Beyond the medical paradigm

A holistic approach to cervical health

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.

 Beyond the medical paradigm - A holistic approach to cervical health 

By Olga Ischenko - Clinical Naturopath/medical researcher

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 (1).
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.
Is there anything you can do in the interim to reduce cervical inflammation and the likelihood of progression and persistence of 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
The vaginal microbiome

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 (2). 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 (3).
Where necessary, I use a methyl folate supplement for women with cervical dysplasia at a 5 mg/day dose, and support some women with the MTHFR snip or 500-800 mcg of methyl folate part of a general multivitamin or a stand-alone supplement.

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.
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!

Ginger Lemon Green Bliss Mix:-

2 cups of spinach, chard, parsley
½ cup of frozen berries
Juice of ½ lemon
1 thin slice of fresh ginger root and turmeric
1 cup of filtered water (or almond milk or coconut water)

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) (5).
Existing HPV infection itself may adversely impact optimal cervical cell immune defenses leading to the aberration of vaginal microbiota, promoting HPV persistence and disease progression. Diet, stress, drugs and environmental factors also modulate the vaginal microbiome (6).
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 Rosanna Traditional Chinese Medicine Clinic, 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.

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