Dr. Doni, Naturopathic Doctor and Midwife, explains how MTHFR mutations are related to cervical dysplasia (abnormal cells on the cervix) and cancer.
In this series of articles, I’m focusing on genetic mutations (or SNPs) that can increase your risk of developing certain health conditions and how to test for them so you can start preventing those health issues.
What is Cervical Dysplasia?
The topic for today’s article is cervical dysplasia—an important women’s health issue. Cervical dysplasia is what they call it when the cells on the cervix are different than what they ought to be. This can be anywhere from a slight difference to a significant one. In fact, it is such a big issue that the reason we have regular, routine pap smears is to screen for cervical dysplasia.
Dysplasia of the cervix is almost always caused by a virus called HPV (human papilloma virus), which is also the virus that causes warts (even warts on your skin).1 There are specific strains of HPV that affect the cervix and, when they do, they cause the cells to be less healthy than they should be. Left untreated, these unhealthy cells can become progressively more abnormal or even become cancer cells.
The HPV virus is spread through sexual contact; however the strains that cause dysplasia do not cause symptoms for either women or men so it is not something you would even know is present at the time of exposure—all the more reason to have an annual gynecological exam if you have more than one sexual partner. And, even if you have just one sexual partner, you should have a pap smear every three to five years (including after menopause until you’ve had 3 consecutive negative results) because the HPV virus can stir up trouble at any point in time, especially when you are stressed and depleted.2,3 And that’s the point I want to highlight:
You can have HPV for long periods of time and never have an issue
It is when you are susceptible because your immune system is run down that you are most likely to have an abnormal pap smear result come back. This is because HPV, just like many other viruses, can be kept at bay by a healthy immune system which explains why research shows that in the majority of cases, mild cervical dysplasia resolves on its own within one year.4 Give yourself a chance to rest and recover, and your body will likely be able to make new healthy cells on your cervix.
It is important to note that the standard medical treatment for cervical dysplasia is a procedure that removes the abnormal cells or an area of the cervix. This can affect future pregnancies and does not prevent the dysplasia from returning at a later time.5,6 There is an alternative!
I’ve been helping women with varying degrees of cervical dysplasia for over 15 years. I learned how to address it when I trained as a naturopathic doctor specializing in women’s health and I continued that training by working with renowned women’s health expert, Dr. Tori Hudson. Over the years, I’ve found that one of the most important questions I can ask a woman who has cervical dysplasia is: Have you been under stress in the past year? Sure enough, they most always have been. Weddings, a death in the family, long work hours, and lack of sleep are the most common reasons I hear. Interestingly, most women I see have rather healthy diets and usually don’t have any other health concerns. In fact, they are often completely shocked and surprised to hear that their cervix is under attack by HPV.
So, as you might guess, much of my approach has to do with helping women recover from stress and get their bodies back to being able to fight off infections well. There is an amazing amount of research on the use of nutrients and herbs that are immune supportive and anti-viral and how they can reverse cervical dysplasia. Between my training, experience and research, I have developed a protocol that has proven to be effective for hundreds of women. More about my approach soon, but first…
How is MTHFR Related to Cervical Dysplasia?
If you have read the other articles in this series, you will remember that MTHFR is the enzyme that converts folic acid to folate and that a mutation on this enzyme decreases your ability to make the active folate your body needs to make healthy cells. There are three connections we can draw between cervical dysplasia and MTHFR.
- Connection 1: Research shows that having an MTHFR mutation increases risk of cervical dysplasia and that having higher folate levels is preventive.7,8 Folate is essential for the body to be able to make new healthy cells on the cervix, and it is even more necessary for women who have an MTHFR mutation and therefore a decreased ability to turn folic acid into active folate.
- Connection 2: I have noticed that many women with cervical dysplasia also have leaky gut syndrome and food sensitivities. Perhaps this is because folate is also needed for the creation of healthy cells to line the intestines. If you become deficient in folate—it is depleted by many medications such as methotrexate, metformin, and birth control pills—you’ll be more likely to develop leaky gut syndrome where the cells lining the intestines are not as healthy as they should be and are unable to prevent food from triggering your immune system, causing inflammation and further nutrient depletions.9
One of the most common causes of leaky gut is the consumption of gluten (the protein in wheat, rye, spelt, barley). Another common cause is stress.
- Connection 3: As stress is a common factor, I also draw a connection between stress, MTHFR, leaky gut, and cervical dysplasia. Remember that genetic mutations are more likely to express and cause health issues when we are stressed, so what may have started as stress can become leaky gut, nutrient depletions, inflammation, susceptibility to viruses, and eventually cervical dysplasia or even cancer—a vicious cycle that I describe in my book, The Stress Remedy.
Taking all of this into account, I create an individualized plan for each of my patients that involves the following:
Food Sensitivity Panel
To determine which foods are important for you to avoid in order to decrease inflammation and assist with addressing leaky gut. When the results come in we are able to determine specific diet changes and supplements to help heal leaky gut.
Adrenal Stress Panel
Including four, timed saliva samples for cortisol and urinary adrenaline levels. I also find that it is helpful to check urinary neurotransmitter levels. With this information we can then determine the nutrients (amino acids for example) and herbs that will help your body recover from stress and optimize your stress hormones and neurotransmitters levels.
To identify MTHFR and other genetic mutations, if not they have not been previously determined. I recommend 5MTHF (active folate instead of folic acid) for all women addressing cervical dysplasia, but when an MTHFR mutation (or other methylation-related mutation) is present, we may need to adjust the dosing and add additional nutrients such as methylcobalamin (B12).
Nutrients and Herbs
Once we have the results from all of these tests, we integrate a high quality multivitamin, nutrients and herbs* that have been shown to be anti-viral and/or to support healthy immune function.10 Each woman has her own individual requirements, but these could vitamin A, vitamin C, green tea extract, di-indolmethionine (DIM), mushroom extract, and curcumin. Depending on the severity of the dysplasia, we may also add in vaginal suppositories and/or escharotic treatments (which I offer in my Connecticut office). You can find these supplements in my online store.
Diet and Stress
In addition to implementing diet changes based on the food sensitivity results mentioned above, it is also important to avoid sugar and alcohol as they decrease immune function, and to get plenty of sleep and stress remedies. Read all about the stress remedies I recommend in this free Wellness Action Guide.
By helping women recover from stress, optimize their folate and methylation cycle, avoid food allergens, restore healthy adrenal and immune function, and heal leaky gut, we are able to reverse cervical dysplasia and even receive tests back saying that HPV is no longer present.
To learn more about my protocol for addressing cervical dysplasia and how to get started, click here for information about my Cervical Dysplasia Solutions Program.
Please do share your thoughts about cervical dysplasia and MTHFR mutations. Have you noticed that they are related?
I’m hoping this article has been helpful to you. I’ll be writing more about MTHFR and genetic mutations next week. And then soon I’m going to be writing more about leaky gut. To be sure not to miss my next article, please subscribe to my blog at the right of this page, or to my newsletter below.
21st May 2015
*Please keep in mind that any and all supplements—nutrients, herbs, enzymes, or other—should be used with caution. My recommendation is that you seek the care of a naturopathic doctor (with a doctorate degree from a federally-accredited program) and that you have a primary care physician or practitioner whom you can contact to help you with individual dosing and protocols. If you ever experience negative symptoms after taking a product, stop taking it immediately and contact your doctor right away.
- Ghittoni R1, Accardi R2, Chiocca S3, Tommasino M2. Role of human papillomaviruses in carcinogenesis. Ecancermedicalscience. 2015 Apr 29;9:526.
- Sawaya GF, Kulasingam S, Denberg T, Qaseem A. Cervical Cancer Screening in Average-Risk Women: Best Practice Advice From the Clinical Guidelines Committee of the American College of Physicians. Ann Intern Med. 2015 Apr 30.
- Katki HA1, Kinney WK, Fetterman B, Lorey T, Poitras NE, Cheung L, Demuth F, Schiffman M, Wacholder S, Castle PE. Cervical cancer risk for women undergoing concurrent testing for human papillomavirus and cervical cytology: a population-based study in routine clinical practice. Lancet Oncol. 2011 Jul;12(7):663-72.
- Cox JT1, Schiffman M, Solomon D; ASCUS-LSIL Triage Study (ALTS) Group. Prospective follow-up suggests similar risk of subsequent cervical intraepithelial neoplasia grade 2 or 3 among women with cervical intraepithelial neoplasia grade 1 or negative colposcopy and directed biopsy. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2003 Jun;188(6):1406-12.
- Castañon A1, Landy R, Brocklehurst P, Evans H, Peebles D, Singh N, Walker P, Patnick J, Sasieni P; PaCT Study Group. Is the increased risk of preterm birth following excision for cervical intraepithelial neoplasia restricted to the first birth post treatment? BJOG. 2015 Apr 9.
- Baloglu A1, Uysal D, Bezircioglu I, Bicer M, Inci A. Residual and recurrent disease rates following LEEP treatment in high-grade cervical intraepithelial lesions. Arch Gynecol Obstet. 2010 Jul;282(1):69-73.
- Piyathilake CJ1, Macaluso M, Alvarez RD, Bell WC, Heimburger DC, Partridge EE. Lower risk of cervical intraepithelial neoplasia in women with high plasma folate and sufficient vitamin B12 in the post-folic acid fortification era. Cancer Prev Res (Phila). 2009 Jul;2(7):658-64.
- Piyathilake CJ1, Macaluso M, Johanning GL, Whiteside M, Heimburger DC, Giuliano A. Methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) polymorphism increases the risk of cervical intraepithelial neoplasia. Anticancer Res. 2000 May-Jun;20(3A):1751-7.
- Harper JM1, Levine AJ, Rosenthal DL, Wiesmeier E, Hunt IF, Swendseid ME, Haile RW. Erythrocyte folate levels, oral contraceptive use and abnormal cervical cytology. Acta Cytol. 1994 May-Jun;38(3):324-30.
- Hwang JH1, Kim MK, Lee JK. Dietary supplements reduce the risk of cervical intraepithelial neoplasia. Int J Gynecol Cancer. 2010 Apr;20(3):398-403.