The human papillomavirus, or HPV, is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the United States. In fact, it's so common that nearly all sexually active men and women get it at some point in their lives.
There are over 100 different kinds of HPV, but only some of them can cause serious health problems like genital warts or cancer of the cervix, vagina, vulva or anus.
We got this question from a viewer:
Dear Dr. Manny,
My OB-GYN recently told me I have HPV. I know it's extremely common and that your immune system can naturally clear the infection over time, but I'm still freaking out about it. Because I'm over the age limit for the vaccine, is there anything else I can do to help get rid of it?
Testing positive for HPV does not automatically mean you will get cancer. Some studies estimate that 50 percent of those infected with HPV will clear the virus within eight months— and 90 percent will be cured within two years. It's only when your immune system isn’t able to fight off the infection that some strains of HPV can persist and possibly lead to cancer.
Getting regular screenings and pap tests are important for early detection in women. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved an HPV test for women over 30 years old, but there is currently no HPV test for men.
“If a woman has HPV, there is an increased risk of transmission to her partner,” Dr. Jennifer Landa, an OBGYN and Chief Medical Officer of BodyLogicMD, told FoxNews.com. “Many partners will never develop any problems, but there is an increasing incidence of oral cancers in men that seem to be transmitted from oral sex with HPV-positive partners.”
Men and women can lower their risk of HPV by getting vaccinated. The FDA has approved three HPV vaccines for use in the U.S., and research has shown they are highly effective against certain strains of HPV that cause health problems like genital warts and cancer. The Centers for Disease and Prevention (CDC) recommends all boys and girls ages 11 or 12 years should get vaccinated. Because the vaccines work only before you get infected, experts say it’s better for kids to get vaccinated before becoming sexually active.
There is no cure for the HPV virus, but there are several things you can do to help your body clear the virus, and lower your chances of it persisting and turning into cancer.
“You want to do a few things,” Landa said. “First, avoid smoking, and if you smoke, quit smoking. Second, avoid oral contraceptives. Studies show that the birth control pill can increase your likelihood of HPV turning into cancer.”
Women with HPV need to decide with their doctor if they want to stop taking the pill and should finish their current pack before planning for their next method of birth control if they want to protect against pregnancy, Landa suggested.
Birth control in the form of an intrauterine device (IUD) also comes with a warning, Landa said.
“You want to consider using the copper IUD rather than the one that contains hormones. The hormone containing IUD was just shown in a study to reduce clearance of HPV,” she said.
As your immune system is the first line of defense against HPV, boosting it can help fight off the virus naturally.
“I would tank up on certain vitamins,” Landa said. “Several vitamins have been shown to increase the likelihood of clearing the HPV.”
“The first one is B vitamins— especially Folic acid and B12. I would recommend Folic Acid 1000mcg— [the] best form is methyltetrahydrofolate (MTHF). And For B12, I would recommend at least 1000mcg per day in the form of methylcobalamin.”
Landa also suggested taking certain forms of vitamin E.
“I would recommend 400iu, comprised of mixed tocopherols including beta and gamma tocopherols. Most of the vitamin E sold is delta tocopherol, so you want to make sure you're getting a vitamin E with "mixed tocopherols" that includes the beta and gamma forms to get the results you're looking for.”