Medical herbalist Nicola Parker, from Help Me Be Healthy, writes about fungal infections.
This week I’d like to talk about fungal infections.
While not the strangest thing I’ve ever said through my career, wanting to discuss fungal problems is certainly up there with some of the most unusual.
Fungal infections, as unsavoury as they may sound, are a fascinating topic, though.
Some of the most common fungal infections occur on the skin and in the nails.
Nail infections are usually fairly easy to spot, appearing as a thickening of the nail with some discolouration.
Skin problems can be a little trickier to diagnose, so if you’ve had an unexplained rash for a while, it’s worth visiting your GP who can take a biopsy of the area and check it for fungi.
Fungal infections on the body generally have one thing in common, they can be very stubborn to treat.
In my experience of treating fungal nail and skin infections, once treatment starts, you need to be committed.
Applying your antifungal cream once every few days, simply isn’t going to cut it. This is because the fungus, as a living organism, wants to survive and spread.
The longer you leave it untreated, the more likely it is to get worse.
My first research into fungal infections began during my time as a student when a friend of mine revealed that she had fungal nail infections on her toes.
Initially, the infection only affected a single nail, but since then, she’d seen the infection spread to multiple toes on both feet.
Reaching this point she now refused to wear sandals or open toed shoes because the nails had become disfigured, discoloured and unsightly.
Having tried various chemist preparations, she confided that she’d found them to be both expensive and ineffective.
Desperate for something to work, she’d asked my opinion as a herbalist. She had a beach holiday booked in two months’ time and couldn’t face the idea of exposing her feet.
I felt uncertain, since so many other things had failed her, only serving to leave her feet sore and dry.
Not one to shy away from a challenge however, I set out to do some research on antifungal herbs.
I decided to open what has now become my herbal medicine dispensary and started experimenting with neem oil, an Indian herb with potent antifungal properties and an equally powerful smell.
Most neem preparations I could find were heavily diluted, to disguise its pungent smell, but looking at my friend’s toes – the time to be squeamish was long past. I got hold of some pure neem oil and began my first venture into mixing my own herbal preparations.
I blended neem with some other antifungal herbs, adding some lemon myrtle in an attempt to disguise the scent.
The antifungal properties of lemon myrtle make it effective even in drop doses, so I was able to blend a mixture that slightly (if not completely) disguised the neem smell, without diluting the ointment. I made my friend promise to use it at least twice, every day, stressing the importance of unrelenting treatment against the spreading fungus.
She agreed and stayed true to her word.
Within the first jar, to both her surprise and mine, the discolouration in her toes was gone. I have never seen a fungal nail treatment start working so quickly. Feeling taken aback at such rapid success, I encouraged her to persist with the neem preparation and made her some more. Infected nails rarely regain their healthy shape and it’s necessary to actually grow new nail and trim away the old before your toes become fully free of fungal infections.
Yet, after a couple of months using the neem preparation, she started to see healthy pink nail growing through. With the discolouration gone and healthy nail starting to show, she decided that, while not perfect, her toes were presentable enough to reveal on the beach.
Since my first experimentation with neem, I’ve gone on to use it in the treatment of fungal skin infections, athlete’s foot, ringworm and internal yeast infections like candida.
Despite its pungent aroma, my lemon myrtle addition has always disguised the neem enough that I’ve yet to receive a single complaint.
That doesn’t stop me passing on my adaptation old school, herbalist wisdom, though. In this case, if it smells bad, it’s good for you.