We know that the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) causes 98% of all cancers of the cervix. HPV is also linked to anal, vulva, and other cancers of the genital tract. With that said, not everyone who contracts HPV will develop complications.
Most cases of HPV will spontaneously regress on their own within 2-3 years. In the small few where HPV doesn’t revert and becomes chronic, it can lead to progressive cellular changes over time which can sometimes lead to cancer. So, what makes one person more susceptible to persistent HPV infections than another?
Let’s explore a few root factors that could be at play. Addressing these root causes can help support the body to clear HPV and prevent cervical and other HPV-related cancers.
Nutrients form the backbone and catalysts for many reactions and processes in the body. Today, many individuals are deficient in important nutrients, and these deficiencies make it difficult for the body ecosystem to function optimally. Studies have found several nutrients to be correlated with HPV infections.
Persistent HPV infections are more common in individuals with low levels of folate (B9), vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, and selenium. With these deficiencies, there is also an increased risk of progression to cervical cancer. HPV rates decline in individuals with higher levels of these nutrients.
The underlying action of these nutrients is to help support healthy immune function through inhibiting cancer cell growth and their powerful antioxidant activities.
Nutrient deficiencies can be corrected by consuming a diet rich in diverse whole foods, especially fruits and vegetables. We like to aim for 8 to 10 servings per day with at least one serving coming from green leafy vegetables.
Nutrient levels can also be corrected through supplementation. Papillex™ was formulated with this research in mind. Our nutritional supplement offers the daily recommended serving of micronutrients known to support HPV.
Are you ready to respond to HPV?
The Vaginal Microbiome
Within our body’s ecosystem exists separate micro-ecosystems including the vaginal microbiome. The vagina is home to trillions of microorganisms – bacteria, fungi, and viruses. These organisms play a role in the health and function of the vagina. When certain species overgrow or get depleted, health complications can occur.
The vaginal microbiome is largely populated by the Lactobacillus species. Studies find that HPV is more common in individuals with lower levels of Lactobacillus. In individuals with cervical dysplasia levels of unhealthy microbes like Prevotella, Sneathia, and Clostridiales are increased. Research also seems to indicate that HPV infection can disrupt the vaginal microflora, allowing the virus to persist.
Screening for vaginal infections like bacterial vaginosis, candida, and trichomonas vaginalis can help detect if there is an underlying imbalance and inform how to treat it. If you notice any changes in vaginal symptoms such as irritation, redness, pain, or changes to discharge, contact your doctor.
Taking care of your vaginal health is just like taking care of your overall health – eat a nutrient-rich diet, reduce sugar intake and processed food, and fill up on those pre-biotics and probiotics. Maintain proper hygiene practices by avoiding douches and soaps, using organic, scent-free personal care products, and cotton underwear. Safe sex practices are also important to your overall wellbeing – wearing condoms can reduce exposure to other bacteria and sexually transmitted infections as well as maintain vaginal pH.
Inflammation is a natural immune response to repair tissue damage and defend the body against invaders. However, unchecked and chronic inflammation is at the root of many chronic diseases.
It is helpful to think of the body as one interconnected ecosystem when considering the impact of inflammation on cervical health. When inflammation is out of balance, it can contribute to the body’s vulnerability to tissue damage.
Research has found inflammation and oxidative stress to play a role in HPV persistence. The HPV virus is better able to infiltrate into the cells when the tissue is inflamed. Chronic inflammation also helps cells proliferate over time, allowing for those cervical cell changes to occur. In addition, the HPV itself is also inflammatory and its cellular process further induces inflammation at the local site.
Reducing inflammation is another whole-body approach. Dietary factors play a role in supplying the body with antioxidants, known to balance inflammatory oxidative processes. Antioxidants are best obtained from eating a diverse diet of whole foods. We also recommend reducing exposure to inflammatory triggers like cigarette smoke, alcohol, and processed foods (trans fats and refined carbohydrates) as well as managing blood sugar through consuming adequate protein, fats, and complex carbohydrates to keep inflammation down. In addition to dietary changes, getting 7-8 hours of good quality sleep per night is crucial for the immune system.
Certain genetic factors have also been explored for their role in HPV. Studies suggest there is a familial predisposition to cervical cancer. More specifically, research indicates that individuals whose mother or sister had HPV have an increased chance of developing cervical dysplasia and cervical cancer.
This increased risk could be due to several factors. Certain genes were found to be associated with HPV risk as well as HLA alleles. A person’s genotype may also influence risk behaviors that influence HPV.
Our genes may also impact our DNA repair and detoxification pathways. Associations between the MTHFR gene and cervical cancer may also exist. MTHFR plays a role in converting dietary folate into folic acid to be used in detoxification and cellular repair pathways. An MTHFR mutation increases the risk of several diseases including heart disease, colon cancer, and breast cancer. Some evidence suggests there is a link between genetic variants of MTHFR and cervical cancer, but more research is needed. Increasing dietary folate through intake of leafy green vegetables, beans, and supplementation, can help support this pathway.
Hormones also play an important role as the chemical messengers that act throughout the body. Hormones were first thought to play a role in HPV infections following findings that HPV infections were more common in individuals on oral contraceptive pills and after having multiple pregnancies. The sex hormone, estrogen, is thought to explain why rates of cervical dysplasia increase in these groups.
Reducing exposure to xenoestrogens, estrogens found outside the body can help reduce this risk. Consider non-hormonal methods of birth control as a way to reduce risk. Again, diet and lifestyle factors play a role in supporting healthy hormone production and function. A diet rich in cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, and kale) can help support estrogen detoxification and clearance. Intake of phytoestrogens like flaxseed and soy can help support a healthy hormone balance.
Why lifestyle is key
The good thing is most of these factors are modifiable through lifestyle practices. The daily choices you make can influence your likelihood of developing cervical cancer or other HPV complications.
As we have said, supporting the body against invaders like HPV is a whole systems approach. Focusing on a nutrient-rich diet, reducing stress and exposure to harmful chemicals, and targeted supplementation can help address many of the underlying root causes that lead one to develop complications of HPV.