1 in 10 people currently have a fungal nail infection. Their persistence frustrates patients, who often find that even their pharmaceutical prescriptions don’t fully resolve the issue. Many are left looking at herbal options but are confused about what product to buy and what really works. For those of you with a long-standing fungal nail infection, don’t worry – here’s a quick guide to treating them naturally.
WHY HAVE I GOT A FUNGAL NAIL INFECTION?
Fungal nail infections (onchomycosis) are usually caused by dermatophytes, which are microscopic fungi that feed from the skin of humans and other animals. Although these fungi can live on the skin in harmony (commensally), they can sometimes grow out of control and cause an infection. This can happen for several reasons:
- Your immune system is low, and the fungus that usually lives in harmony can now take over
- You damage the nail, allowing the infection to take hold
- You have another infection elsewhere, like athlete’s foot (tinea pedis), which spreads to the nail
- An overgrowth of the fungus from someone else is passed to you, for example by walking in public pools, or sharing towels
- You let your feet get consistently wet, for example by wearing converse all winter in the rain, allowing the fungus to achieve optimal conditions for growth
WHAT’S THE REGULAR TREATMENT?
Your doctor will not always treat fungal toenail infections, as some cases are mild, and the treatment can have side effects that negate the benefits. However, if you do have treatment you’re likely to get an oral anti-fungal such as terbinafine or itraconazole. The cure rate of terbinafine is 75 – 80% and itraconazole is 40-50%, but the recurrence rate is as high as 10-50%. You may also get prescribed a topical anti-fungal treatment, which can improve your chance of removing the infection when used alongside an oral treatment, however, when used alone, the cure rate is very small.
WHY MIGHT I WANT TO TRY A DIFFERENT APPROACH?
As you can see above, the conventional treatments don’t have great cure rates, and the recurrence rates are very high. This means that even after weeks or months of treatment, your infection might persist. Additionally, the oral anti-fungal treatments can potentially cause hepatotoxicity (toxicity to the liver). I have seen many patients present with severe itching (pruritus), which is a sign of the liver being overloaded by their pharmaceutical anti-fungals.
HOW CAN I TREAT MY FUNGAL INFECTION WITH HERBS?
It’s really important to mention that if you want to try a natural approach to your fungal nail/s, you’ll need dedication. Skipping a day could really set you back, and as you’ll see below, you’ll need to make modifications to your diet that might be a big lifestyle change for you.
If you’re already taking a pharmaceutical treatment, I don’t recommend stopping. Continue taking your medications as prescribed by your GP, and also use the herbal treatments as well as the hygiene tips given here. This will give you the best chance of curing that nasty infection. However, if you are taking pharmaceutical anti-fungals, I do recommend that you begin to take some herbal liver support. Make sure that you talk to a herbalist before self-prescribing liver herbs, as some are not suitable alongside certain medications.
Many people treat with tea tree essential oil, and don’t see great results. This is because although tea tree is great for fungal infections, you’ll have a much better chance of cure if you use a range of different anti-fungals, and apply them in the right way at the right time. Herbalists usually treat fungal nail infections with a combination of a spray and a cream, containing a range of anti-fungal herbs. We use the essential oils in very high doses, not usually prescribed for other conditions. Here are some typical formulas:
Frankincense tincture 20ml
Calendula tincture 20ml
Tea tree essential oil 5ml
Thyme essential oil 4ml
Frankincense essential oil 1ml
Put all herbs in a spray bottle and apply 2-3 x/day after thoroughly washing and drying the feet
Tea Tree Base Cream 45ml
Frankincense tincture 5ml
Calendula 90% 5ml
Tea tree essential oil 4gtt
Thyme essential oil 4gtt
Apply 2-3x/day after application of spray
WHAT ELSE DO I NEED TO DO?
If you want the best chance of curing your fungal infections you’ll need to get serious about lowering your sugar intake. Obviously, this means less refined sugar, like fizzy drinks, deserts, cakes etc… but it also means less simple carbohydrates, like white bread/pasta. Try to focus your diets around healthy fats and lots of fiber. Essentially this means increase your vegetables and fruit, lean meat, fish, and lower your refined food intake. There’s nothing complicated about it – it’s just a matter of eating whole, healthy foods. If you’re still craving your carbs (I know I would be) then try experimenting with delicious complex carb alternatives – like buckwheat banana bread, or brown rice and millet bake, yum.
It’s also really important to eliminate/ reduce alcohol intake. Your chances of curing your fungal nail infection are likely to be higher if you can eliminate alcohol completely for 3-6 months. However, if this seems impossible then try reducing your intake to a few units a week, and never too many units at the same time.
You need to wash your feet. And dry them. Regularly. I can’t stress this enough. Use very hot water, soap (preferably with tea tree), and a fresh clean towel. Make sure your feet are really, really dry afterward. I’d invest in a pack of small hand towels and keep them for your feet. Use them once, put them in the laundry basket and wash them on a boil wash, to prevent the spread of fungus. Do this at least three times a day. This might seem challenging, but once you’re in the routine it’s really not that much extra time.
- Change the insoles in all your shoes
- Clean the inside of all your footwear and rub the linings with tea tree essential oil
- Ensure your shoes don’t get wet and if they do dry them immediately as you return home
- Rotate shoes every 3 days
- Wear leather shoes rather than plastic
- Invest in a pack of merino socks and don’t wear nylon socks
- Leave shoes and socks off as much as possible
- Wear open shoes as much as possible
- Wear flip flops in communal changing rooms, showers etc..
- Don’t use talcum powder (creates abrasions and helps infection take hold)
Summer is the perfect time to get started on your natural anti-fungal treatment, as your shoes and socks will be off regularly and you’ll be taking lots of showers. Remember that with any treatment (pharmaceutical or herbal), the nail that’s infected will not look much different, but the new nail growth will. This means that any herbal treatment will take at least 6 months to cure, as it will happen simultaneously with your nail growth.
If you stay focused and dedicated, and follow these guidelines, it’s absolutely possible to treat your infection naturally. Please get in touch or book a consultation if you need more advice. Here’s to fungus-free feet!
- Marino socks
- Pack of hand-towels
- Herbal anti-fungal formulas
- Wash, dry, and air feet regularly
- Cut down on sugar and alcohol and increase healthy fats and fiber
- Use your herbal spray and cream regularly
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