How You Can Use Your Diet to Help Fight HPV Infections
Photo Credit: Ana Blazic Pavlovic
Sex education teaches us all about how sexually transmitted infections are passed on through physical intimacy with others. If your sex ed course was comprehensive, you may have been taught how to identify early symptoms of sexually transmitted infections—bumps, itching, warts, painful urination; the unsettling list continues. But how do you detect a sexually transmitted infection (STI) that has hundreds of virus strains, can spread through skin-to-skin contact, and has little to no symptoms during its invasion of the human body?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describes the genital human papillomavirus (also called HPV) as the most common sexually transmitted infection. According to the National Cancer Institute, more than half of sexually active people are infected with one or more HPV types at some point in their lives. The human papillomaviruses are a group of more than 150 related viruses, and more than 40 of these viruses can be easily spread through direct skin-to-skin contact during vaginal, anal and oral sex.
The real risk of this vexatious virus is that it can increase the chance of developing certain cancers, with a woman’s cervix being most vulnerable. In particular, high-risk HPV strains 16 and 18 cause about 70% of all cervical cancers. While women can monitor HPV and prevent the risk of cervical cancer through regular pap smears, it’s highly recommended that abnormal cells are treated to prevent cervical cancer. The risk of cervical cancer by way of HPV has led to the development of two vaccines owned by Merck & Co. and GlaxoSmithKline.
Cervarix (GSK) and Gardasil (Merk & Co.) aim to prevent young women from developing cervical cancer. Gardasil is said to protect against genital warts and cancers of the anus, vagina and vulva. The two vaccines are available to women, but only Gardasil is available to men. It’s recommended that girls as young as nine years old complete the series of vaccinations. Girls aged 11-26 are also highly encouraged by schools and medical professionals to get vaccinated.
While deaths from cervical cancer have decreased significantly in the last four decades due to regular pap tests, women are still diagnosed with cervical cancer in the United States. According to the CDC, reports from 2010 show that over 11,000 American women were diagnosed with cervical cancer, and nearly 4,000 died from cervical cancer. The good news is that there are medical and naturopathic treatments which reduce and in some instances have been known to treat HPV and cervical dysplasia.
In the last decade, more and more people are looking to alternative health news and naturo/homeopathic treatments to clear HPV and prevent cervical cancer in women. The World Health Organization reports that HPV infections typically clear without any medical intervention within a few months, and approximately 90% clear within two years. Because HPV tends to clear on its own in about two years time, it’s important to maintain a strong and healthy immune system to support HPV’s natural elimination from the body. When choosing to augment your body in clearing the infection, food and environmental lifestyle changes are integral to the recovery process. For some, these changes can be radical consumer shifts. For others, the alternative treatment may not be such a shock to your lifestyle.
Because HPV is astoundingly prevalent in both women and men, naturopathic doctors have developed a regimen that bolsters your body’s natural healing of the virus. This natural form of treatment is certainly not for everyone, and those who are considering a naturopathic approach should consult their physician.
To help annihilate HPV, there are certain foods and consumer choices an individual must make. In particular, if you have high-risk HPV and abnormal cells changes to your cervix (CIN I, II, or III), your naturopathic treatment may be more intensive. Let’s begin with the foods that are most beneficial in expediting the healing process.
Diet and Nutrition
Cruciferous veggies produce a compound known as Indole-3-carbinol, or I3C. According to Linus Pauling Institute, research shows that women taking 200 to 400 milligrams of I3C per day over the course of 12 weeks completely regressed the progression of precancerous cervical lesions. Cruciferous vegetables include kale, mustard greens, horseradish, watercress, turnips, cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower.
Beta-carotene converted to Vitamin A when consumed empowers your body to clear HPV. It’s important to ensure you don’t have a beta-carotene deficiency as this may hinder your healing process. Vegetables rich in beta-carotene include carrots, squash, tomatoes, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, and lettuce.
Folic acid is especially useful in the treatment of mild cervical dysplasia (CIN I). One study shows that high folate blood levels are linked to the prevention of mild cervical dysplasia and high-risk HPV 16. Good sources of folate include legumes, fortified cereal, asparagus, eggs, oranges, and strawberries.
Vitamin C, the ultimate immune booster, will exponentially increase your chances of curing HPV in a timely manner. One study showed that women with high intake of vitamin C had a reduction in the risk of cervical dysplasia. Vitamin C can be found in yellow and red bell peppers, kale, kiwi, broccoli, berries, oranges, peas, and papaya.
Antioxidants can help cure various strains of HPV including ones that cause the development of warts. Because antioxidants fight free radicals, cancer-causing agents in your body, it’s vital that you consume foods high in antioxidants. Goods sources of antioxidants include artichokes, green tea, berries, peaches, and spinach.
It’s highly recommended that all foods are certified organic and non-GMO to ensure a safer, more nutritious diet.
Estrogen and Phytoestrogen
Because estrogen plays a role in HPV persistence, it’s best to steer away from foods high in estrogen. Phytoestrogens (dietary estrogens) has also shown to have a positive association in premalignant cervical lesions. Estrogenic and phytoestrogenic foods include soybeans, flax seeds, sunflower seeds, tofu, conventionally raised meats, and dairy products.
Consuming meat is not off the table during alternative treatment of HPV. However, when selecting meat products, it’s important to choose food items low in estrogenic quality, certified organic and grassfed, with no added hormones.
Vitamins and Antiviral Herbs
For those with busy schedules, vitamin intake and antiviral herbs is an alternative, or even complementary option. The recommended foods can also be taken as a supplemental vitamin regimen. Antiviral herbs to boost the immune system include Astragalus, Goldenseal Root, Coriolus Versicolor (Mushroom), and Olive Leaf.
Again, it’s suggested that the vitamins are non-GMO, suitable for vegetarians and certified organic. It’s best to do your research and consult a physician before consuming vitamins as part of your HPV and/or cervical dysplasia treatment plan.
Environment and Lifestyle
Given every body is different, decide which diet works best for you and what matches the severity of your HPV diagnosis. In conjunction with your diet plan, a few lifestyle and environmental changes are also recommended.
Reduce (if you can, remove) alcohol consumption
Limit or avoid the consumption of coffee (tea is great though!)
Practice yoga and meditation
Purchase non-toxic household products
Sleep eight hours every night (naps are great, too)
The medical alternative to treating high-risk HPV and cervical dysplasia is the surgical removal of abnormal cells and the HPV vaccine. There are four main types of medical procedures which include the surgical removal of abnormal tissue from the cervix: Laser Therapy, Cryocauterization, Laser Loop Electrosurgical Excision (LEEP), and Cervical Conization. These surgical procedures are known to have a 70-99% cure rate. Some women have reported complications with these treatments, specifically with the most preferred treatment, the LEEP procedure. Common complications include vaginal draining, pain, bleeding, and infection.
Keep in mind that HPV is the most prevalent sexually transmitted infection out there, yet it’s not life threatening when treated responsibly. With many options available, both medical and naturopathic, you can prepare your body to eliminate HPV once and for all.