To celebrate Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, Dr. Amy Kroeker, ND shares her perspective on managing abnormal Paps, and shares a remarkable case of cervical dysplasia that has a happy ending.
“Watch and wait”
If you have ever had an abnormal Pap and heard this phrase, you’re not alone. And, if you are anything like me, you don’t like waiting.
Cervical dysplasia is caused by the HPV virus which causes normal cervical cells to change form into abnormal cells prone to becoming precancerous or cancerous cells. It is standard medical advice to “watch and wait” when first diagnosed with an abnormal PAP (ie. cervical dysplasia). However, what exactly are we waiting for…and what are we watching? It’s not like we can see our own cervix to check up on it. In my practice, I’ve always found this advice to be excruciating to the female psyche. For 6 months, women are asked to wait and then the PAP is re-done to see if the cells have converted back to normal cells or continued to progress towards abnormal pre-cancerous or cancerous cells. It is assumed that since the abnormal cells are caused by a virus, that your body may be able to fight the virus off in this amount of time and allow the cells to heal. If they do not, then treatment (often by laser) is required. But wait, if these cells are caused by a virus, isn’t there more we can do to help our bodies fight this virus off? Aren’t there a lot of natural remedies that can help boost our immune systems?
Case Study of a 26 year-old female
A few years ago, I had a patient with a memorable case of HPV induced cervical dysplasia. A 26-year-old woman who wanted to boost her own body’s immune system to reverse the abnormal cells. Her gynecologist gave her 6 weeks before doing a laser removal of the cells. At the time, I thought it wouldn’t work. Natural medicine is all about focusing on prevention and I didn’t believe we could reverse abnormal cells in that time frame. I made sure my patient knew there were risks to waiting but since her gynecologist had agreed to wait 6 more weeks, and she was determined to use those 6 weeks to their full advantage, I did some research and came up with a plan to support her own body’s immune system with diet, vitamins, and anti-viral and hormone balancing nutrients. What was the result? A clean PAP. That case, and the research I did for it became my protocol to give women back control during the “watch and wait” phase. I don’t suggest ever delaying treatment once needed and recommended by your doctor or gynecologist but during the “watch and wait” phase I prefer to take action to provide the environment supportive of the best possible outcome.
The following are some of the tips I recommend to help boost the immune system while waiting:
Emphasize eating vegetables and fruits (at least 7-10 servings per day) to boost antioxidants and increase immune system function. Research shows that high levels of vegetable consumption is associated with a 54% decrease in HPV persistence. Specifically, consume at least one serving per day of a cruciferous vegetable such as broccoli, kale, cauliflower, or Brussel sprouts and at least one serving of dark green leafy vegetables or bright orange/red vegetables at every meal.
There are lower rates of HPV infections reported among women with higher intake of carotenes, lutein, zeaxanthin, and vitamin C and these vitamins and antioxidants are found in brightly colored vegetables and fruits. Lignans, a nutrient found in high concentrations in ground flaxseeds, help to lower levels of free estrogen in circulation. Consuming 2 tbsp per day can help improve the hormone balance necessary for the ovaries, uterus, and cervix to function optimally. As for what foods to avoid; avoid processed foods, foods with added sugar, alcohol, and coffee. These foods create unnecessary stress on the body and hormonal systems and we need to create space in the diet for the more nutrient dense foods.
There are a lot of different nutrients with research showing they help the immune system or help the body fight viruses like HPV. These supplements are individualized for each patient so I always recommend working with a licensed naturopathic doctor or functional medicine doctor to tailor a program specific to you. However, I consider the following nutrients since they have the most research.
- Folic acid – ideally in the active form
- Vitamin C – higher doses, if possible, from food or supplements
- Vitamin A – higher doses but if you go above 10,000 IU daily then you need to work with a doctor for liver safety
- I also like to use a product that contains reishi mushroom, mixed carotenoids, broccoli sprout extract or DIM, and green tea extract – these are all found in the supplement Papillex. I have yet to find a better blend of ingredients combined in one formula for the support of cervical dysplasia.
So, next time you are told to “watch and wait” after an abnormal PAP, seek out a licensed naturopathic doctor or functional medicine doctor so you can support your body while it tries to heal and repair from the HPV virus. Why feel helpless while waiting? Take action!
Dr. Amy Kroeker, ND practices from her clinic in Winnipeg, Canada. Learn more about Amy at https://www.amykroekernd.com/about