Tune your immune system to beat HPV
A robust immune system helps combat HPV, although lifestyle factors also play a role in determining the course of an infection. Women who smoke and those who have poor nutrition and low antioxidant levels are more likely to develop cervical cancer. Typical STD risks such as beginning sexual activity at a young age and engaging with multiple partners are also warning signs.
Hayes adds genetics to the list of risks. She recommends genetic testing for the combining gene MTHFR, which is involved in the body’s ability to activate folic acid and read viral DNA messages. “About 20 percent of the population has a funny copy of this gene,” she says. People who do may also be more vulnerable to heart disease. If you learn that you have it, Hayes recommends supplementing with activated folic acid. Of course, your best option is to avoid HPV, she adds. “Use barrier contraceptive methods, limit the number of sexual partners, and interview your partners about sexually transmitted diseases and their number of sexual partners.”
Food plays a huge role in prevention, according to Jane Guiltinan, ND, director of the Bastyr Center for Women’s Wellness in Seattle. Epidemiological studies show that dietary components associated with a lower risk of developing cervical dysplasia include lycopene, vitamin A, zinc, vitamin C, and folic acid. It’s important to eat fresh fruits and vegetables and a diet rich in antioxidants, she stresses, rather than simply taking supplements—with some exceptions. The first is I3C (indole-3-carbinol), an extract of cruciferous vegetables. “Treating dysplasia with 200 and 400 mg of I3C a day for 12 weeks produced a complete reversal of dysplasia for 40 to 50 percent of the women [in a research study],” she reports. The higher dosage produced no difference. Also green tea, either orally (five cups per day) or as an extract in a topical gel, has been proven effective in reversing dysplasia, she adds.
Evans recommends a “pescatarian” diet, which includes fish and organic whole foods with complex, low glycemic-index carbohydrates, low fat, and very little dairy. He also points out the importance of managing stress, eating properly, and sleeping enough. When it comes to supplements, he prescribes folic acid, mixed carotenoids, I3C, CoQ10, and drinking green tea.
“A woman can treat most mild abnormalities herself,” says Hudson. Green tea extract is so effective, she says, that you could simply try inserting green tea capsules vaginally twice a week in addition to taking green tea supplements. A second Pap test will reveal if the treatment has worked.
If the infection has progressed from dysplasia to low-grade lesions, “you’ll really want to seek an alternative practitioner who knows treatments, when to treat, and when to get the cells removed,” Hudson advises. Troublesome tissues can be removed with a scalpel, a laser, or by freezing. These treatments are successful at least 90 percent of the time, Hudson says. The most common is a treatment called LEEP (loop electrosurgical excision procedure), done in-office under local anesthetic. LEEP spares the good underlying tissue while providing a biopsy specimen.
If you do need to undergo a surgical procedure, Guiltinan recommends taking multivitamins, increasing your intake of antioxidants, and adding I3C and 10 mg of folic acid a day. After the wound heals, she says to focus on green tea—both topical and oral. The aim: “To keep your immune system functioning as optimally as you possibly can.”
Only the most invasive infections require the most drastic treatment—a hysterectomy. But between self-treatment and hysterectomy lies a staircase of decisions you need to make with your healthcare practitioner, who can offer a host of treatment choices that most conventional gynecologists probably won’t mention.