Poor diet contributes to HPV infection and cervical cancer

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A new study from the LSU Health New Orleans’ Schools of Public Health and Medicine suggests that diet significantly influences the risk of genital high-risk human papillomavirus (HPV) infection, a primary cause of cervical cancer.

The research has been published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases.

What Did the Study Involve?

Researchers examined de-identified data from 10,543 women aged between 18-59 from the 2003–2016 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).

These women had valid genital HPV infection data and Healthy Eating Index diet information. The study excluded women who had any dose of HPV vaccination or a cancer history.

What Were the Findings?

According to the study, women who did not consume fruits, dark-green vegetables, and beans had a significantly higher risk of genital high-risk-HPV infection.

Furthermore, the intake of whole grains and dairy showed an inverse association with low-risk-HPV infection.

The researchers found that U.S. women generally have low Healthy Eating Index scores in greens and beans and fruits, with less than half of the optimal score of 5.

Why is This Important?

HPV infection is very common among U.S. women, with approximately 80% estimated to have at least one type of HPV infection in their lifetime.

While most HPV infections are asymptomatic and resolve within two years, some persist and progress to cervical cancer.

Cervical cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death for women aged 20-39 in the United States, with nearly all cases (99.7%) directly linked to previous infections of oncogenic or high-risk HPVs.

The study supports the role of a balanced diet in reducing the risk of HPV infection and subsequent cervical cancer.

Further, the results are in line with previous studies which indicated that dietary antioxidants (found in dark-green vegetables, beans, and fruits) are inversely associated with high-risk-HPV infection.

The authors suggest that the potential mechanism through which fruits, dark-green vegetables, and beans inhibit HPV infection may involve enhancing immune response and reducing inflammation.

The study was published in The Journal of Infectious Diseases.

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