Ask anyone about the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States or the world generally. You can be certain that their answer would be close to HIV, gonorrhoea or chlamydia. However, that seat is proudly occupied by HPV, the Human Papillomavirus.
This STI is very common among sexually active persons. A recent study showed that over 75 million Americans, majorly teenagers and adolescents, are suffering from this disease. 1 Also more than 14 million people are getting newly infected every year. Furthermore, one percent of the sexually active global population suffer from genital warts, a common symptom of HPV. 2 These numbers give an insight into just how prevalent this STI is.
Hence, it is important to know what this disease is, how it affects you and the effective ways of building your immune system to fight it.
What is HPV? (Common Symptoms)
The Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is a DNA virus belonging to the papillomavirus family which has over 170 members. Each member of the family is represented by a number e.g. HPV-5, HPV-44, HPV-32 etc. Over 40 forms of HPV are transmitted sexually. HPV could be contracted via direct skin contact. However, vaginal and anal sexual intercourse are the most common methods by which people get infected. In a few cases, HPV could also be transferred from a mother to her baby. Most sexually active persons suffer from an HPV infection at least once in their lifetime.
Certain strains of HPV show no symptoms and are easily removed by the body. Some could even cause warts or lead to laryngeal papillomatosis. These strains of HPV are called the low risk HPVs. Common examples are HPV types 6 and 11.
There are also the high risk HPVs and these are those which are carcinogenic. HPV types 16 and 18 account for most HPV related cancers.
Some of the symptoms and complications of an HPV infection are;
Wart types caused by HPV
A common symptom of an HPV infection is a breakout of warts which could appear in different parts of the body. A wart is formed when the outer layer of the skin begins to grow cells at an irregularly rapid rate. There are various forms of warts which develop due to HPV. They are;
- Plantar warts: This form of warts mostly grows under the feet, especially the soles. Rather than grow outward, they grow inwards instead, leading to difficulty in walking.
- Flat warts: These are commonly seen on the face, arms or even the forehead. Flat warts are common among teenagers and children. From research, people who develop flat warts due to HPV are not in risk of developing cancer.
- Common warts: These normally develop on the hands, legs, knees or elbows. They are well known by their distinctive cauliflower look. Just like the flat warts, common warts shows that the HPV infection is not one which could lead to cancer.
- Periungual or subungual warts: This form of warts is quite difficult to treat. This is because they develop directly under (subungual) or close to the fingernail. Some could also develop on the nail cuticle (periungual).
- Genital warts: These are the most common symptom of a HPV infection and it is easily recognizable. HPV type 6 and 11 are the major causes of these warts, accounting for over 90% of the recorded cases.
Of all these, the genital warts are the most contagious while the probability of passing on the other wart forms are quite low.
All forms of warts are cleared by the body immune system with time ranging from a few months to a few years. 3 They can also be cured by medical treatment however; the disappearance of the warts does not mean a person is free from the virus. The virus might still be present within the body and could easily be passed on to others.
HPV-6 and HPV-11, the major causes of genital warts could also cause an uncommon medical condition. This condition is called laryngeal papillomatosis. Here, warts develop on the voice box also known as the larynx (scroll down for the picture). In some cases, these warts are found on other parts of the respiratory pathway. This condition could cause breathing difficulties, voice changes and in certain cases, it could even lead to cancer. Hence, it is advisable to seek medical advice if one develops this condition. 4
HPV connection with Cancer
An HPV infection could also result into various kinds of cancer. HPV causes around 95% of all anal cancers and almost all known cases of cervical cancer. The most involved HPV strains in this case are HPV types 16 and 18. These HPV strains cause over 70% of all recorded cancer cases.
Another common form of cancer caused by HPV is oral (oropharyngeal) cancer. This is a form of cancer where malignant cells develop in the pharynx. Around two thirds of all oropharyngeal cancer cases are as a result of HPV infection.
HPV also causes other forms of cancer such as vaginal, vulvar and penile cancers with 65, 50 and 35 percent of all recorded cases linked to the virus. 5
The table below shows the various HPV types and the diseases they could cause;
|Common warts||2, 7, 22|
|Plantar warts||1, 2, 4, 63|
|Flat warts||3, 10, 8|
|Anogential warts||6, 11, 42, 44 and others|
|Anal dysplasia||6, 16, 18, 31, 53, 58|
|Genital cancers||Highest risk: 16, 18, 31, 45
Other high-risk: 33, 35, 39, 51, 52, 56, 58, 59.
Probably high risk: 26, 53, 66, 68, 73, 82
|Epidermodysplasia verruciformis||more than 15 types|
|Focal epithelial hyperplasia (mouth)||13, 32|
|Mouth papillomas||6, 7, 11, 16, 32|
|Laryngeal papillomatosis||6, 11|
HPV could be just a disease which enters your body and immediately gets neutralized and expelled by the immune system. The same HPV could be an infection which you contract and which then results into various complications. Some of these complications range from painless warts to life threatening cancers. I am certain this is one choice you don’t want to leave to fate. So is there any treatment for HPV and how can it be prevented?
How to treat HPV (Conventional Treatment)
For now, no cure has been invented for HPV. However, all forms of warts, respiratory tumors and cancers resulting from HPV can be treated successfully. Some of the methods applied in getting rid of precancerous tissues include;
- Cryosurgery: This refers to the use of extreme cold to destroy abnormal tissues. This technique is commonly used to treat tumors present on the skin, though it is very effective for internal tumors also. The working fluid used in nitrogen or argon gas which is brought in contact with the tumor for a specified period of time. 6
- LEEP (Loop electrosurgical excision procedure): This is a procedure where an electrically heated wire loop is used to cut off cancerous cells and tissue. This procedure is majorly used on the cervix and vagina of women as a form of diagnosis and treatment for genital warts and unwanted tumours. 7
- Laser vaporization conisation: This is a technique used for diagnosing and treating cervical dysplasia. In this technique, marks are made on the patient’s cervix and the marked area is then vaporized. A laser is then used to cut out a cone shaped portion of the cervix. This procedure is carried out to remove pre-cancerous cells. 8
Other complications of HPV infection such as genital warts or lesions on the vagina, anus or penis can be resolved by laser surgery, electro surgery or plain prescription medication.
How to build your immune system to fight HPV
Even though HPV doesn’t have a defined cure, several natural remedies are available to help suppress its symptoms and help you live a very good life. Some of these include;
Supercharge your immune system
Supplement that has shown lots of positive results building immune system to fight HPV is the Active Hexose Correlated Compound (AHCC). A developing study has discovered promising links between HPV and AHCC, a relatively new and highly effective supplement. AHCC is produced from shiitake mushrooms and the Basidiomycota fungi making it a natural source of food without any toxic components which might harm your body. Scientists are very enthusiastic about the effectiveness of this new supplement. How AHCC operates is it increases the cellular energy and numbers of the body’s natural killer cells such as T & B lymphocytes, cytokines, macrophages and natural killer cells. This enables the body to naturally overcome previously insurmountable pathogens such as HPV and to prevent tumor growth.
In the University of Texas Health Science Centre popularly called UTHealth, a clinical trial 9 was carried out on ten women. These women were all given a specific dosage of AHCC for a period of six months. When they were tested after this period, five of them were free from the virus while a further three tested negative after stopping supplementation. This proves that AHCC supplements might be able to get rid of the HPV in the human body.
Research has found a link between low Vitamin D blood levels and increased risk of contracting dangerous types of HPV. Vitamin D, aka the “sunshine vitamin” helps to fortify our immune systems. It does this by increasing the energy of killer T cells and anti-microbial peptides, the body’s soldiers. Thus, low levels of this vitamin could reduce your natural defence leaving you susceptible to HPV. Getting more Vitamin D would help prevent against this. Vitamin D is derived from food and the sun; however, supplements are the easiest and most effective way of boosting the body’s vitamin D levels.
Thus Vitamin D and AHCC supplementation could be very effective in treating or even eliminating an HPV infection.
Immune strengthening food
There are certain food items which contain large amount of natural probiotics. Probiotics refers to microorganisms, mostly bacteria, which are beneficial to the body when ingested. Probiotics have several health benefits including improved digestive and immune systems, healthier skin and higher energy levels. Probiotic rich foods such as Yogurt, Kefir, Kimchi, Miso, Pickles, Tempeh and Natto are all very healthy foods. They help to fortify the immune system and heal the symptoms of HPV infections especially warts. 10
Other immune strengthening foods available are green leafy vegetables. These are loaded with vitamins A, C and K and minerals such as iron and calcium. These vegetables also serve as healthy sources of fibre. 11
Citrus fruits and foods with large quantities of selenium e.g. Brazil nuts are also very effective in strengthening the immune system.
Essential oils against warts
Essential oils are oils derived from specific plants which are used as perfumes, soaps, food flavours and medical purposes. The essential oils derived from the Thuja and the Tea trees are effective in getting rid of genital warts or other surface symptoms of the HPV virus.
Thuja oil is a common remedy in Ayurvedic medicine. This essential oil has the ability to identify and destroy pathogens. It is also very effective in eliminating viral symptoms such as warts. Despite these awesome benefits, thuja oil could be a bit hard on the skin hence it should be applied with care.
Tea tree oil is a very powerful antiviral substance. The oil doesn’t only neutralize the effect of viruses such as HPV; it also strengthens the immune system. It does this by increasing the amount of white blood cells present in the body which helps fight the HPV infection.
Another effective essential oil is that of the calendula plants. Calendula oil has proved very effective in curing HPV related skin conditions such as inflammation or warts. 12
A wide range of antiviral herbs can be used to strengthen the body’s immunity and reduce the action of viruses. These herbs could also fortify the digestive and cardiovascular systems. Some of the most effective antiviral herbs include;
- Goldenseal: The superb properties of goldenseal have been known since time immemorial. Even the Native Americans identified the medicinal benefits of this herb and took full advantage of it. Goldenseal has excellent antiviral and antibiotic properties. This enables it to kill off the HPV virus and clear all forms of warts. 13
- Astralagus: This is an ancient Chinese herb which possesses excellent antimicrobial and antioxidant properties. Astralagus boosts the body’s immunity and helps it fight HPV and other viral infections.
- Echinacea: Echinacea is another highly popular and effective medicinal herb which helps bulk up the body’s immune system. Echinacea helps the body to produce lymphocytes and white blood cells, which then fights viral infections such as HPV.
- Olive leaf extract: Olive leaf extract is a well-known medicinal substance in the Middle East and the Mediterranean where it is grown. The herb has been proven to possess antifungal, anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties.
- Elderberry: Another powerful antiviral herb is the elderberry also called Sambucus. This plant is popular across Europe, North Africa and North America for its amazing benefits. In the year 1995, elderberry juice was used to treat victims of an epidemic in Panama. Elderberry improves cardiovascular health, fortifies the immune system and reduces body cholesterol. It also cures common illnesses such as cold and cough.14
- Ginger: Ginger is another easily obtainable antiviral herb. It is loaded with benefits for the immune system. Ginger has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. It also helps prevents nausea and relaxes the body’s veins and arteries.15
- Garlic: Garlic contains a very powerful substance known as allicin. Allicin has superb antiviral, antifungal and antibacterial properties. It also boosts the body’s immunity. Garlic helps to keep blood pressure in check and reduces the risk of atherosclerosis.
Other antiviral herbs available are broccoli and oregano oil. All these herbs can be taken as teas, herbal oils or simply directly rubbed into the affected area.
How to prevent HPV
HPV is highly contagious and can be contracted from almost all forms of sexual contact. Hence the best way to prevent the disease is to practice abstinence. Abstinence is the only 100 percent prevention against the disease.
If you must engage in sexual activity, however, make it a point of duty to use a condom from the beginning to the end of any form of sexual activity. Even though this would not give you 100% protection against HPV, it considerably reduces your chances of getting infected.
Vaccination is another effective method of protection against the disease. This method is most effective before a person becomes sexually active. Hence it is strongly recommended for young people between the ages of 9 to 13. Young women up to 26 years old and young men up to 21 years who have never been vaccinated should do so ASAP.
Two of the vaccines available today are Cervarix and Gardasil. Both vaccines protects against a large number of genital warts. The HPV forms which lead to cervical cancer are also guarded against by these vaccines. Gardasil also prevents the development of anal cancer in both sexes. However, these vaccines do not guard against all HPV types. 16
Staying faithful to one partner is another proven way of preventing this disease. Having several sexual partners would significantly raise the risk of developing an HPV infection. Research has also established that getting circumcised reduces the risk of contracting HPV.
For women, taking regular Pap smears could be effective in guarding against HPV. A Pap smear is one of the most effective ways of detecting the cancer of the cervix in women. Early detection is crucial as that is when the disease is easily treatable. Gay and bisexual men as well as HIV positive people are also advised to take the Pap test to detect anal lesions. 17
Lastly, casting aside unhealthy habits in favour of a healthier lifestyle could also prevent HPV. Eating more fruits, vegetables and nutrient-packed meals would help boost the immune system. Regular exercise is also very helpful as it greatly benefits the heart and body systems. Staying away from fat, sugars, tobacco and alcohol is yet another anti-HPV masterstroke.
- HPV is a very common STI that could cause very serious complications in certain cases.
- HPV has no cure but its symptoms and complications can be cured.
- Children aged 9 – 13 should be given the HPV vaccine.
- Regular pap smears should be carried out by all sexually active persons in order to detect HPV early.
- People with warts, respiratory lesions or precancerous growths should see a doctor for treatment
- Natural ways of curing HPV symptoms include the use of essential oil and antiviral herbs. Eating immune-boosting foods and taking vitamin supplements is also very effective.
- For HPV, abstinence is the only 100% protection.
- The use of condoms is also very effective against the virus.
- A healthy and active lifestyle devoid of harmful habits like smoking is helpful in lowering the risk factor of contracting the STI.