The Vaginal Microbiome: Women’s Health, HPV Prevention, and Cancer Risk Reduction (Episode 215)

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The Vaginal Microbiome: Women’s Health, HPV Prevention, and Cancer Risk Reduction (Episode 215)

Vaginal microbiome imbalances can increase susceptibility to HPV and thereby increase your cancer risk.
Imbalances in vaginal bacteria can increase susceptibility to HPV and cervical cancer. Dr. Doni talks about natural strategies to restore optimal vaginal flora for prevention and long-term health.

The vaginal microbiome, also referred to as the cervical-vaginal microbiome or microbiota, is key to women’s health. You might not have been thinking about your vaginal microbiome up to this point, but today I’m going to teach you why it’s so important. 

I want to make sure that your vaginal microbiome is healthy and protecting you, because it actually has a lot to do with your susceptibility to other types of vaginal infections, including the HPV or human papillomavirus. The vaginal microbiome also influences fertility, and so much more. 

The term “microbiome” is very trendy lately, but it’s usually referring to the gut microbiome. The gut microbiome is so amazing, and we’ve learned so much about how the trillions of bacteria living in our gut have such a huge influence on our overall health – everything from our immune system to our hormones, to our digestion and our nervous system through the gut-brain axis. 

The microbiome has a lot to do with how we feel, how we think, how we sleep, and everything about our day. So you can only imagine, if the gut microbiome is that important to our health, the vaginal microbiome is also hugely important and impactful for women’s health. 

HPV and Cancer Risk

Now, the reason I’m specifically focusing on the HPV virus is because we are so commonly exposed to it. Studies are showing that most all of us, in fact 80% of us, are exposed to the higher-risk types of HPV. 

There are low-risk types, of which there are over 150 different kinds, and there are the high-risk types, of which there are, as we know now, thirteen types of high-risk HPV. And what makes them high-risk is that they’re associated with cancer risk.

Cervical cancer is reported as the second or third most common kind of cancer that women die from around the world. So this is a huge concern!

Oftentimes, women are going through the process of being diagnosed with abnormal cells or cancer cells without telling many people in their lives, and maybe even going through the experience of treating cancer and even death without telling people in their lives, because it’s something that they feel ashamed of or embarrassed about. 

That’s why I’m here to open up this conversation and make sure that all women (and men) understand the vaginal microbiome and how it’s related to the risk of HPV causing cancer.

More information is becoming available through research about how the HPV virus is increasing cancer risk, and I believe women and men deserve to have that information. 

Vaginal Microbiome: New Research

Research that has come out in the last two years is connecting the dots between HPV and cancer risk, and the vaginal microbiome.

First researchers identified and began to understand the vaginal microbiome, and its relationship to the gut microbiome. There’s actually an overlap between the gut microbiome and the vaginal microbiome, meaning there’s about 30% of the same bacteria in the gut as in the vagina. 

So if there’s an imbalance in the gut microbiome, it can lead to an imbalance in the vaginal microbiome and vice versa. They’re actually influencing each other. That means that if there’s a gut microbiome imbalance, which is very common, that could be affecting your vaginal microbiome and increasing your risk of HPV. 

What we’re finding in the research is that the vaginal microbiome is so important, and when it’s disrupted, women are at higher risk of HPV and they’re at higher risk of cervical cancer and vaginal cancer. 

This opens our eyes and says, “Wow, we need to pay attention to this.”

 It’s not just about being HPV positive; it’s about being HPV positive and having an imbalanced vaginal microbiome that leads to cancer risk. 

Lactobacillus and Vaginal Health

Okay, so one thing to know about the vaginal microbiome is that the predominant type of bacteria, the main bacteria in a healthy vaginal microbiome, is called Lactobacillus species, and especially Lactobacillus crispatus. 

That’s because the Lactobacillus bacteria make something called lactic acid, and lactic acid actually helps protect us. It actually helps to fend off other microbes that shouldn’t be there, including HPV. So this Lactobacillus can actually line the cells of the vagina like a protective coating and fend off whoever shouldn’t be there. 

How do these Lactobacillus get there in the first place? Well, they’re being fed. The way they’re fed is through amino acids from proteins that our bodies make. So we have this reciprocal relationship with the Lactobacillus – we’re feeding them and they’re protecting us. That’s a good deal!

So we really want to be feeding our healthy Lactobacillus and we want them to be protecting us.

Lactobacillus Imbalance and HPV Risk

Studies show that when the microbiome shifts from being predominantly Lactobacillus crispatus to a different type of Lactobacillus called Iners, it is associated with a higher likelihood of testing positive for HPV and a higher risk of testing positive for abnormal cells, including cancer cells. 

So we need to be watching out for that, right? We need to be thinking, “How can we know when a woman experiencing this change from crispatus-type Lactobacillus to iners-type, and how can we then address it?” 

Here’s the thing: not only did researchers see that there is a change in that microbiome that is associated with a higher risk of cancer, but they also found that HPV itself influences the Lactobacillus in the microbiome. 

This HPV virus, when it’s present (and this is more so in certain women than others), can essentially starve the Lactobacillus. It turns off the protein production that’s necessary for the Lactobacillus to thrive.

Essentially, the HPV has the ability to starve our Lactobacillus crispatus, and in doing so, the Lactobacillus population shifts and the HPV is able to thrive and cause the inflammation and abnormal cells that it causes.

HPV and Inflammation

The research also shows how HPV causes inflammation. It triggers certain cytokines in the immune system that cause inflammation in the environment (on the cervix). 

You may have been told you have inflammation on your cervix – it’s can be caused by the HPV virus.Cytokines, which are inflammatory messengers. Certain types of cytokines are protective while other types of cytokines can increase the risk of cancer. HPV is associated with the inflammatory changes that are more associated with cancer risk. 

So the HPV virus itself, if it has the opportunity, can change our microbiome, and it can change the way our immune system is responding to it in a way that makes it easier for it to cause cancer. 

We need to be able to identify this and interrupt the process. We need to be saying, “This is your body, this is your vagina, your microbiome. You can take steps to protect yourself.” 

You can protect yourself from the virus, because the studies also very clearly show that when women have a healthy vaginal microbiome, they can fend off the HPV.

And when we have a healthy immune response, we can kick out the HPV and clear it out of our system very effectively. So if this is possible, we need to support women to accomplish that.

Testing for Vaginal Microbiome Imbalance

Unfortunately, addressing the vaginal microbiome is not something that’s integrated into standard medical care yet. This is very new science, but it is something that we already address in my practice. 

When you go to the standard gynecology office to get tested for infections in the vagina, they take a culture to look for yeast and BV (bacterial vaginosis), both of which have been associated with increased risk of HPV and cervical cancer. 

The standard gynecology office can also test for HPV as well as other STIs, like chlamydia and others. So you can get those types of tests from the standard doctor’s office, but they’re not going to be able to do a very specific microbiome analysis. It’s not yet integrated into the standard of care.

Vaginal Microbiome DNA Analysis

But a vaginal microbiome analysis test does exist. I offer them through my office. It’s a test that women can do at home. We can order it, you do the vaginal swab at home, you send it in, and the lab will send us the DNA analysis of your vaginal biome. 

We can know not just about yeast and BV, but we can know all about the Lactobacillus and other species of bacteria based on a single swab that you mail in from home. 

So, if you’re thinking, “Oh my gosh, I need to know what’s going on with my vaginal microbiome,” then you can contact my office for an appointment and I can guide you how to do this test and other tests that are going to give you so much more information about what’s happening in your body that’s making you susceptible to HPV. 

When we get those test results back, and I find that they’re very unique for each person, then we can see exactly: Do you have a healthy vaginal microbiome or has it been disrupted? And then I can walk you through how to help it out.

Factors that Disrupt the Vaginal Microbiome

Let me just touch on what disrupts the vaginal microbiome, because there are a lot of things. 

As I mentioned, it’s connected to gut health. It can be related to dietary factors – if you have a higher sugar diet, then that’s disrupting the bacteria and yeast in your gut and it’s likely to disrupt the vaginal biome as well. 

It could also be digestive factors. If you’re not digesting well or you have bacterial overgrowth or yeast overgrowth, if you have leaky gut, if you have colitis, if you have other digestive issues, that’s going to influence your vaginal microbiome. So we also need to be addressing your gut health. There are other episodes of How Humans Heal teaching you about how I can help you address your gut health. I absolutely find healing the gut helps women protect themselves from HPV.

Also, of course, anything that we come into contact with vaginally – when you start to think about it, there are a lot of things. Over the years, we come in contact with things vaginally. Even with sexual intercourse, of course, we’re in contact with another person’s microbiome, so that can shift our microbiome. Or if you’re using any kind of lubricants, spermicides, douches, anything that you might be inserting vaginally could affect your vaginal microbiome, especially if they are chemical substances.

And if you’ve ever had to use antibiotics – oral antibiotics or vaginal, or antifungals – they disrupt the microbiome as well. Other types of medications can also affect it, including the birth control pill or hormonal IUD. 

What we see in the research is that when estrogen levels fluctuate, or if you go from a natural estrogen from your ovaries to a synthetic estrogen in a birth control pill or hormonal IUD, this can affect your vaginal microbiome. 

Estrogen and the microbiome are communicating with each other. So we see when there are changes in estrogen, there are changes in the microbiome. And that includes when women go through pregnancy, postpartum, perimenopause, and post-menopause – all of those estrogen and progesterone fluctuations affect the vaginal microbiome.

In fact, they show that with post-menopause, when estrogen levels are low, it also makes it harder for the Lactobacillus to thrive. So, if you’re postmenopausal without using any vaginal estrogen, that could be a risk factor for HPV. 

It’s no wonder that so many women do have a disrupted vaginal microbiome and they don’t realize it, because the test at the gynecologist is not specific enough. It doesn’t do the detailed review of your entire vaginal microbiome. We need the specific DNA analysis in order to get that information. 

Even if some practitioners do offer that test, a lot of times the treatment that they use is more antibiotics. And the antibiotics used to treat the imbalance end up causing more of an imbalance. While there are certain cases where antibiotics are necessary, and then we need to do recovery from that treatment, my preference is to address the imbalance without having to be exposed to more antibiotics. 

I would rather help your microbiome heal and recover naturally with natural substances. And there’s so muchwe can do to help restore a healthy vaginal biome. Let’s talk about some of the treatment options just so you have a sense of it.

Treatment Options for Vaginal Microbiome Imbalance

I work with women one-on-one in person, by phone or video, and I also work with women in group settings, so we can work together by video from anywhere in the world. 

And again, there are tests that you can do at home. They are out of pocket tests, and they are worth it. We can review the results, and I can teach you how to heal your vaginal microbiome. 

I work with women one-on-one in person, by phone or video, and I also work with women in group settings, so we can work together by video from anywhere in the world. 

And again, there are tests that you can do at home. They are out of pocket tests, and they are worth it. We can review the results, and I can teach you how to heal your vaginal microbiome. 

1. Diet Changes and Gut Healing:

I guide you to address what is making you susceptible to HPV as an individual. We begin with diet changes that support a healthy vaginal microbiome. And we’re going to be supporting your gut microbiome and healingleaky gut at the same time. 

In fact, sometimes we also need to do a gut microbiome test, which is a stool DNA analysis of your gut microbiome, especially if you have a history of digestive issues. We would do the vaginal microbiome test and the gut microbiome test and work to address both. 

After helping thousands of people solve this, I can say to you it’s absolutely possible to get your microbiome back on track again.

We can use diet changes, we can use herbs, we can use nutrients, we can use enzymes. Sometimes we’re using probiotics. When we say “probiotic,” we’re usually referring to either an oral or vaginal treatment using Lactobacillus species. Sometimes in the gut, we’re also using Bifidobacterium species. So you can swallow these good bacteria. 

The thing to know is that that’s only part of the puzzle. Sometimes, when I look at someone’s gut biome, they don’t actually need more Lactobacillus. Sometimes they have an overgrowth of Lactobacillus and we actually don’t need more. 

I can’t tell you how many people are thinking, “Oh, I need to support my microbiome,” and they end up eating a lot of fermented foods and overfeeding their gut bacteria. Iit’s certainly true that fermented foods give us some good bacteria, and eating fiber can feed our good bacteria. And I think in a standard diet, a little bit of fermented foods and a little bit of fiber is going to help the microbiome stay healthy. 

But what I want to warn you is that so many people end up hearing about fermented foods and resistant starchfor their good bacteria, and they end up overdoing it. They end up having so much fermented food or fermented beverages, that they cause overgrowth of their microbiome. That leads to SIBO, which is small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, large intestinal bacterial overgrowth, and vaginal bacterial overgrowth. 

It’s possible to have too many good bacteria! We have to guard against that too. 

It’s not about having too little, because that makes us more susceptible to HPV. We don’t want too many either, because that’s going to make us susceptible to other symptoms. We need to be able to have the optimal amount of supportive bacteria. And that’s why it often does help to have the test results and have a practitioner who can guide you on how to fine-tune and individualize your plan for you.

2. Antimicrobial Herbs:

We can also use herbs – very specific herbs that are antimicrobial – in a very safe and effective way. The key is to go slow and steady. It doesn’t make sense to come in, as tempting as it is, with high doses, because you’re likely to cause a die-off response. When the bacteria die, they let out toxins that are inflammatory and you can actually feel worse.

I warn you against doing too many fermented foods or too many probiotics or too high of a dose with antimicrobials. 

It’s about going slow, steady, and gentle. That’s going to be the best strategy to win your microbiome back. So that you can slowly use antimicrobial herbs that work for your body, gradually increase the dose, and look for the signs that it’s working. 

The goal is to be able to achieve an optimal microbiome that you can then maintain over time. You don’t want to have to go through this process over and over again. You want to be able to get your microbiome back on track, and then be able to use daily practices that help you to maintain a healthy biome even through the stresses of life. 

3. Address Stress:

Yes, even emotional and physical stress can disrupt your gut biome and your vaginal biome. So it’s important to do stress recovery daily.

It’s possible to maintain a healthy biome while living your life and eating foods that you enjoy. It doesn’t have to be all about restriction, but it is important to have a practitioner who knows how to guide you with a very specific, step-by-step protocol. 

4. Vaginal Suppositories:

Another strategy we use for healing the vaginal microbiome is using certain vaginal suppositories. We have professionally made vaginal suppositories containing herbs, nutrients, as well as probiotics like Lactobacillus to reestablish the healthy vaginal biome. I can give you access to them as my patient or when you are in my group program. If that’s something you’re needing and wanting help with, please don’t hesitate to reach out. 

5. Probiotics:

If you’re interested in an effective probiotic we just launched a new product called Women’s Probiotic Support designed specifically to maintain a healthy vaginal microbiome. Lactobacillus species are crucial for a healthy vaginal microbiome. Women’s Probiotic Support provides two specific species of Lactobacilli: L. reuteri and L. rhamnosus. These two species have been studied to help establish a healthy, stable vaginal ecosystem.

Get More Help

If you would like more help and want to learn more about this, you are welcomed to join me for the next Heal HPV Worldwide Workshop, where I go into so much more detail about HPV and all the factors that influence your susceptibility to the virus, and the protocol that I use to help women successfully clear HPV. 

As I help you to heal your microbiome and so much more, your body is going to be able to clear this virus and keep it from coming back again.

I also created an online group program called “Say Goodbye to HPV.” It’s a great way for you to access my protocol, product, doses, stress recovery, and dietary support from online. You’ll also get access to order testing and vaginal suppositories. I’d love to teach you how to heal and protect yourself from HPV. So, if you are ready to get HPV to negative, you can sign up for the Say Goodbye to HPV Program.

Say Goodbye to HPV: Heal your cervix and clear HPV with this 12-week guided program from Dr. Doni Wilson.

You can also go to doctordoni.com or hpv.doctordoni.com. There, you’ll find lots of resources and stories from women I’ve worked with. You can see that this approach really works, and it can work for you too. Or You can set up a one-on-one appointment here.

I’m so glad that all of you are here. I look forward to your comments and questions, and I welcome you to subscribe so you don’t miss the next episode of How Humans Heal.

We’re here to help you!

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