What is HPV?
HPV is short for human papillomavirus. According to CDC, there are more than 150 types of this virus with 80 million Americans infected. 1
In most cases, active HPV goes away on its own with a healthy immune response and does not cause any health problems. In fact, the CDC states most HPV infections (9 out of 10) go away by themselves in two years.2
Most people with HPV never develop symptoms or health problems. There is no test to find out a person’s “HPV status.” The virus can be in your body but be latent. In fact, papillomaviruses colonize the skin and mucosa of virtually all humans from very early in life and replicate at very low levels without any apparent clinical or cellular damage.3
Like other viruses, when HPV becomes chronic it can cause health problems. People may find out they have HPV when they get genital warts or for women, when they get an abnormal Pap test result (during a cervical cancer screening).
An abnormal pap abnormal changes in the cells of the cervix and is mainly due to the HPV virus. Cells that are infected with HPV appear different from normal cells under a microscope known as cervical dysplasia. If a pap is abnormal a cervical biopsy may be required to determine the severity of the cells.
Cervical intraepithelial lesion (CIN) is used to report cervical biopsy results. CIN describes the actual changes in cervical cells and is graded as 1, 2, or 3. CIN 1 is used for mild (low-grade) changes in the cells that usually go away on their own without treatment. CIN 2 is used for moderate changes. CIN 3 is used for more severe (high-grade) changes and may be described as “precancer.”4
Cryotherapy or a loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP) may be recommended if abnormal cells are found. A small electrical wire loop is used to remove abnormal cells from your cervix. The goal of both of these treatments is to remove the abnormal cells and shed the top layer that holds the virus.
But LEEP does not treat the virus in the body or support the immune system. In addition, there may be complications from cryotherapy and LEEP that will make pregnancy and child birth more difficult (read Cynthia’s story at the end of this post).
Naturopathic Point of View of HPV
Our bodies are constantly being bombarded with bacteria, viruses and parasites. Viruses are amazing at adapting to and utilizing their host environment, including mutation. They often outpace any advances in virus detection, antiviral drugs, and vaccinations.
Our immune system protects us against billions of bacteria, viruses, toxins, parasites, and free radicals. Maximizing the effectiveness of our immune system is the best defense against viruses. If the immune system is not functioning as it should, we look for imbalances in the body including mental, emotional and physical stressors.
Ensuring a healthy immune system requires viewing the body as a whole and minimizing inflammation and stressors. Ensuring the body is getting sufficient sleep, eating nutritious foods, and minimizing stress supports the immune system.
Without proper nutrients and lifestyle, viruses like HPV can recur over and over. Cells may not be able to defend and repair themselves, which can leave the body open to a lot of disease and stress.
Naturopathic physicians offer an alternative approach to managing both abnormal pap results and cervical dysplasia. Supporting the immune system is an important part of treatment for cervical dysplasia. Certain immune supportive nutrient deficiencies have been associated with HPV infections such as Folate and B12 and retinol (Vitamin A). 5 6 A micronutrient assessment is a key for treatment.
When the pap comes back abnormal conventional medicine suggests to watch, wait and repeat the pap. Naturopathic medicine would begin by supporting the immune system to fight off HPV as well as treat HPV directly. This treatment consists of oral support and sometimes vaginal treatment of the cervix.
Some important herbal medicines and nutrients include:
- Folate: There have been several studies showing low serum folate levels are linked to cervical dysplasia and high folate blood levels are linked to the prevention of CIN I.7,8 Improvement in cervical dysplasia using folic acid supplementation is also well documented.9
- Indole-3-carbinol: Indole-3-carbinol (I3C) is present in all members of the cruciferous vegetable family including cabbage, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and kale. I3C can be taken as a supplement or simply by eating 4-5 servings of the cruciferous family vegetables a day. I3C can help balance hormones especially estrogen dominance.
- Vitamin C: Vitamin C is an excellent antioxidant that boosts the immune system and has proven anti-cancer effects. A recent studied showed that women with high intake of dietary vitamin C had a reduction in the risk of cervical dysplasia.10
Colloidal Silver douches or Vitamin E suppositories can also be used to help the cells of the cervix regenerate faster if needed.
As a naturopathic doctor, I’ve helped many women who have HPV. Read Cynthia’s story about her struggle with HPV. Even after her first diagnosis and LEEP treatment, second diagnosis and cryosurgery, HPV continued to effect her. Cynthia was able to successfully use naturopathic treatments to avoid further painful procedures and eliminate HPV from her body.
My first experience with HPV occurred when I was 16 years old. At the time, I was told that my pap smear was positive for precancerous cells. All I saw was the terrifying word “cancer”.
I cried for quite awhile before I worked up the nerve to show the letter to my mother and start to set up treatment. I had cryosurgery done with no lasting side effects and no reoccurences of the HPV for a full 20 years.
At age 36 I was informed for a second time that I had “concerning abnormal cells” on my cervix. My OBGYN discussed the LEEP procedure versus cryosurgery. She felt cryosurgery was less likely to successfully remove all the bad cells, and since I had no plans to have any more children, convinced me that the LEEP procedure was my best option. At no point did she discuss any nonsurgical options.During the two years following the LEEP procedure my annual vaginal exams were a nightmare. I was not prepared for the extreme pain which had previously been a pain free experience. My doctor explained to me that I was more sensitive due to my LEEP procedure. I began to experience so much dread and anxiety before any speculum exam.
At 38, for a third time I was once again diagnosed with abnormal cells on my cervix. My doctor’s first choice treatment was a repeat LEEP procedure. I was devastated at the idea of going through that procedure again with no confidence HPV would not come back soon after. I decided I wanted a second opinion.
I started seeking out naturopathic treatment options for help with weight loss around age 37. Thanks to extremely comprehensive blood tests, I learned I was severely deficient in folate and that my body did not break down regular folate supplements the way it should and I needed a special kind of pre-broken down folate. I shared those labs with my OBGYN and she never once commented on the low levels or how that could be impacting my recurrent HPV break outs.
My naturopathic doctor explained to me how deficiencies were affecting my body’s ability to repair my own cells. I started a treatment of oral and vaginal silver every day for a little over 2 months. During that time I stopped taking my birth control to try and help correct my hormone levels after a lifetime of birth control pills. My husband and I had one lapse in judgment while trying to use the basal temperature tracking and menstral cycle calendar and found ourselves preparing for diapers rather than an empty nest!
This unexpected pregnancy lead to a whole new stress about the consequences of my LEEP procedure and how it would impact child birth. When I went to my OBGYN and told her I had been using a silver treatment under the care of a naturopathic doctor, she told me she had not seen any articles suggesting there was any benefit to using silver. She suggested that I needed to move forward with another LEEP procedure 6 weeks after the birth of the baby WITHOUT retesting for HPV.
Shortly after that I switched OBGYNs. My naturopathic doctor did have me stop the silver treatments following my pregnancy announcement but felt that the two months should have been sufficient to treat the HPV. She continued to help me by supplying prenatal vitamins and making sure my supplements were safe for pregnancy and at the appropriate quantities.
About a month after that I had my first speculum exam with my new OBGYN. This time when I cried it was with relief that for the first time in two years it didn’t hurt at all! I completely credit that to the silver as well as correcting my deficiencies in a few different healing vitamins.
Now the labor itself was a whole different story. I had previously had two sons in very easy, smooth, quick deliveries. My OBGYN attempted on at least 3 different occasions to try to manually bust up the scar tissue from the LEEP procedure that was keeping my cervix from dilating. After 3 hours of hard pushing the doctor started telling me that we would have to switch to a C section as my contractions were slowing down to as much as 17 minutes apart and I was getting “uterine fatigue”. I was so tired, sore, dehydrated and devastated to have worked so long and struggled so much.
Thankfully I was once again saved by naturopathic methods! A massage therapist and a medical student began using reflexology on my feet. Within minutes I started to have strong contractions close together and in less than an hour my 6 lb 13 oz baby girl was born! It took me months to be able to talk about that experience without reliving the horror all over again.
I don’t believe the birth would have been nearly as traumatic or the labor as difficult if I had not had the LEEP procedure and all the scar tissue it left. To this day I am bitter that my OBGYN did not explain to me that other options existed besides surgery. Maybe she didn’t know about the benefits of silver but she also seemed unwilling to acknowledge that diet and supplements could play that big of a role.
My naturopathic doctor spent 4 times as long with me at any given appointment educating me and teaching me what to put in my body compared to my OBGYN visits. It was very eye opening experiencing the difference between the mainstream medical professional versus the naturopathic medical professional.
My new OBGYN listened to me and decided a retest to look for the HPV was warrented about 6 weeks after the baby was born. Once again I felt that anxiety of “is this going to hurt?” I was almost singing with relief when the pap smear was completed and I still had no pain! A few days later the results were in and no HPV could be found!
The silver treatment was a success!
So much of my life right now would be different had I not found Doctor Melanie Maclaren. I can’t thank her enough for helping me truly treat my HPV but more than that for listening to me and taking the time to truly be involved in my case. It’s been 9 months since my amazingly happy, healthy baby girl was born and I look forward to continuing to have a healthy body inside and out!
If you are like Cynthia and have been recommended these treatments, you have options. A woman should be educated about her options for managing cervical health. The least invasive, most natural, safe and effective treatments that address the cause should be offered.
There are times natural medicine is not an option for treating cervical cell changes due to the severity and location of disease but in many cases naturopathic treatment of cervical dysplasia and HPV is the safest and most effective option.
Contact a naturopathic doctor near you and find ways to support your body’s healing abilities.
“I love teaching others about natural health. I feel educating others on natural living provides a sense of empowerment to the individual about their own health.” – Dr. Melanie MacLaren
5. Weinstein SJ, et al. Low serum and red blood cell folate are moderately, but nonsignificantly associated with increased risk of invasive cervical cancer. J Nutr. 2001;131:2040-2048.
6. Schiff MA, et al. Serum carotinoids and risk of cervical epithelial neoplasia in southwestern American women. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2001;10:1219-1222.
7. Piyathilake CJ, et al. Lower risk of cervical intraepithelial neoplasia in women with high plasma folate and sufficient vitamin B12 in the post-folic acid fortification era. Cancer Prev Res. 2009;2(7):658-664.
8.Piyathilake CJ, et al. Lower red blood cell folate enhances the HPV-16-associated risk of cervical intraepithelial neoplasia. Nutrition. 2007;23(3):203-10.
9. Marshall K. Cervical dysplasia: early intervention. Altern Med Rev. 2003;8(2):156-70.
10. Ghosh C, et al. Dietary intakes of selected nutrients and food groups and risk of cervical cancer. Nutr Cancer. 2008;60(3):331-41.