Yeast infections are typically caused by an overgrowth of candida, a fungus that usually lives harmlessly on your body. Certain people have a higher risk of developing yeast infections. Candidiasis is the term used to describe a vaginal yeast infection caused by yeast overgrowth. Zinc deficiency may increase your risk of yeast infections, although research regarding this hypothesis has had mixed results.
Candida is a microorganism that lives on everyone's body. Candida and other types of bacteria that help to balance levels of candida, known as lactobacillus bacteria, live in your vagina. Lactobacillus produces an acid that helps to prevent overgrowth of candida. When levels of candida are not balanced by this acid, you may develop a yeast infection. Certain factors, such as antibiotics, pregnancy, immune system disorders and douching, can disrupt the production of acid made by lactobacillus. Zinc is thought to aid the immune system. Some research has shown that a deficiency in zinc can lead to increased incidences of yeast infections.
Zinc is an important nutrient known as an essential trace mineral that helps in a number of biological processes. Protein digestion, enzymatic reactions, energy production, antioxidant functions and maintaining a healthy immune system are among zinc's many roles. Although zinc is found in foods such as oysters, red meat, poultry, cheese and legumes, zinc deficiency is not unusual, especially in the elderly, alcoholics, people with anorexia or those who follow restricted diets, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. A zinc deficiency can decrease the functioning of your immune system and possibly increase your susceptibility to yeast infections.
Research has had conflicting results regarding the effects of zinc deficiency on yeast infections. One study, published in the November 1986 issue of the "American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology," found that mild zinc deficiencies are common in women who experience repeated vaginal candidiasis and may increase the likelihood of recurring instances of this infection. However, another study, published in 1994 in the journal, "Genitourinary Medicine," found no correlation between zinc levels and recurrent yeast infections.
There is not enough evidence to support the theory that zinc deficiency can cause chronic yeast infections. However, you should not attempt to self-diagnose your condition. Consult your doctor if you experience recurrent yeast infections. Inform your doctor if you choose to use a zinc supplement. Zinc may cause side effects and can interact with certain medications.