4 October, 2022
A holistic approach to cervical health - beyond the medical paradigm
If you have been told that you have precancerous cervical changes or cervical dysplasia, there is a good chance you are feeling distressed and uncertain about what to do next.
It is definitely an uncomfortable thing to hear, however, the good news is that most cases (not all) of human papilloma virus (HPV) infections resolve spontaneously, with little risk that they will progress to cervical cancer.
In saying that, in Australia, close to 1000 women get diagnosed with cervical cancer each year with about 200 deaths (Cancer Council 2019).
In view of these statistics, it is essential to do conventional follow-up testing and treatment of all cervical changes. It forms a part of a healthy and safe integrative approach.
Generally, if cervical changes are mild to moderate, the recommendation is to wait and repeat testing in a year.
What you can do to reduce cervical inflammation and the likelihood of progression HPV infection and cervical changes?
In this article, I would like to share some well-researched natural approaches that women might want to use, not as a substitute, but while waiting to do the follow-up testing.
These safe natural approaches are a proactive way to reduce the likelihood of abnormal pap smear in the follow-up test and the risk of progression to cervical cancer.
When it comes to addressing factors that could potentially contribute to cervical changes and HPV infection, there are 4 main areas to consider:
- Oxidative damage and inflammation
- Stress and immunity
Most women are significantly deficient in a range of important nutrients, including those that are crucial for optimal immunity and cervical health: folate, vitamin A, selenium, Vitamin D and B12. Therefore, ensuring that you are getting enough of these in your diet by ideally consuming 8-10 servings of brightly coloured fruits and veggies (preferably organic to avoid the pesticide load) and through appropriate supplementation may make a difference in preventing cervical changes and HPV infection from progressing.
In a group of women with cervical
dysplasia, supplementation with 5mg/day of folate significantly reduced signs
of abnormal cellular changes compared to placebo (Asemi et al. 2016). It is also important to
consider an association between the MTHFR mutation which interferes with the
ability to use folate and folic acid from the diet. It has been found to play a
significant role in many cancers, likely due to its involvement in
detoxification and cellular repair
(Botezatu et al. 2013).
Where necessary, I use a methylfolate supplement at a 5 mg/day for
women with cervical dysplasia, and support women with the MTHFR
snip with 500-800 mcg of methylfolate regardless of cervical changes as
part of a general multivitamin.
Inflammation and Oxidative Stress
Inflammation is a natural process that protects the body from infection, illness and plays a central role in healing by increasing white blood cells, immune cells, and cytokines.
However, when inflammation gets out of control and runs wild, it can have damaging effects on the body. Oxidative stress is also necessary for a healthy immune function, but like inflammation, when it is out of control, it can lead to tissue and cellular damage, compromising the integrity and functionality of an organ. Further, oxidative stress leads to inflammation, and vice versa, in a vicious cycle (Khansari et al. 2009).
A range of factors increase inflammation and oxidative stress, most notably, a diet high in refined carbohydrates and sugar, processed foods, lack of fruits and veggies, low nutrient intake, gut dysfunction, exposure to environmental toxins - which we all get daily- as well as chronic stress, and insufficient sleep!
How does it relate to cervical health? The body is one interconnected organism and inflammation and oxidative stress can alter cervical cell health and make them more vulnerable to cellular damage and susceptible to chronic HPV infection.
Some tips to eat an anti-inflammatory diet:
- Eliminate all processed foods, refined sugar, and carbohydrates from your diet as these can incite inflammation. An elimination diet is a great way to begin your journey and can also help you identify personal food triggers.
- Get 8-10 servings of fresh veggies and fruit in your diet EVERY DAY. Make a green smoothie below, add a salad and a sweet potato plus 1 cup of berries to your regime and you are almost there!
Stress and Immunity
Stress has an enormous impact on immune function so stress reduction and self-care are an important part of any plan to reduce cervical inflammation, improve immunity and address HPV infection.
Herbal adaptogens can be considered in conjunction with lifestyle approaches for stress reduction. One of my favourite adaptogens for immune health is Turkey tail and it can be combined with Ashwagandha, Rhodiola, St John’s Wort, and Lemon Balm which can also be used for their antiviral properties.
Vaginal Microbiome and Cervical Health
The vaginal microbiome plays a crucial role in cervical health, including the resolution of HPV infections.
Beneficial vaginal microorganisms, especially Lactobacillus spp, have been shown to provide defenses against pathogens and sexually transmitted infections through the maintenance of a more acidic pH that is hostile to them, production of species-specific metabolites, bacteriocins, and through adherence to mucus and disruption of damaging biofilms. Increased populations of pathogenic bacteria are associated with higher rates of HPV infection and intra-epithelial neoplasia (CIN) (Kyrgiou & Moscicki 2022).
Existing HPV infection itself may adversely impact optimal cervical cell immune defences leading to the aberration of vaginal microbiota, promoting HPV persistence and disease progression. Diet, stress, drugs and environmental factors also modulate the vaginal microbiome (Barrientos-Durán et al. 2020).
A comprehensive treatment of mild to moderate cervical dysplasia includes dietary changes, supplementation with nutraceuticals at correct doses, herbal medicine, and vaginal suppositories.
I generally recommend following a suitable protocol for 3-12 months, while continuing with the Pap smears and appropriate evaluations. Most patients are thrilled with the results!
Get in touch with us to find out more
At Body and Brain Centre, I am here to support you with a tailored, individualised plan to address cervical dysplasia and improve cervical health. I take a thorough functional medicine approach, thoroughly assessing and supporting your unique health goals.
About the Author
Similar articles you'll enjoy:
- http://www.canceraustralia.gov.au. Cervical cancer in Australia statistics | Cancer Australia [Internet]. Canceraustralia.gov.au. 2019 [cited 2022 Sep 23]. Available from: https://www.canceraustralia.gov.au/cancer-types/cervical-cancer/statistics
- Asemi, Z., Vahedpoor, Z., Jamilian, M., Bahmani, F., & Esmaillzadeh, A. (2016). Effects of long-term folate supplementation on metabolic status and regression of cervical intraepithelial neoplasia: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Nutrition (Burbank, Los Angeles County, Calif.), 32(6), 681–686. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nut.2015.12.028
- Barrientos-Durán A, Fuentes-López A, de Salazar A, Plaza-Díaz J, García F. Reviewing the Composition of Vaginal Microbiota: Inclusion of Nutrition and Probiotic Factors in the Maintenance of Eubiosis. Nutrients. 2020;12(2):419. Published 2020 Feb 6. doi:10.3390/nu12020419
- Botezatu, A., Socolov, D., Iancu, I. V., Huica, I., Plesa, A., Ungureanu, C., & Anton, G. (2013). Methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) polymorphisms and promoter methylation in cervical oncogenic lesions and cancer. Journal of cellular and molecular medicine, 17(4), 543–549. https://doi.org/10.1111/jcmm.12032
- Khansari, N., Shakiba, Y., & Mahmoudi, M. (2009). Chronic inflammation and oxidative stress as a major cause of age-related diseases and cancer. Recent patents on inflammation & allergy drug discovery, 3(1), 73–80. https://doi.org/10.2174/187221309787158371
- Kyrgiou M, Moscicki A-B. Vaginal microbiome and cervical cancer. Seminars in Cancer Biology [Internet]. 2022 Mar [cited 2022 Sep 23]; Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35276341/