There are nearly 150 types of HPV, and thankfully, 90% of cases tend to resolve within a few years of infection. This is because the immune system does an impeccable job of clearing the virus. For others, the virus can lay dormant, not having any major implications on your health. However, some cases of HPV are higher risk, and put us at an increased chance of developing cancers of the cervix, throat, and more. One of the best things you can do for your health after receiving an HPV diagnosis (or before receiving one, because prevention is key), is to build and strengthen your immune system so it can adequately clear or suppress the virus. Thankfully, there are many ways we can do this.
First Things First, Know your Modifiable Risk Factors – and Eliminate Them.
There are many lifestyle changes that have a significant impact on your immune health and on your body’s ability to clear a virus. For instance, smoking and excessive alcohol consumption are both factors that increase your risk of abnormal pap smears and HPV progression.
Research finds that smoking tends to increase prevalence of HPV infections by way of suppressing immune function and up-regulating inflammation. Additionally, smoking causes DNA damage and increased cellular proliferation, resulting in a higher incidence and susceptibility to HPV infection, and an increased risk of cancers of the cervix, head and neck. An in-vitro study found a potential link between carcinogen benzo(a)pyrene (in cigarettes) and abnormal cervical cells.
Research also finds that both excessive alcohol consumption and acute binge drinking can increase incidence of persistent HPV and associated symptoms, by disrupting and suppressing immune function. When assessing how alcohol impacts our ability to fight infections, it is important to look at the GI tract. Alcohol’s first point of contact is in the gut before entering the bloodstream. With nearly 80% of our immune system residing in the gut, it’s no wonder that alcohol has an impact on immunity.
Alcohol acts as a disruptor to the gut epithelium, damaging T cells and neutrophils in the GI tract thereby facilitating the leakage of microbes through the damaged gut barrier and into circulation. Studies find that it might not only be excessive drinking, but also acute binging of alcohol that has the ability to suppress the immune system, affecting our ability to fight infections like HPV.
Add Science-backed Nutrients to your Diet
Carotenoids are a colourful class of compounds including lutein, lycopene and zeaxanthin. These orange, yellow and red pigments are naturally occurring in many fruits and veggies such as carrots, squash, bell peppers, mangoes, kale and spinach, to name just a few. Carotenoids play an essential role in modulating immune function and higher levels of carotenoids in the diet are linked with an increased clearance of HPV, especially in early stage infections. Additionally, carotenoids play an essential role in disease prevention, including cancers.
Sulforaphane is a powerful antioxidant that aids in detoxification, among other benefits. Sulforaphane is found in broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and arugula, with the highest amounts in broccoli sprouts. When we consume foods with sulforaphane, it breaks down into two metabolites – DIM and I3C. These compounds are powerful cancer fighters. In fact, researchers have even coined the phrase “green chemoprevention” in relation to sulforaphane’s anti-cancer properties. Epidemiological studies emphasize sulforaphanes role as an alternative agent in cancer prevention.
Our immune system is greatly affected by folate deficiencies. Animal studies have found that folate deficiency causes alterations in the thymus, resulting in decreased ability for T lymphocytes to target pathogens, as well as decreased antibody response to various pathogens. Science has found an association between folate deficiency and cervical dysplasia.
Vitamin C has many crucial functions to protect the health and integrity of our cells. Studies find that vitamin C intake reduces risk of progression of high-risk HPV to cervical cancer, and can improve cervical dysplasia. Vitamin C is able to neutralize pathogens and inflammation, helping our cells perform their jobs effectively. A study in the journal of infectious diseases finds that risk of persistent HPV was lower in those with higher intakes of vitamin C. Additionally, studies have found a link between an oral intake of 1000mg of vitamin C per day and a shortened duration of genital wart presence, and a decreased rate of occurrence compared to controls.
Selenium is a crucial mineral, required for hormone production and balancing oxidative stress. Viral infections may increase our body’s requirements for selenium because of the increased production of reactive oxygen species (ROS). Experimental animal studies have found that selenium may have anti-cancer activity in cervical cancers induced by HPV infection, with epidemiological studies finding that cervical cancer patients have decreased tissue concentrations of selenium. Additionally, a randomized, double-blind clinical trial of 58 Iranian women with biopsy indicated CIN1, found that 200mcg of selenium daily vs. placebo for 6 months demonstrated a regression of CIN1 compared with control. Due to the many mechanisms of selenium on the immune system such as its protective and anti-viral properties, selenium may aid in both treatment and prevention of HPV, and potentially cervical cancers induced by HPV.
All of these nutrients (and more) can all be found in therapeutic dosages in Papillex.
Are you ready to respond to HPV?
Manage your Stress
Studies continuously find a connection between stress and its impact on immunity, which is supported in pathogenesis and persistence of HPV infections. You cannot always control stressful events from occurring, but you can manage perceived stress through methods of talk therapy, finding good friends to chat with, getting adequate sleep and nutrients, and getting outside in nature. Reducing perceived stressors can help with HPV disease management and progression and is an important part of any HPV treatment plan.
An HPV diagnosis can be overwhelming and scary. The good news is, there are many lifestyle and dietary changes that can aid in the healing of HPV. Building and strengthening your immune system is a great place to start.