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Relieve the painful symptoms of athlete's foot and address the systemic fungal problem with these five natural antifungals, some of which you'll find directly in your kitchen pantry
Fungal infection of the feet can lead to white, soggy skin between your toes along with skin blistering, reddening and dry, flaky soles. This is more popularly known as athlete's foot, caused by dermatophyte infection and mainly characterized by itching, flaking and fissuring of the affected skin.
In most people, the infection manifests on the webbed skin in between toes.[i] In others, the infection spreads to at least one toenail, causing the nail to appear abnormally thick and cloudy yellow in appearance.
About 15% to 25% of people are likely to have athlete's foot at any given time, and the infection can spread not just to other body parts but also to other people.[ii] While not life-threatening in people with a healthy immune system, the condition can cause persistent itching and fissuring in some people, who may not know there's already persistent infection.
If you're not keen on using topical prescription medications or don't find them to be a long-term solution, there are natural antifungal agents available to stem the underlying issue. Here are some you may explore today.
Five Natural Antifungals for Athlete's Foot
1. Tea Tree
A randomized study sought to examine the effectiveness of 2% butenafine hydrochloride and 5% tea tree oil in cream form to manage the fungal infection toenail onychomycosis.[iii] The study followed 60 subjects ages 18 to 80, and after 16 weeks, 80% of those using medicated cream were cured. None had the same effect in the placebo group.
In a randomized study on tea tree oil's specific action against athlete's foot-causing dermatophytes, 25% and 50% tea tree oil concentrations were tested on interdigital tinea pedis (athlete's foot) among 158 patients.[iv] The subjects applied the solution twice daily for four weeks, and by the end of the trial, 64% in the 50% tea tree oil group were cured versus 31% in the placebo group.
Interestingly, tea tree was also found effective in inhibiting vaginal Candida strains that include those resistant to the drug fluconazole, as well as the fungus Malassezia furfur, which is associated with dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis.[v],[vi]
2. Damask Rose
The essential oil from Rosa damascena Mill., among the most important aromatic species of the Rosaceae family, has been used to address a number of fungi and bacteria. In an Iranian study, the essential oil's most important compounds turned out to be nonadecane, heneicosane, oleic acid and citronellol.[vii]
The results showed that the highest inhibiting activity of rose essential oil was against Aspergillus brasiliensis, along with a significant effect on Klebsiella pneumoniae. The oil was also lethal to Candida albicans, similar to the therapeutic action of the antifungal nystatin.
The researchers concluded that damask rose can be an alternative natural solution to prevent and treat fungal diseases in humans as well as fight food spoilage.
Cumin, scientifically known as Cuminum cyminum, is a flowering plant in the parsley family and has its dried seed commonly used in many cultures both in whole and ground forms. Its essential oil is suggested to have antibacterial, antifungal and antioxidant properties, with powerful uses in food preservation as well as wellness therapy.[viii],[ix]
A 2010 study tested cumin's activity against dermatophytes and phytopathogens, fungi, yeasts and some new Aspergillus species.[x] Based on the team's antifungal testing, cumin was generally active against all fungi but was particularly potent against dermatophytes, with Trichophyton rubrum as the most inhibited fungus at the lower dose.
The humble Moringa oleifera, also often called the drumstick tree or the miracle tree, has been used for centuries for therapeutic benefits. Investigations into the therapeutic effects of its seeds and leaves showed that it has antifungal action against dermatophytes such as Trichophyton rubrum, Trichophyton mentagrophytes, Epidermophyton floccosum and Microsporum canis.
Analysis of the essential oil's chemical composition revealed a total of 44 compounds, with promising future uses against skin disease.[xi]
5. Onion and Garlic
The antifungal properties of these cooking staples aren't ones to be ignored. A 2010 study evaluated the antifungal activity of their extracts against 25 strains of Malassezia furfur, 18 strains of Candida albicans, 12 strains of other Candida species and 35 strains of various dermatophytes, comparing them with the action of the known antifungal drug ketoconazole.[xii]
Onion and garlic extracts showed antifungal activity against 18 strains of yeasts and dermatophytes, holding promise in treating fungal diseases from different pathogenic fungal strains.
Remedies to Try at Home
When using essential oils to treat fungal overgrowth such as athlete's foot, combine the main oil with a carrier oil such as coconut or olive oil.[xiii] For instance, try mixing two to three drops of the essential oil along with 20 drops of the carrier oil.
Use a clean cotton pad to apply the mixture to the affected area. Try not to touch healthy skin areas so as not to spread the fungus. Try a garlic foot soak, too, as a home remedy.[xiv] Crush four cloves, stir them into a basin containing warm water and soak your feet for 30 minutes. Do this twice a day for about one week. Note, however, that this home remedy can leave a strong garlic smell on your skin.
Discover more natural antifungal agents to nip a case of athlete's foot in the bud through scientific abstracts found on the GreenMedInfo.com database.
[i] Harvard Health Publishing, Athlete's Foot (Tinea Pedis) https://www.health.harvard.edu/a_to_z/athletes-foot-tinea-pedis-a-to-z
[iii] Syed T A et al "Treatment of toenail onychomycosis with 2% butenafine and 5% Melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree) oil in cream" Trop Med Int Health. 1999 Apr;4(4):284-7.
[iv] Satchel A et al "Treatment of interdigital tinea pedis with 25% and 50% tea tree oil solution: a randomized, placebo-controlled, blinded study" Australas J Dermatol. 2002 Aug;43(3):175-8.
[v] Ergin A et al "Comparison of microdilution and disc diffusion methods in assessing the in vitro activity of fluconazole and Melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree) oil against vaginal Candida isolates" J Chemother. 2002 Oct;14(5):465-72.
[vi] Nenoff P et al "Antifungal activity of the essential oil of Melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree oil) against pathogenic fungi in vitro" Skin Pharmacol. 1996;9(6):388-94.
[vii] Ghavam M et al "Chemotype of damask rose with oleic acid (9 octadecenoic acid) and its antimicrobial effectiveness" Sci Rep. 2021 Apr 13 ;11(1):8027. Epub 2021 Apr 13.
[viii] Hajlaoui H et al "Chemical composition and biological activities of Tunisian Cuminum cyminum L. essential oil: a high effectiveness against Vibrio spp. Strains" Food Chem Toxicol. 2010 Aug-Sep;48(8-9):2186-92. Epub 2010 May 17.
[ix] Wanner J et al "Chemical composition and antimicrobial activity of cumin oil (Cuminum cyminum, Apiaceae)" Nat Prod Commun. 2010 Sep ;5(9):1355-8.
[x] Romagnoli C et al "Antifungal activity of essential oil from fruits of Indian Cuminum cyminum" Pharm Biol. 2010 Jul ;48(7):834-8.
[xi] Chuang P et al "Anti-fungal activity of crude extracts and essential oil of Moringa oleifera Lam" PLoS One. 2011;6(1):e14575. Epub 2011 Jan 24.
[xii] Shams-Ghahfarokhi M et al "In vitro antifungal activities of Allium cepa, Allium sativum and ketoconazole against some pathogenic yeasts and dermatophytes" Pharmacol Res. 2010 Feb;61(2):142-8. Epub 2009 Sep 9.
[xiii] Healthline, Antifungal Essential Oils https://www.healthline.com/health/antifungal-essential-oils#how-to-use
[xiv] Medical News Today, Five home remedies for athlete's foot https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/319563#home-remedies-for-athletes-foot