US each year, and cost billions of dollars .

More than 12 million cases of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are reported in the US each year, and cost billions of dollars to treat. In Canada, STDs have been declining for several years but remain an important public health concern according to Health Canada. It is difficult to compare STD rates between the US and Canada as reporting systems are different.

Nevertheless, chlamydia is most prevalent in both countries, causing an estimated four million infections per year in the US and 34,000 annually in Canada. STDs are especially dangerous for women because these infections often cause few or no symptoms. As a result, many infected women are left untreated. When this happens with chlamydia, women can develop pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), experience an ectopic pregnancy and/or infertility.

While many natural health practitioners can help individuals with certain STDs, like yeast infections, there are few human trials confirming the reliability of natural therapies for these conditions. This article outlines some research supporting four different natural approaches–herbal, stress management, minerals and diet–for a handful of STDs.

Berberine for Chlamydia

It has been known for some time that berberine fights against bacteria, viruses and other infectious agents. Some natural health practitioners turn to herbs high in the active constituent berberine, such as goldenseal, barberry and Oregon grape, for chlamydia. While there is no research supporting berberine’s use for genital chlamydia, studies on other forms of this microbe are promising.

There are 15 different types of chlamydia species that infect humans. In Canada and other developed nations this bacteria-like parasite is responsible for STDs; for the rest of the world it is the leading cause of blindness. A chlamydia-based eye infection is not considered an STD.

A Japanese study done several years ago discovered that berberine enhances macrophages, large scavenging blobs which gobble up germs in the body. An Indian research team from Sitapur and Lucknow applied berberine chloride drops to patients with chlamydial eye infections. They compared this solution to suphacetamide eye drops, a drug used for the past 40 years for treating this affliction. While the drug produced better initial results than the botanical-derived remedy, all patients did improve. More significantly, only in the berberine treated group did the chlamydia parasite die and there were no recurrences. This outcome suggests that research on the use of berberine for genital chlamydia is warranted.

Stress and Herpes

Genital herpes is caused by herpes simplex virus (HSV). An estimated 30 million individuals are affected in the US. It is unknown how many Canadians are infected as the law does not require medical personnel to report HSV cases.

Until fairly recently, stress reduction was thought to be a key in controlling herpes outbreaks. There is also evidence that as tension climbs, immunity drops–a possible trigger for herpes sores to develop. Nevertheless, most investigators now agree that stress alone does not activate herpes. There are, however, several speculations as to how daily tension impacts this STD.

New research indicates that how one copes with stress, not the stress itself, may provoke an attack. For instance, people who use problem-solving skills to deal with stress do better. There’s also evidence that individuals who feel they have a strong support system, specifically for their herpes, are less likely to suffer a recurrence during stressful periods.

Finally, having herpes is very stressful. This creates a chicken-or-egg dilemma of what comes first: Does stress cause herpes? or Does herpes cause stress? The good news is that, given time, most people learn to cope with the idea of having herpes, and stress is less influential.

(Editor’s note: many people have found that extract of myrrh is excellent for clearing up cold sores immediately and relieving both types of herpes.)

Zinc for Trichomonas

Less well known than other STDS, Trichomonas vaginalis is nevertheless a relatively common condition. This protozoal parasite may cause infertility or cancer in men and women, and may harm a newborn if treatment is not sought. Metronidazole is the standard medical treatment for this STD.

Zinc possesses broad antimicrobial action against various viruses, yeast, bacteria and trichomonas. A couple of preliminary studies report that zinc may effectively reduce the recurrence of this STD, both alone and when given with metronidazole.

In one case reported by the Department of Sexually Transmitted Diseases at New Zealand’s Auckland Hospital, a woman with a 10-month history of recurring trichomonas was treated with various drugs including metronidazole to no avail. Finally after a blood test revealed that her zinc levels were low, she was given zinc for three weeks. Four months later she remained disease free.

A more recent trial instructed four infected women to use a zinc sulfate douche combined with a metronidazole suppository twice daily for three days out of every month. They were also given metronidazole pills three times per day for a month. After doing this for several months, all subjects remained symptom-free; laboratory tests and medical exams were also normal. The advantage of adding zinc to customary therapy, say the researchers, is that lower amounts of metronidazole are required and side effects are less prominent.

Yogurt for Yeast

In recent years, over-the-counter anti-yeast creams have become available for vaginal yeast infections. Research indicates that eating yogurt containing live culture may be as effective.

Scientists at the Long Island Jewish Medical Center reported that, in their view, standard drug therapies for vaginal yeast infections are often inadequate. So they set out to test the validity of the "folk remedy," yogurt. When 13 women with recurrent yeast infections consumed 240 mL (eight ounces) of yogurt each day for six months, their infections markedly improved compared to the months when they avoided yogurt. In fact, the relief was so significant that some women refused to stop eating yogurt when they were supposed to. Another study found that eating as little as 150 mL of yogurt daily can increase the number of lactobacillus (good bacteria that fight yeast fungi) living in the vagina.

The theory behind why yogurt helps yeast infections is this. A healthy intestine normally houses a balance of friendly bacteria and yeast. When this population is upset by, for example, frequent or excessive antibiotic use, chronic sugar consumption, birth control pills or other drugs, the bacterial population drops. This allows yeast to grow excessively, in effect causing a yeast infection.

One method of reestablishing order is to nudge the yeast aside with lactobacillus acidophilus, a type of bacteria found in the gut. Live-culture yogurt or probiotic supplementation (containing lactobacillus and other friendly bacteria) are often used by natural health practitioners to treat yeast infections.

Because of the contagious nature of sexually transmitted diseases, and the potentially dangerous nature of some, if you suspect that you’ve been infected, seek the help of a qualified health care practitioner for proper diagnosis. Once that has been done, you can discuss with your clinician the possibility of using natural remedies.

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