Athlete’s foot isn’t exactly a sexy topic, but that is one good reason to stamp it out. Two other reasons to stop this fungal infection in its tracks are that it’s highly contagious and it constitutes a low-grade drain on the immune system. Technically called tinea pedis, this yeasty growth thrives in warmth and dampness, living off the dead outer layer of the skin and calluses of the feet, especially between the toes. When the beneficial bacteria on our skin are further compromised by antibiotics, other drugs, or radiation, the fungus can spread rapidly. Symptoms can include scaling, itching, irritation, inflammation, burning and even blistering. Athlete’s foot is prevalent in those who frequent gyms and pool locker rooms, which provide a perfect environment for the fungus. As always, prevention is best, so please protect your feet against direct contact with gym and pool facility floors. But, it’s likely you’re reading this to find a cure! Read on!
You probably acquired athlete’s foot from lack of adequate attention to hygiene. Careful hygiene will be an important part of the cure. Dry your feet very thoroughly after bathing, especially between the toes, and use a towel dedicated to the feet, or at least use the towel on your feet last. Sing the little piggies song to yourself as you dry your toes, as this will help you get each and every toe. Any loose dead skin on the feet should be removed if it comes off easily. Do not dry your feet then use the same towel to dry your groin or face. A further precaution to prevent transmission of the infection to the groin area is putting on clean socks before putting on underpants. If the climate allows, go barefoot or use open shoes that provide good ventilation. If you need to wear socks and heavier shoes, you may want to use a powder like corn starch or oat “talc” to keep the feet dry, then choose wool or fleece or 100% cotton socks that will wick moisture away from the skin.
Besides scrupulous hygiene, other general measures to rid yourself of Athlete’s foot include a “probacteria” product (lactobacillus plus bidifido bacteria species) taken by mouth to replenish the “friendly” bacteria throughout the body, which includes the skin surface, to help inhibit disease-causing organisms. A good, yeast-free, B vitamin complex will reduce stress, which in turn helps the immune system. Use buffered Vitamin C until your stool softens — up to 5-8,000 mg 3 times daily. Vitamins E (400-1,00 IUs daily) and A (25,000 IUs daily) will help with tissue healing, and zinc (50 mg daily) will stimulate cellular repair and inhibit fungal growth.
A number of herbal remedies have well deserved reputations as antifungal, all of which are less toxic than griseofulvin, the conventional prescription medication used for Athlete’s foot. For examples, undecenic acid, from the castor bean, and caprylic acid, from a natural fatty acid found in coconut, have been popular natural medicines in treating a related fungal complex, Candidiasis. They would probably work over the long term for Athlete’s foot as well. Some alternative doctors contend that garlic, crushed and placed inside a sock over the affected feet at night, will work just as quickly as an oral anti-fungal prescription.(Julian Whitaker, MD’s web site) Another source describes using the common red clover blossom: boil one cup of red clover blossoms in water until thick. When the pulp has cooled, bind onto the affected parts of the feet after they have been thoroughly washed. Soak for 15 minutes. Do this nightly until completely healed. Yet another popular cure involves simply scrubbing the feet with apple cider vinegar twice daily. A famous Eclectic (American school of herbal medicine circa 1920-30) combination for fungal infections is Usnea barbarata (Old Man’s Beard) and Spilanthes, taken internally in tincture form. Strong herbs like Black walnut and Mugwort, tare also effective antifungal. A newer wave of herbal antifungal are the concentrated oil extracts of well-known plants such as oregano, thyme, cilantro, lavender, tea tree, cinnamon and grapefruit seed. A few of these herbal medicinals will be discussed below. Please note: NEVER use concentrated herbal oil extracts (also known as essential, or volatile, oils) internally unless under the supervision of a highly trained doctor or herbalist. They are typically extremely caustic to mucous membranes (eyes, mouth, vagina, intestines) and can cause nerve damage if used incorrectly. Keep volatile oils away from children. If used with moderation, and diluted, they are generally very safe for topical use.
- TEA TREE (Melaleuca alternifolia)
- This “new world” plant from the Myrtle family, also known as “Ti” tree, is treasured for the essential oil which can be extracted from the leaves. Tea tree, native to Australia and New South Wales, prefers a swampy, wetland environment. The active ingredients in the oil extract are various terpenes, which are not only anti-fungal but anti-microbial in general. This means Tea tree works also to combat bacterial and viral microbes. Dose and application: generally Tea tree oil penetrates well and is not irritating to the skin. Individuals with sensitive skin should dilute the oil with an equal amount of bland medium such as almond or safflower oil. Tea tree occasionally produces a dermatitis. Look for a concentration of 5-10%after thorough cleaning and drying.
- LAVENDER (Lavendula officinalis)
- The small purple flowers of this delightful redolent plant contain the volatile oil. Active ingredients of this highly studied herb include camphor, linonene, borneol, coumarins and flavonoids. Medicinally, this herb is best known for it’s calming or even anti-depressant properties, and is often used in sachets or bath salts. I like to think of it as an herbal “smelling salt” and have seen it help quickly restore someone to consciousness after a small seizure. It is useful in preventing or repocket and “sniff” when you feel the stress mounting. Although less well known for it’s anti-microbial properties, studies show that lavender’s essential oil is a potent ally in destroying a wide range of bacteria, many viruses and numerous yeasts, especially the Candida type. A lavender-flower douche is an effective treatment for vaginal yeast infections. Dose and application: The straight oil can be dabbed onto the affected toes once or twice daily after thorough cleaning and drying. Skin irritation is very uncommon with Lavender oil. As an aside, a dab of neat (undiluted) lavender oil works great to stop the sting of insect bites.
- This shrubby plant and popular kitchen herb is native to the Mediterranean region. The flowering branches should be collected midsummer on a warm sunny day and stripped of the leaves and flowering tops, which supply the volatile oil. Active ingredients include thymol, borneol, flavonoids and tannins. Thyme is a well known digestive aide and used to help a sluggish system, or one prone to flatulence! It’s also a good cough remedy; the tea can be used internally and as a gargle. The oil can be applied topically not only to combat fungal infections, but to ease arthritic pain. Of all the herbs, thyme is the strongest anti-fungal. Skin reactions are rare. Dilute with a bland oil if necessary. Apply 2-3 drops per half-dollar sized area once or twice daily after thorough cleaning and drying.
In closing, please remember the important role of diet in healing any disease or immune dysfunction. Avoid processed foods, including “soft” drinks. Eliminate sugar and fried or greasy foods. Focus on plenty of raw or steamed vegetables, preferably organic, fresh fruits, organic yogurt, broiled fish, whole grains. A specific recommendation to cure Athlete’s foot is please change you socks every day and air out your shoes as often as possible. Be persistent; Athlete’s foot can be very stubborn, but it is well worth the effort since your immune system, not to mention your love life, will get a boost!
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- Principles & Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine, by Simon Mills and Kerry Bone