Q) I've been suffering from athlete's foot on and off over the past few years. Do you know of any effective natural remedies?-M.N., via e-mail
A) Athlete's foot, medically known as 'tinea pedis', is a contagious fungal infec-tion of the foot that typically causes scaling, flaking and itching between the toes. The fungi responsible for it are called 'dermato-phytes'. These mould-like organisms thrive in warm, moist environments and, when they invade the superficial layer of the skin, they cause the skin cells to overreproduce, resulting in a thickened, scaly skin. As the fungi spread, so does the infection.
Despite its name, athlete's foot can affect anyone. In fact, around 17 per cent of the UK population are suffering from athlete's foot at any given time (Drug Ther Bull, 2002; 40: 53-4).
Getting rid of the infection usually involves one of the many antifungal creams, powders or tablets that are available by prescription or over the counter. However, a number of these are linked to nasty side-effects such as contact dermatitis (clotrimazole), liver damage (terbinafine) and gastrointestinal effects (most oral antifungals) (Nippon Ika Daigaku Zasshi, 1996; 63: 356-64; Ann Hepatol, 2003; 2: 47-51; Ugeskr Laeger, 2003; 165: 1436-8).
Fortunately, the evidence shows that, in many cases, natural agents can be just as-or even more-effective as drugs are at fighting the fungi that cause athlete's foot.
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