Pap Smears, HPV and Natural Treatment Options
Have you had an abnormal Pap smear result? Heard about HPV and the HPV vaccination but not sure what it is? Do you get regular Pap smears? Or looking for treatment options for an abnormal Pap smear result or positive HPV infection?
This article is everything you need to know about HPV, Pap smears, abnormal results and treatment options. Because it’s your body and you have a right to know!
Let’s start from the top what is HPV?
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a common virus that infects the cervical cells, the cells between the vagina and the uterus. HPV infection causes the cervical cells to change (dysplasia) and may lead to cervical cancer. An abnormal Pap smear result is simply the identification of cervical cells that have changed and may result in cancer given time.
Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection is responsible for up to 65% of cervical cancers worldwide. With an estimated 492,800 cervical cancer cases detected every year as a result of a HPV infection. Cervical cancer is a preventable cancer and in Australia we are very fortunate to have free cervical cancer screening tests available to all women over the age of 25. This enables early detection and treatment before abnormal cells turn into cancer.
How do you get HPV and who is at risk?
HPV is a sexual transmitted infection and like all viruses (i.e. common cold) they can only take hold when the body’s immune system is down i.e. nutritional deficiency, stress, certain medications etc. Other factors include:
Increased number of sexual partners (increased risk of HPV exposure)
Early age of sexual activity (increased risk of HPV exposure)
Lowered immune system (either from nutritional deficiencies, stress or medication)
Infection with herpes virus (causes lowered immune system)
Use of oral contraceptive pill (causes nutritional deficiencies and stimulates tumour growth)
Smoking (nutritional deficiencies, toxins)
The best way to keep yourself safe is to have regular cervical cancer screening tests.
The Pill and Abnormal Pap Smear results
A recent study found that women on the oral contraceptive pill had a fourfold increased risk of cervical cancer as result of HPV infection. There are a few reasons why abnormal Pap Smear results are common on women on the pill. Firstly, oestrogen stimulates tumor cell growth and the large amount of oestrogen your body is exposed to by being on the pill causes HPV infected cervical cells to change to precancerous or cancerous types quicker than without being on the pill. Secondly high oestrogen levels will lower the immune system and the pill also causes nutritional deficiencies particularly folate which you will see below is very important in treating HPV infections and abnormal pap smear results.
Testing for HPV: New changes to the pap smear
You may have heard that from December 2017 the Pap smear has now changed to the Cervical Screening Test. So, what is the difference? The Pap Smear Test looked for changes in the cervical cells which is the first step to cancer. The new Cervical Screening Test detects HPV and is therefore more effective than the Pap Smear test at preventing cervical cancer and the best part is you only need to get it done every 5 years instead of 2 years. Yay!
Abnormal Pap Smear results: what to do
An abnormal Pap smear or a positive test for HPV doesn’t mean you have or will get cervical cancer but it needs to be closely monitored. The conventional treatment by doctors is to wait and watch! If the abnormality is still there after 6 months then they may use colposcopy, cervical cryotherapy or excisional procedures to remove the abnormal cells. But they do not treat the cause – HPV infection and recurrence is common. Naturopathy however treats the cause, HPV infection, and helps prevent recurrence.
With naturopathy we can treat straight away while medical doctors can only wait and watch!
Natural Treatment for Abnormal pap smear and/or positive HPV infection
Based on current research naturopathic medicine is successful in preventing and treating cervical HPV infection. As with any kind of viral infection the aim of the treatment is to reverse nutritional deficiencies, boost the immune system and use antiviral nutrients and herbs to clear the body of the infection. Below are treatment options to consider:
Avoid external oestrogens
This includes medications like the oral contraceptive pill and hormone replacement therapy as well as dietary sources from beef and dairy. Always opt for hormone free meats and avoid dairy. Chemicals in our beauty products and cleaning products can also act like oestrogen within the body so always opt for organic/natural products.
Use condoms and other barrier methods
Is important to use condoms when having sex during the treatment period to prevent cross infection with your partner. It may also be important for your partner to be treated for HPV at the same time.
Boost the immune system
Eat a diet rich in immune boosting foods like garlic, onion, turmeric, ginger, coconut yoghurt, fermented foods, bone broth and an array of fresh fruit and vegetables.
Is essential in treating cervical cell abnormalities. Women infected with HPV who have higher plasma folate levels are less likely to have cervical dysplasia (strange cells) and the effect is greater if vitamin B12 levels are also adequate. Folate and vitamin B12 can be tested in the blood and the dose depends on your level of deficiency.
Vitamin D plays a crucial role in the immune system and a strong immune system is what is needed to prevent and clear a HPV infection. Studies show that vitamin D levels are significantly lower amongst women who test positive for HPV. While a study in Iran showed that women supplemented with vitamin D for 6 months showed regression of mild cervical dysplasia. It is important you get your vitamin D levels tested before starting supplementation. Ideally you want your serum vitamin D levels to be between 80-125nmol/L.
Women are 50% more likely to have a positive HPV infection if their dietary vitamin A intake is low and dietary vitamin A intake is inversely correlated with cervical cancer risk. Boosting foods rich in vitamin A is an important way to prevent and help with the treatment of HPV infections, think foods like: sweet potato, pumpkin, carrots and mango. Always seek professional advice before supplementing with vitamin A especially if you are pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant within the next year.
Turmeric (Curcuma longa)
The active ingredient in turmeric, curcumin, has shown to suppress cervical cancer cell growth and slow down cancer gene expression. While topical application of curcumin cream has shown positive results when compared to placebo in killing affected cells and clearing HPV infections.
Andrographis (Andrographis paniculate)
Andrographis has long been used in herbal medicine to treat infections and strengthen the immune system. Studies have shown that compounds in andrographis have the ability to inhibit HPV and induce cell death in cells affected by HPV (good thing). Speak to your natural health care provider on the right dose for you.
Why naturopathic treatment is better than the ‘wait and watch’ offered by other practitioners – A 2017 US study looked at 59 adults treated with herbal medicine for cervical dysplasia and found a decreased time to HPV clearance, increased percentage of HPV free individuals and caused no adverse reactions.
Please Note: although general treatment options are listed above it is imperative that you seek assistance from your natural health care provider and continue to see your doctor for follow up screenings and treatment if required.
Having regular Cervical Screening Tests is the most important step in preventing cervical cancer. Should your test results come back abnormal or you test positive for HPV infection don’t sit, wait and hope things get better. Take action today and seek assistance from your natural health practitioner. And remember if you experience vaginal pain, painful sex or abnormal vaginally discharge see your doctor immediately.
Have you successfully treated a HPV infection or abnormal Pap smear result with natural medicine? Let me know below, I would love to hear your experience.