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Natural ways to treat Athlete's Foot

In her weekly column, Bradford West Gwillimbury licensed nutritionist Nonie De Long shares tips for treating this fungal infection
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Dear Nutritionist,

My wife and I have learned a lot and wanted to thank you. We really like the vitamin infused protein powder you’ve recommended, as taking it every morning has helped her thinning hair and cured a skin rash we’ve tried everything for! We’re definitely sold on this nutrition stuff! We wanted to ask if you know of anything to treat Athlete’s Foot. It’s been a longstanding problem and nothing I do works long term - even strong antifungals. Any suggestions would be appreciated!


Dear Vic, So happy you like the column and have gotten good results! A turnaround like that suggests you or your wife had a deficiency or systemic inflammation which the nutrients in the all-in-one shake helped to re-balance. That’s why I love that particular product so much: it contains 6-8 servings of greens, a multivitamin complex containing 100% of the recommended daily allowance of 13 vitamins and minerals, and a vegan protein blend that most people are not sensitive to. And it’s a full meal replacement, so it can also aid in weight loss if that’s an issue by substituting it for a meal.

The vegan protein powder can be mixed into water or your favourite milk with berries or cacao powder or nut butter, according to your tastes. The trick with these protein powders is to learn how to make them taste good with enough flavour and healthy fat. This shake is so effective it’s a cornerstone of my Mood & Metabolism 30 Day Reset program.

But for you I want to suggest something additional. I want you to start adding coconut kefir to the mix. You can get it at any Healthy Planet or health food store. A friend of mine who teaches all things fermented makes most of the coconut kefir in these stores, so I can attest to how fresh and active it is. You see, for Athlete’s foot - and any fungal issue - removing the problem permanently lies in adding living probiotics to the diet. I suggest you add both the kefir in the morning shake and some fermented veggies or homemade kombucha to your dinner for optimal results.

Athlete’s foot (tinea pedis) is a fungal infection caused by the same fungus as jock itch (tinea cruris) and ringworm (tinea or dermatophytosis), which is actually not a parasite at all. They are all manifestations of fungal growth on the upper layers of the skin. Fungi love warm, moist environments, so they tend to favour the groin, inner thighs, buttocks, and feet. They are most common in athletes because they tend to sweat more and stay in the sweaty clothes longer, but anyone can get them. And many do, with studies suggesting up to 20% of the population are impacted by these fungal problems at some point in time. Little known fact: even females can get it!

Symptoms include a rash, often with itching, with a smooth centre and bumps or scaling around the edges. Skin can feel raw and painful and on the feet it can crack. Toenails can be impacted and split or become separated from the skin. Infection can happen from skin to skin contact or from contact with clothing or shoes or surfaces where the spores have collected. We can transmit the infection from one part of the body to another, or one person to another if the host is susceptible.

Conventional treatment usually consists of topical antifungal creams or powders, sometimes with an anti-itch component or an oral antifungal. These can have unwanted side effects and are still chemicals. I advise clients to try holistic methods first to see if they can eradicate the problem naturally before turning to chemical solutions.

When clients have an active infection it’s important to wash all clothing, bedding, and related household items with some borax solution, as per the instructions on the box. Shoes that have been contaminated are best replaced or soaked in a solution with the borax solution, then dried thoroughly before being worn again. It’s important to keep feet dry even when wearing shoes.

If athlete’s foot has been difficult to get rid of, it’s best to use bare feet in open sandals at least when at home to help keep them dry. Sandals protect other family members. I’m thinking of those open toe crocs that are so easy to clean. If jock itch is repeated, similarly, keeping the area dry can be assisted by wearing loose fitting, airy clothing at home - think a bath robe. When you have to dress to go out (a rarity these days, I know), choose loose cotton undergarments. Avoid clothing that rubs or irritates the area and change clothing daily. Avoid those polyester athletic shorts that are so popular! Polyester does not breathe! Bedding can be changed 1-2x per week and laundered in the borax solution.

No matter the area of the body, treating the problem daily is important for any treatment to be effective. Holistic solutions I advocate for clients include: 

  1. 3% peroxide: This can be purchased at any drug store and safely sprayed on the skin then blotted dry for areas not near the eyes. It’s naturally antifungal and non-toxic for topical purposes, however, it’s not classified as safe to ingest. It may bubble on the skin and could itch a bit. If there’s an open sore it can sting, but not as much as rubbing alcohol! This spraying can be done 2x per day on the affected area, then followed with gentle blotting to dry the area. A cool setting on a blow dryer can help ensure the area is completely dry if you are too sensitive to blot it or it seems to remain moist. Be sure to use a clean wash cloth or paper towel to blot the area, with a new one each time. If you have an infection on more than one body part, treat both at the same time and again, this should be done daily. 
  2. Tea tree oil: Tea tree oil is highly antifungal and can be added to a moisturizer cream to be rubbed on the area. Yes, moistness breeds fungi, but this is not unlike applying an antifungal cream. It inhibits the growth of the fungus. Tea tree can sting on open wounds, so it’s best to test the area first. I do not recommend using tea tree oil neat. All essential oils need to be added to an emollient type product before being applied to the skin, to ensure they aren’t too strong. I advise client to add it to a moisturizer and mix well before applying. It can also be added to liquid soaps for the shower. 
  3. Pau d’arco tea: Pau d’arco tea is a potent antifungal herb that has long been used in the treatment of internal fungal overgrowth. It’s very soothing and mild tasting and can help rebalance the flora of the body so that the issue is addressed at the root and natural immunity is boosted. This tea can be used as a wash on the area and taken internally. It can be purchased here or at any holistic health store. Some people prefer to take capsules of the herb and that is equally effective. 
  4. Apple Cider Vinegar: As a foot soak and as a topical ointment, nothing stops itch like raw apple cider vinegar. It can burn initially, but then the relief comes quickly! And, it’s naturally antifungal. Dipping a cotton swab in a small bowl of ACV, then swabbing the area is very effective. It can also be added to a foot soak to help incredibly. And it can be added to drinking water to aid in rebalancing the intestinal flora and alkalizing the body to avoid infections in the future. It has a pH similar to that of our skin’s natural acid mantle, so it can help the innate immune response of the skin in fighting infection and inflammation. 
  5. Probiotic foods: As suggested above, it’s wise to add probiotic foods to the daily diet to rebalance the flora of the body to avoid future infections. This is one of the most powerful things we can do for our overall health and longevity, as well.

I hope this is helpful, Vic! I’ve included product links so readers can order online if they want to. Thank you for reading and for writing in!

As always, if readers have their own health questions, I welcome them. Just send me an email at Readers can read past questions on my blog at and sign up for my free newsletter at for upcoming events like my kombucha class in the coming weeks through Barrie Public Library. Kombucha is a fermented beverage that’s fun and easy to make and costs pennies to produce at home.

Nonie Nutritionista