Does tea tree oil help against nail fungus?
Tea tree essential oil is used against the antifungal cream Lotrimin to treat fungal nail infections, but what about treating the underlying cause?
Onychomycosis is a fungal infection of our nails, usually the toenails but sometimes the fingernails. It is characterized by nail discoloration, deformity, detachment, thickening, crumbling, and furrowing. See below and at 0:19 in my video for an example of onychomycosis Does tea tree oil help against nail fungus?.
The reported prevalence is estimated to be around 1 in 25 people, although it is more common in older people – one in five people over age 60 and half of those over age 70. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to treat. The fungus can hide deep inside the nail, leaving it protected from the blood supply on the one hand and any topical treatment on the other. Therefore, “recurrence after treatment due to residual hyphae or spores not previously eliminated is common” even if you were able to fight back the fungus. Many of the systemic oral treatments can be toxic, and “many topical uses require long courses of treatment, which can limit patient compliance, particularly in patients who wish to use nail polish for cosmetics or camouflage” to cover this up.
Given all the problems with prescription antifungals, there has been a “renewed interest” in natural remedies. If tea tree oil can affect athlete’s foot and dandruff, what about nail fungus?
A study combining the antifungal in Lotrimin cream with tea tree oil appeared to be quite effective. “After 16 weeks, 80% of patients using medicated cream were cured, compared to none in the placebo group,” so we know the drug and tea tree oil were better than no treatment, but how does it compare?
A head-to-head study compared tea tree oil to clotrimazole, a common antifungal drug. In a double-blind, randomized, controlled study, patients received either the drug or pure tea tree oil applied to the nail twice a day for a period of six months. Every few months a debridement was performed in which part of the fungal mass was compacted, scraped off or ground away. As you can see below and at 1:56 in my VideoAfter six months, the drug completely eradicated the fungus in only about 1 in 10 cases, but the infection looked better, with partial or complete resolution of the appearance, in the majority of subjects, based on either the doctor’s assessment or the patient’s assessment. And the tea tree oil? It was just as good as the drug! “The two preparations were comparable in healing efficacy, clinical evaluation and subjective improvement. Their costs are also comparable.” “For patients who want a ‘natural’ treatment for tinea pedis [athlete’s foot] or onychomycosis [nail fungus]topical tea tree oil is a reasonable alternative to prescription or over-the-counter antifungal medications.”
Speaking of natural treatments, how about a truly natural treatment? “A possible reason for the poor long-term benefit of each therapy [for nail fungus] is that it may only treat a manifestation of the underlying disease(s), such as B. generalized immunosuppression or peripheral micro- or macrovascular disease.” Perhaps fungal nail infections are just a manifestation of poor peripheral circulation, which would normally allow your body’s natural defenses to prevent the fungus from taking root in the first place.
There was a non-English study of 400 patients that “investigated the ‘association between skin blood flow and the development of fungal diseases’ and found a reduction in blood flow of more than 50% in patients with tinea pedis [athlete’s foot] and onychomycosis [nail fungus] compared to patients without these disorders.” If fungal nail infections are just “a symptom of an underlying process, then treatment to eradicate a pathogen may be unrealistic.” No wonder the fungus just grows back so often. A more appropriate goal might be to give up and live with it. But hold on tight. If it’s a circulatory problem, why not try to improve circulation?
We’ve known since the 1950s that by switching people between a low-fat, plant-based diet and the more conventional diet that initially contributed to the problem, you can effectively turn peripheral arterial circulation on and off like a light switch in a matter of days Place. You can see an interesting graph of this below and at 3:50 in my Video.
Want to learn more about improving peripheral circulation? See my video Benefits of beans for peripheral vascular disease.
What about other fungal infections? Cash Does Tea Tree Oil Work for Dandruff and Athlete’s Foot?.
THE CENTRAL THESIS
- Onychomycosis, a fungal infection of our nails, is characterized by discoloration, deformity, shedding, thickening, crumbling, and ridges and may affect about 1 in 25 people, typically older adults.
- The infection is difficult to treat because the fungus resides deep inside the nail, protected from the blood supply on one side and any topical treatment on the other. Systemic oral treatments can also be toxic.
- The combination of Lotrimin cream, an antifungal, with tea tree oil was effective in 80 percent of patients after 16 weeks, compared to none in the placebo group.
- In a head-to-head study of tea tree oil with clotrimazole, a common antifungal, the two preparations were comparable; Patients who want a “natural” treatment for athlete’s foot or nail fungus may prefer topical tea tree oil to prescription over-the-counter antifungals.
- Could there be a link between poor circulation and the development of fungal diseases? One study found a more than 50 percent reduction in blood flow in patients with athlete’s foot and toenail fungus.
- Switching to a low-fat, plant-based diet can improve blood flow to the peripheral arteries compared to a more conventional diet, which contributes to the problem.
My other tea tree oil videos include:
Michael Greger, MD
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