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Women's Health
Here are a few lifestyle tips to help support a healthy cervix.

You don’t think about your cervix very often – unless you’re visiting the gynecologist for your annual exam. But the health of your cervix is essential. What you eat, your choice of contraception, and other lifestyle factors significantly impact cervical health. 

This article discusses the connection between HPV, cervical health, and your lifestyle. 

What is HPV?

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection. There are about 200 different types of HPV, but most of them aren’t a big concern. About 14 types of HPV may cause more serious health concerns, such as changes to your cervical cells. Two specific types (16 and 18) are responsible for 70% of all cases of unhealthy cervical cells and other cervical concerns. 

About 79 million Americans have HPV. And if you’re sexually active, you may have been exposed to the virus, too. 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. But don’t panic – most of the time, the immune system can clear an HPV infection within 18-24 months.  

Still, there isn’t currently a medical cure for HPV, so shift your focus to HPV prevention. It’s vital to practice healthy lifestyle habits to keep your body’s immune system strong and support a healthy cervix. 

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. Talk with your healthcare provider to determine how often you need a Pap test.  

When abnormal cell changes are caught early, treatment may not be needed, and the problem may correct itself with time. If caught later, 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 on a regular basis for a Pap test or any other recommended procedures.

In addition to regular gynecological visits, the following lifestyle habits can impact your cervical health. 

HPV, Cervical Health, and Lifestyle Choices

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

Smoking cigarettes may increase your risk of HPV and unhealthy cell development. If you smoke, quitting 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. 

Alcohol

For many, the immune system can get rid of the HPV virus on its own. But some may have more difficulty getting rid of the virus. One study suggests there may be a link between persistent HPV and alcohol consumption. Researchers concluded that alcohol may affect folate levels. Folate helps make and repair DNA, so it’s important to maintain healthy levels of this nutrient to support overall cell health.  

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. 

Exercise

Being physically active every day is one of the most important things you can do for your health. Among well-known benefits of exercise like heart and bone health, regular physical activity can also help support a healthy immune system. Aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity most days of the week, and find activities that you enjoy, like hiking, swimming, cycling, or dancing.    

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 discontinuing oral contraceptives and staying off them for ten years. After ten years without 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 are concerned about HPV and use oral contraceptives, speak to your healthcare practitioner about choosing the right contraceptive for you. 

Diet

In general, try to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables each day. Aim to fill your plate with the rainbow – more colors equal more nutrients. But for cervical health specifically, focus on vitamin C, vitamin A, and folate. Foods rich in these nutrients may help support a healthy cervix

Vitamin C-rich foods include strawberries, bell peppers, kiwi, and broccoli. Orange and yellow foods are often an indicator of vitamin A content, so choose plenty of sweet potatoes, mangoes, and carrots. And to reach your folate goals, add leafy greens, beans, whole grains, and avocado.  

Indole-3-carbinol (I-3-C) is found naturally in cruciferous vegetables and may also offer some benefit for cervical health. Examples of cruciferous vegetables include cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts.  

Take a few minutes the next time you go grocery shopping to explore what’s available – maybe you’ll even come home with a new fruit or vegetable. Try new preparation methods to keep cooking and eating fun. Blend your favorite combination of fruits and vegetables into a refreshing smoothie, air fry your vegetables with olive oil and simple seasonings, or toss your leftover vegetables into a stir-fry for an easy meal that also prevents food waste. New ideas can really boost your daily intake of produce. 


It is easy to see that certain lifestyle changes can help support a healthy cervix. If HPV is a concern for you, try incorporating some of the lifestyle tips provided in this article. And, of course, be sure to see your gynecologist for regular yearly exams. 

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