I'm A Holistic MD: What I Tell My Patients To Do To Lower Cervical Cancer Risk
Recent studies have indicated an increase in cervical cancer cases associated with HPV infections. While this is concerning, the good news is that many cases of cervical cancer can be prevented through proactive lifestyle changes3. It's also worth noting that cervical cancer, while a serious health concern, is not an inevitability in the face of a positive HPV Pap smear.
With more than 90% of my patients being women who are seeking holistic approaches to cancer prevention, I can attest to the fact that taking a proactive approach with lifestyle choices can have a significant impact on cervical health outcomes. Let's take a look at three holistic ways I help my patients support their immune systems to fight HPV and reduce cervical cancer risk. These can all form complementary strategies for HPV prevention alongside vaccination:
Nourish the immune system with functional ingredients
A robust immune system is your body's best defense against high-risk HPV. To support your immune health, consider incorporating the following nutrients into your daily routine:
- Food: Traditionally used in various cultures for their potential health benefits, medicinal mushrooms contain bioactive compounds that when cooked may help enhance immune function, have anti-inflammatory properties4, and can help regulate the body's inflammatory response.
- Supplements: Active hexose correlated compound (AHCC) is a medicinal compound derived from shiitake mushroom mycelia. This natural extract has undergone extensive research5, solidifying its reputation as a potent immune-supporting nutrient. AHCC has been shown to enhance the immune system's ability to clear high-risk HPV infections6, in particular, within six months, potentially reducing the risk of cervical cancer with a dose of 1.5 grams twice a day. Be sure to consult with your doctor if you're interested in trying this supplement.
- Food: Abundant in citrus fruits, strawberries, and bell peppers, vitamin C acts as a potent antioxidant that enhances the immune response.
- Supplements: For immune support, daily intakes of vitamin C are recommended in the range of 200 to 1,000 mg. Vitamin C is water-soluble, which means the body does not store excess amounts, so it's safe to consume higher doses, especially during times of illness or increased immune system demand. Here are a few supplements that deliver vitamin C in efficacious doses.
- Food: Folate is a B vitamin found in many foods like lentils, eggs, spinach, and bananas. We need folate to make DNA and for cell division.
- Supplements: There is research to show that women with low levels of folate tend to have higher rates of cervical cancer from HPV7. So, it is important to raise those levels to help mitigate that risk, which is where a supplement can come in.
Water may seem simple, but its role in supporting the immune system cannot be overstated (hence why I wrote an entire book about it called Quench!)
What makes water so essential for immunity? Well, proper hydration maintains blood volume and circulation, ensuring immune cells can travel efficiently throughout the body to identify and respond to pathogens.
Immune cells, such as white blood cells, require a balanced internal environment to function optimally. Staying hydrated ensures they can recognize and attack pathogens effectively.
Staying hydrated is also essential in removing waste products and toxins from the body, reducing the immune system's burden. This allows the immune system to focus on defending against infections instead of dealing with internal toxins.
Stress reduction is a critical component of cervical cancer prevention, as it plays a significant role in overall health and immune function. Chronic stress can weaken the immune system8, making the body less effective at combating infections, including high-risk HPV. To reduce daily stress, consider these holistic methods:
- Be mindful: Practicing mindfulness and meditation techniques can help manage stress by promoting relaxation and reducing anxiety. Here are a few mindful practices that allow individuals to stay present in the moment, minimize the impact of stressors, and improve overall mental well-being.
- Get moving: Physical activity is also a natural stress reducer. It releases endorphins, the body's feel-good hormones, which can enhance mood and alleviate stress. Engaging in regular exercise, whether it's yoga, walking, or other forms of movement, can be highly effective in stress reduction. Getting out in nature to exercise can also be a bonus stress reliever.
- Use holistic therapies: Finally, aromatherapy, acupuncture, and massage can be valuable tools for reducing stress. They promote relaxation, balance energy, and relieve tension, helping to manage stress levels effectively.
By incorporating proper nutrition, hydration, and stress reduction methods into your daily routine, you can strengthen your immune system, which may help reduce your risk of cervical cancer. Taking a holistic, proactive approach to your immune health will also enhance your overall well-being and quality of life—yet another reason to start implementing these tips today.
Dr. Dana Cohen MD, is a nationally renowned internal and integrative medicine specialist whose multi-disciplinary approach has helped treat thousands of patients using a variety of conventional and complementary therapies. She was certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine in 1998 and was appointed to the Board of Directors of the American College for the Advancement of Medicine (ACAM), the leading voice of integrative medicine for more than 1,500 MD, DO, ND and master-level health care providers, and served as advisor to the Board of Directors and advisor to the education committee. Dr. Cohen earned her medical degree from St. George’s University School of Medicine and completed a three-year internal medicine residency at Albany Medical Center. She is the author of “Quench: Beat Fatigue, Drop Weight, and Heal Your Body Through the New Science of Optimum Hydration" (Hachette Books, 2018).