You don’t think about your cervix very often unless you are at the gynecologist having a Pap test. And even then, you are probably trying not to think about it. A Pap test examines the cervix to look for abnormal cells and infections such as human papillomavirus (HPV). The health of your cervix is essential. What you eat, your choice of contraception, and other lifestyle factors can have a significant impact on whether or not HPV affects you. In this article, we discuss the connection between HPV, cervical health, and your lifestyle.
What is HPV?
HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection, and two specific types (16 and 18) cause 70% of all cases of unhealthy cervical cells and other cervical concerns. 79 million Americans have HPV. According to some health experts, if you are sexually active, you may have exposure to the virus. During sex, HPV spreads from intimate skin-to-skin contact, and intercourse is not necessary to transmit HPV. Unfortunately, condoms or dental dams may not completely prevent exposure to it.
If you have HPV, you can spread it through intimate contact. Because there are no drugs available to treat HPV, it’s important to practice healthy lifestyle habits to keep your body’s immunity strong to reduce the risk of infection.
About The HPV Virus
There are about 200 different viruses that make up HPV. About 14 of these viruses may cause more serious health concerns, such as changes to your cervical cells. Once you have HPV, you should get regular Pap tests to examine your cervical cells for changes. Most of the time, the immune system can clear HPV infections within 18-24 months.
Cervical Cell Health
A Pap test is a good test to identify abnormal cells or high-risk strains of HPV that could cause issues in the future.
When caught early, no treatment may be needed, and the problem may correct itself with time. If not caught early, your healthcare team may suggest excisional procedures. These procedures, LEEP (loop electrosurgical excision procedure) or CKC (cold knife cone), can remove unhealthy tissue. After any procedure, you should continue to follow up with your healthcare team yearly for a Pap test and for any other labs or tests they recommend.
In addition to regular gynecological visits, the following lifestyle habits can impact your cervical health.
HPV, Cervical Health, and Lifestyle Choices
If you have HPV, you can optimize the health of your cervical cells by incorporating specific lifestyle changes. These changes include following a healthful diet, not smoking and exercising regularly.
Smoking cigarettes may further the development of HPV and unhealthy cell development. o Stopping smoking is the single most important step you can take to improve the length and quality of your life. Here are some resources to help you quit.
Most people’s bodies get rid of the HPV virus on their own, however for some it is not so easy to get rid of the virus. One study suggests there may be a link between persistent HPV and alcohol consumption. Researchers concluded that alcohol could cause folate deficiency, which potentially could alter a person’s DNA, a known precursor to abnormal cell development. The same researchers also noted that nearly 10% of people who drank alcohol were also smokers, and tobacco might suppress the immune system, making it harder for the body to fight off HPV. Even moderate alcohol consumption (one drink a day for women) may increase your risk. Consider cutting down on your alcohol consumption if you drink more than one alcoholic beverage each day.
Being physically active every day is one of the most important things you can do for your health. Moderate and frequent exercise can improve your immunity by causing changes in antibodies and white blood cells. Enhancing immune function is vital in helping your body be healthy and strong.
Oral Contraceptive Use
The risk for unhealthy cervical cell development is higher among women who have HPV and use oral contraceptives for five to nine years. Cervical cell changes among oral contraceptive users are three times greater than women who never used oral contraceptives.
Women can reduce their risk by going off oral contraceptives and staying off them for ten years. After ten years off oral contraceptives, the risk returns to the same as women who have never used them. The evidence of the connection to oral contraceptives is limited. However, if you have HPV and use oral contraceptives, speak to your healthcare practitioner about choosing the right contraceptive for you.
One cup of fresh fruit or fresh vegetables is one serving. Try to eat at least two cups of fruit and three cups of vegetables each day.
Variety is important. For example, if you have a salad with romaine lettuce, a few grape tomatoes, and an apple every day that is a good start. However, try to vary the types of vegetables and fruit you have each day, and try to increase your intake too.
Take a few minutes the next time you go grocery shopping to explore what’s available. You can also try new preparation methods to switch things up a bit. Try blending fruit in a smoothie or roasting your vegetables. New ideas can really boost your daily intake of produce.
Indole-3-carbinol (I-3-C) is found naturally in cruciferous vegetables and has been found to be beneficial for cervical health. Examples of cruciferous vegetables include cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts.
It is easy to see that certain lifestyle changes can help to improve the health of your cervical cells. If HPV is a concern for you, try incorporating some of the lifestyle tips we’ve provided in this article. And, of course, be sure to see your gynecologist for regular yearly exams.