No doubt about it, fungus is funky. Whether it’s mold on that forgotten piece of fruit in the fridge…mushrooms sprouting in your lawn…or the flaky, itchy rash on your body—fungi are prevalent in our lives. Among the most widespread external fungal infections in humans are “athlete’s foot” and “jock itch.” There’s also “yeast,” the layman’s term for the fungal infection-causing organism known as candida. You can be pretty sure that you have a fungal infection if you notice a few key signs—an area of scaling, peeling skin that may itch, burn, even crack and be very sore…or nails that are discolored (usually yellow or white), brittle, thick, cracked and crusty.

Conventional medical providers prescribe topical or oral antifungals such as clotrimazole (Lotrimin), fluconazole (Difulcan) or griseofulvin (Grifulvin V). These drugs can reduce the problem, and I sometimes prescribe them myself when the infection is severe. However, unless you strengthen your resistance to fungal intrusion, your problem will likely return when you stop the medication and you’re exposed to fungi again. For better results…

• Load up on probiotics.

Fungi—like bacteria—are found in and on our bodies at all times, but they cause problems only when their populations get out of control due to such factors as diet. Having lots of healthful bacteria throughout your body will take up much of the cellular space and nutrition the fungi need. That’s why I often prescribe the healthful bacteria in probiotics—sometimes up to 30 billion colony—forming units (CFUs) of acidophilus and bifidus per day—for fungal infections. This dose is safe for most adults, though some people can get a loose stool or diarrhea. If this occurs, reduce or discontinue the probiotic.

• Eliminateall simple sugars. Forgive me, sugar lovers, but giving up simple sugars for at least 14 days will help reduce the fungi in your body. This means no candy, cookies, desserts, bread, muffins, bagels, pastries or any sort of alcohol. Fungi feed on simple sugars and refined carbohydrates. To help starve out the excess fungi in your system, keep these items out of your diet for two weeks (eat them only sparingly thereafter).

• Use vinegar and sunlight. Fungi, which usually thrive in dark, moist areas of our bodies, don’t do well in an acidic environment. If you have a topical infection, swab it with a solution of white vinegar and water three times a day. Start with a 50/50 vinegar-water solution, and increase the vinegar strength until it stings. If your fungal rash is cracked, sore or bleeding, topical vinegar can be painful, so avoid it. If possible, also expose your rash to direct sunlight for about 10 minutes, twice daily. These approaches are cheaper than drugstore antifungals and often more effective.

When a fungal infection affects your nails: Fungi often hide beneath the nail (in the nail bed), where it is almost impossible to apply medicine. For this reason, I often prescribe liquid ketoconazole, in addition to the recommendations above, and advise patients to apply it at the edges and as far underneath the nail as is possible. Toenails need to be treated on a daily basis for six months…fingernails require at least three months of treatment.