If you have received an HPV diagnosis from your healthcare provider, you are probably feeling a little lost, frustrated and maybe even overwhelmed with what to do next. Unfortunately, all too often, women are told their next steps are to “watch and wait” for HPV to either progress or stay the same, consistently affecting you as a patient, and leaving you disempowered in this diagnosis. The truth is, the unknown of an HPV diagnosis which can range from completely mild to severe, is really a scary thing to go through on your own.
With that being said, nearly 80% of the population has HPV. Cervical cancer affects about 12,000 women in the United States each year, and other HPV-related cancers such as anal and oropharyngeal are rising too. Though most cases of HPV are mild, benign and even self-resolving, hundreds of thousands of women will be told they have an abnormal pap each year. Doesn’t this feel like something we should be talking about? Doesn’t this seem like a diagnosis that should be taken seriously, with action plans and clinical guidelines to help people with HPV reduce their likelihood for complications? At Papillex®, watching and waiting is simply not good enough for us. So what are some actions you can take to address HPV? Keep reading to find out.
There are five key considerations we have when it comes to clearing and healing HPV and cervical dysplasia, and reducing your risk for HPV-related cancers.
Consider Nutrient Deficiencies
When many of us think of the health benefits of food, proteins, fats and carbohydrates come to mind. These macronutrients make up the general composition of our foods but within them lie additional health-promoting compounds called micronutrients.
Micronutrients include trace minerals and vitamins that support the normal growth and development of living organisms. Without them, body systems like the immune system, nervous system, and digestive system can become impaired.
Many individuals are deficient in micronutrients. This can be due to low intake of dietary sources like fruits and vegetables and high intake of processed and nutrient-poor foods. Additionally, it is thought that the micronutrient quality of our fresh food has declined in recent years due to industrial agricultural production.
This micronutrient deficiency may be at the root of why some people struggle to eradicate HPV infections compared to others who clear the virus more easily. Several micronutrients have been specifically found to be low in individuals with HPV and cervical dysplasia.
The most common micronutrient deficiencies associated with HPV include folate, vitamin A, selenium, vitamin C and vitamin E. For more info on these micronutrients and how to correct deficiencies, click here.
We know that the immune system is a key factor in regressing HPV infections.
Studies have found inflammatory molecules assist the virus to integrate and proliferate into an individual’s tissues. This means that the more inflammation present, the easier it is for viruses to infect our tissues. Inflammation leaves our cells more vulnerable to further damage.
HPV itself also drives inflammation. The viral particles produced by the HPV (E6, and E7) are also inflammatory and drive more inflammation which further decreases the level of antioxidants, our main weapons against oxidative damage. Together these processes allow HPV to persist.
For more information on how inflammation affects HPV and what to do to control it, click here.
Consider the Vaginal Microbiome
The vagina is an incredible organ with a protective epithelium and diverse microbial ecosystem. The vaginal tract is rich in all sorts of “commensals”, meaning microbes that are non-harmful and even beneficial for the vagina and our health. The largest species of microbes in the vaginal tract are called lactobacillus, which you may have heard of if you take oral probiotics. Any potentially harmful microbes in the vagina are kept at bay by our unique acidic pH.
Stress is a major disrupter of this microbial balance. Since stress itself is inevitable, cortisol (our fight or flight hormone) has the capacity to disrupt the vaginal microbiome and its ability to fight infections of the genitourinary tract. Researchers from the University of Illinois have even found a potential link between pandemic-related stress and the increase in STI’s amongst young women. The data from this small, but fascinating study found that young women who reported higher levels of pandemic-related stressors also had increased odds of infection. Professor of epidemiology and biostatistics, Mehta, suggests that the uptick in stress-related infections is likely due to changes that occur in the vaginal microbiome during times of chronic stress. This study sheds light on the impact of environment & psychosocial factors on our physical health, as women.
Another study in the Frontiers of Endocrinology found that exposure to chronic stress led to a significant decrease in lactobacillus microbes in the vaginal tract. As mentioned above, the lactobacillus species is one of the most significant “commensals” in the vagina, providing us with protection against invaders and therefore amplifying both the severity and frequency of vaginal infection.
For more information of supporting a healthy vaginal microbiome, click here.
Consider Blood Sugar Balance
research finds that glucose spikes and insulin resistance both contribute to malfunctioning immunity and the inability to effectively fight off infections.
One study found that glucose spikes inhibited microbial killing and phagocytosis, as well as increased the production of inflammatory cytokines in otherwise healthy subjects. Trials continue to show that by managing glucose spikes, we can reduce susceptibility to infection and allow us to create healthy immune responses to infections when necessary. Because HPV is a viral infection, supporting the immune system’s ability to fight infections is the most important effort you can make when healing with HPV.
Many lifestyle and dietary habits can be contributing to glucose spikes. As mentioned above, simple carbohydrates on their own, like a bowl of cereal, coffee drinks on an empty stomach, dried or juiced fruits, and other high-sugar foods all contribute to glucose spikes and the susceptibility to insulin resistance seen in diabetics and patients with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). But it is not just diet that leaves us vulnerable to glucose spikes. PMS, lack of sleep, and genetics all play a role in our susceptibility to glucose spikes and insulin resistance as well. Aside from not being able to change or control your genetics, there are many dietary and lifestyle changes (surprisingly some pretty easy ones, too) that can lessen these spikes and thereby reduce your symptoms.
For simple tips to help manage your blood sugar, click here.
Consider your support system
Healing and dealing with a diagnosis like HPV, whether mild or high risk, is a scary and frustrating place to be. You don’t have to do it alone. In fact studies find that a proper support system is crucial in healing all sorts of infections and chronic conditions. Whether you find your support system in your family, friendship groups, care providers or internet besties (us!), this is a consideration that cannot be skipped.
At Papillex®, we are here to support you on this incredibly empowering journey to healing HPV. Feel free to share your story with us on instagram, or just send a hello to chat! We are here for you.