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Athlete’s Foot – Herbal First Aid

Athlete’s Foot – Herbal First Aid

Athlete’s Foot is a chronic problem in gyms and locker rooms. As a fungus (dermatophytes), it thrives in warm, moist, sheltered environments and feeds on keratin. Keratin is a protein that forms the base for skin, nail and hair production. Rarely, Athlete’s Foot can be caused by yeast but it is treated the same way.

The initial symptoms are red, itchy skin between the toes. It can develop into dry flaky skin on the soles of your feet. Left untreated, it can develop into cracks and blisters which can subsequently become infected with bacteria. Once the infection spreads to the toe nails, Athlete’s Foot becomes very difficult to treat.

Topical treatment is one of the first lines of defense against Athlete’s foot. Nightly foot baths not only attack the fungus (or yeast) but encourage the immune system to recover through relaxation. Be sure to dry your feet thoroughly after the foot bath to be sure that there is no moisture for regrowth.

Regular dabs of tea tree or lavender essential oil, grapefruit seed extract or black walnut tincture on a cotton ball on the affected area is good medicine against this infection. Topical treatments such as these should be renewed two to three times daily.

Wash your socks and towels in the hot water and add 1/4 cup vinegar to the rinse cycle. As an extra added measure of treatment, put a drop or two of tea tree oil in your shoes or on a dryer sheet to prevent the fungus from spreading to the groin area. This is a perfect time to give your bathroom a good scrubbing too so that you do not share your fungus with other members of the household.

List of Herbal Allies for Treatment of Athlete’s Foot

For external treatment:

  • Birch bark, bud or leaf (foot bath)
  • Black Walnut hulls (topical – Be careful, it stains)
  • Artemeisia species – Wormwood or Mugwort – (foot bath)
  • Calendula (foot bath addition with other anti-fungal)
  • Tea Tree Oil (topical or foot bath)
  • Lavender essential oil (topical or foot bath)
  • Grapefruit seed oil or extract (topical or foot bath)

For internal treatment:

  • Oregon Grape Root (treatment of bacterial infection)
  • Goldenseal (treatment of bacterial infection)
  • Pau d’Arco bark
  • Garlic

Nutrition for Treatment of Athlete’s Foot

Keeping your immune system in good shape by watching your diet, sleep cycle and exercise regime will go a long way in preventing many diseases. Keep in mind that people with compromised immune systems and people with diabetes are more susceptible to athlete’s foot. An extra dose of garlic in the diet certainly can’t hurt when it comes to preventing fungal infections.

  • Reduce refined sugar
  • Increase antioxidant load by eating fresh greens and fruit
  • Reduce alcohol and caffeine consumption
  • Avoid fried or greasy foods

Consult a qualified healthcare professional if:

  • Your infection does not clear up in 4 weeks
  • You develop a fever
  • Pus develops in the blisters or cracks of the skin
  • If you notice swelling of the foot or leg

Prevention for Athlete’s Foot

  • Wear sandals in public areas such as the pool or gym.
  • Wear cotton socks, and shoes that breathe.
  • Do not share shoes, socks, or towels.
  • For serious infections, change your socks twice daily.

Sue Sierralupe

Sue Sierralupé is a Certified Master Herbalist, Master Gardener and Sustainable Landscape Specialist. She is the clinic manager and lead herbalist at Occupy Medical clinic. Sue is author of The Pocket Herbal: Medicinal Plants that Changed the World and co-author of The Practical Herbalist Herbal Folios series. Follow her blog at Herbalism Manifesto for commentary on herbs, parenting, nutrition and a whole lot more.


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