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Why Might Vegetarians Have Less HPV?

Cervical cancer is now considered a sexually transmitted disease. It was originally suspected as such, 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 cancers 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. Within one year, 70 percent of women clear the infection, and more than 90 percent clear it within two years — before the virus can cause cancer.

Might those with particularly strong immune systems clear the virus even faster? That’s what may be behind a new study that found vegetarian women had significantly lower infection rates with HPV, one of many studies reporting lower risk of HPV infection among those eating plant-based diets.

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 nine months while analyzing their diets, what do you find? Higher levels of vegetable consumption may cut the risk of HPV persistence in half, doubling one’s likelihood of clearing this potentially cancer-causing infection. And “higher” levels just meant about two or more servings a day. 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, 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. Bottom line: higher consumption of vegetables may decrease risk of HPV persistence, which may help explain why a 2013 study found vegan women have significantly lower rates of all female cancers combined, including cancer of the cervix.

Vegetarians also appear to have lower rates of all cancers combined (see Vegetarians Versus Healthy Omnivores), but Adventist Health Study 2 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 (The Answer to the Pritikin Puzzle), the foreign meat molecule Neu5Gc (How Tumors Use Meat to Grow: Xeno-Autoantibodies), and heterocyclines in cooked meat (Estrogenic Cooked Meat Carcinogens) to more of the good stuff (#1 Anticancer Vegetable and Which Fruit Fights Cancer Better?)

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

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

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death and More Than an Apple a Day.

Related:
What Should Women Eat to Live Longest?
Preventing Bacterial Vaginosis With Diet
Flaxseeds for Breast Cancer Prevention

Read more: Health, Cancer, Diet & Nutrition, Eating for Health, Sexual Health, Videos, Women's Health, , ,

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Dr. Michael Greger

A founding member of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, Michael Greger, M.D., is a physician, author, and internationally recognized speaker on nutrition, food safety, and public health issues. Currently Dr. Greger serves as the Director of Public Health and Animal Agriculture at The Humane Society of the United States. Hundreds of his nutrition videos are freely available at NutritionFacts.org.

80 comments

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9:09PM PST on Nov 30, 2013

interesting article--ty!

8:25AM PST on Nov 15, 2013

OR instead of marginalize the people who aren't vegetarian, we could encourage them to eat two or more servings of veggies a day.

6:31PM PDT on Oct 20, 2013

Important information, especially since the HPV vaccine has been pushed so hard in recent years. Bad news: it is only effective against like 20% of known strains of HPV. Eat vegetables!

10:19AM PDT on Oct 16, 2013

Thanks

7:56PM PDT on Oct 14, 2013

hmm

11:01AM PDT on Oct 13, 2013

TY

9:33PM PDT on Oct 11, 2013

Thank you.

6:43PM PDT on Oct 10, 2013

THEY HAVE LESS HPV BECAUSE THEY HAVE LESS SEX,,, MUCH TOO BUSY IN THEIR GARDENS..... [JUST KIDDING...]

5:55PM PDT on Oct 10, 2013

Thanks for the information.

5:37PM PDT on Oct 10, 2013

thanks

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