Why Might Vegetarians Have Less HPV?

Why Might Vegetarians Have Less HPV?
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Most young women get infected with human papilloma virus, the cause of cervical cancer, but most are able to clear the infection before the virus causes cancer. What dietary changes can improve viral clearance?

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

Cervical cancer is now considered a sexually transmitted disease—originally suspected as such, as it was supposedly found less in nuns, and more in prostitutes. But, now we have DNA-fingerprinting proof that virtually all cervical cancer is caused by a sexually transmitted virus—human papilloma virus—which also causes cancer of the penis, vagina, vulva, and throat. HPV is considered a necessary, but not sufficient, cause of cancer.

Most young women contract HPV, but most don’t get cervical cancer, because their immune systems are able to clear out the virus. “70% of women clear the infection within 1 year and more than 90% [within] 2 years,” before the virus can cause cancer—unless you’re immunocompromised or something.

Well, if that’s the case, maybe those with particularly strong immune systems might clear the virus even faster. That’s what may be behind this new study that found that vegetarian women appeared to have significantly lower infection rates with HPV—one of many studies reporting “vegetarians have lower risk of HPV infection,” thought to be because of “the presence of more fruits and vegetables in their diet which are rich sources of [all sorts of good phytonutrients].”

So, for example, if you take a bunch of women with cancer-causing strains of HPV infecting their cervix, and follow them out, and retest at three months, and then nine months, while analyzing their diets, what do you find? “Higher levels of vegetable consumption” may cut the risk of “HPV persistence” in half—double one’s likelihood of clearing this potentially cancer-causing infection. And, “higher” levels just meant like two or more servings a day.

What do antioxidants in plants have to do with viral diseases? Different antioxidants affect different viruses in different ways, but against HPV, don’t you know that “[e]lectrophoretic mobility supershift assays showed…[i]rrespective of enhanced c-fos expression, c-jun was phosphorylated and became primarily heterodimerized with fra-1, which was also induced after PDTC incubation.” I mean, duh. I had to read this paper like five times! Long story short, antioxidants appear to suppress the activation of critical segments of the virus’ DNA. Maybe, that’s why smearing green tea on genital warts—also caused by HPV—has been found so effective in clearing them.

In terms of preventing cervical cancer, “[t]hrough their role as antioxidants, phytonutrients like lutein [found in dark green leafy vegetables] and lycopene [the red pigment in tomatoes] may decrease viral load—thereby decreasing persistence and progression to disease. Whereas the protective associations…may be due to their antioxidant properties,” they have all sorts of other wonderful effects. So, who knows? Who cares?

Bottom line: “higher consumption of vegetables” may decrease “risk of HPV persistence”—which may help explain why this 2013 study found vegan women have significantly lower rates of all female cancers combined, including cancer of the cervix.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

Cervical cancer is now considered a sexually transmitted disease—originally suspected as such, as it was supposedly found less in nuns, and more in prostitutes. But, now we have DNA-fingerprinting proof that virtually all cervical cancer is caused by a sexually transmitted virus—human papilloma virus—which also causes cancer of the penis, vagina, vulva, and throat. HPV is considered a necessary, but not sufficient, cause of cancer.

Most young women contract HPV, but most don’t get cervical cancer, because their immune systems are able to clear out the virus. “70% of women clear the infection within 1 year and more than 90% [within] 2 years,” before the virus can cause cancer—unless you’re immunocompromised or something.

Well, if that’s the case, maybe those with particularly strong immune systems might clear the virus even faster. That’s what may be behind this new study that found that vegetarian women appeared to have significantly lower infection rates with HPV—one of many studies reporting “vegetarians have lower risk of HPV infection,” thought to be because of “the presence of more fruits and vegetables in their diet which are rich sources of [all sorts of good phytonutrients].”

So, for example, if you take a bunch of women with cancer-causing strains of HPV infecting their cervix, and follow them out, and retest at three months, and then nine months, while analyzing their diets, what do you find? “Higher levels of vegetable consumption” may cut the risk of “HPV persistence” in half—double one’s likelihood of clearing this potentially cancer-causing infection. And, “higher” levels just meant like two or more servings a day.

What do antioxidants in plants have to do with viral diseases? Different antioxidants affect different viruses in different ways, but against HPV, don’t you know that “[e]lectrophoretic mobility supershift assays showed…[i]rrespective of enhanced c-fos expression, c-jun was phosphorylated and became primarily heterodimerized with fra-1, which was also induced after PDTC incubation.” I mean, duh. I had to read this paper like five times! Long story short, antioxidants appear to suppress the activation of critical segments of the virus’ DNA. Maybe, that’s why smearing green tea on genital warts—also caused by HPV—has been found so effective in clearing them.

In terms of preventing cervical cancer, “[t]hrough their role as antioxidants, phytonutrients like lutein [found in dark green leafy vegetables] and lycopene [the red pigment in tomatoes] may decrease viral load—thereby decreasing persistence and progression to disease. Whereas the protective associations…may be due to their antioxidant properties,” they have all sorts of other wonderful effects. So, who knows? Who cares?

Bottom line: “higher consumption of vegetables” may decrease “risk of HPV persistence”—which may help explain why this 2013 study found vegan women have significantly lower rates of all female cancers combined, including cancer of the cervix.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Doctor's Note

Vegetarians appear to have lower rates of all cancers combined (see Vegetarians vs. Healthy Omnivores), but this is the first study of cancer rates among thousands of North American vegans. There are other reasons that help explain these results, from lower levels of the cancer-promoting growth hormone IGF-1 (see The Answer to the Pritikin Puzzle), the foreign meat molecule Neu5Gc (see How Tumors Use Meat to Grow: Xeno-Autoantibodies), and heterocyclines in cooked meat (see Estrogenic Cooked Meat Carcinogens) to more of the good stuff (see #1 Anticancer Vegetable and Which Fruit Fights Cancer Better?).

Other viruses may actually be found in the food. See, for example:

My other HPV video I reference is Treating Genital Warts with Green Tea.

More on improving immune function with improved nutrition can be found in Boosting Immunity while Reducing Inflammation and Boosting Immunity through Diet.

For additional context, check out my associated blog posts: Why do Vegan Women Have Fewer Female Cancers?

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