I started writing a glowing post about the wonders of Grapefruit Seed Extract because I’ve used it in a variety of antifungal applications with good success. Taken internally, it can prevent or cure yeast infections, thrush, candidiasis, nail infections and athlete’s foot. For external application you’ll find it in spermicide, shampoos, acne treatments, and lotions. Sold at most health food stores and touted as a natural supplement, Grapefruit Seed Extract seems benign. Guess again.
It turns out that the antimicrobial property in grapefruit seed extract (“GSE”) isn’t the seeds at all, but a chemical called benzethonium chloride, a synthetic antimicrobial agent commonly used in cosmetics and only approved for topical use. In a study of GSE performed by the USDA, this chemical was found in levels as high as 8%. The FDA indicates that benzethonium chloride’s safe and effective concentrations are 0.1 – 0.2% for topical products. So, we’ve got “natural supplements” with 8% of benzethonium chloride that are recommended for internal use, when the approved concentration for topical use is only 0.1%. Not good.
It is arguable whether benzethonium chloride is considered carcinogenic or an endocrine disrupter. Some sources say yes, some say there aren’t enough studies or there is no link. Nevertheless, ingestion of benzethonium chloride may cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, convulsions, collapse and coma. Ingestion of 1 to 3 grams of benzethonium chloride may be fatal. Yes, FATAL.
Unfortunately, the USDA tested six major GSE suppliers and found that only one didn’t contain benzethonium chloride, and that was the supplement that didn’t work as an antimicrobial. So, you can get benzethonium chloride free GSE but it won’t work. Thus, the antimicrobial agent in GSE is likely the benzethonium chloride. Great.
The bottom line is this: until GSE can be deemed to a) work and b) be benzethonium chloride free, it is probably a good idea to avoid it certainly as a supplement taken internally and when you can in your personal care products. If you are having chronic fungal issues (recurrent yeast infections, athlete’s foot, nail infections, candidiasis, etc.), you should ask your doctor about Diflucan or Nystatin and be very certain you understand the side effects. Barring those, other potent natural antifungals include oil of oregano, garlic, coconut oil (but high in cholesterol), and clove oil. Make sure you rotate your use of the antifungals so you only use one kind for three days maximum and then switch to another. The fungi become resistant if you use the same treatment day after day. Obviously, you shouldn’t exacerbate the situation by feeding the fungi with their favorite foods including sugar, white flour, potatoes and anything high on the glycemic index. Fungi also love stress, weakened immune systems and dislike exercise, so stress reduction, sleeping and exercise should be part of your antifungal program.
Interesting Fungus Fact: Did you know the third (some argue first) largest organism in the world covering 2,384 acres is a sprawling fungus? Eeew! It’s in Oregon.