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Cervical cancer is the third most common cancer among women, accounting for approximately 300,000 deaths annually, worldwide. The majority of cervical cancers are caused by a strain of Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). HPV16 and HPV18 are the most common high-risk strains of HPV, responsible for 70% of cervical cancers. For the most part, we can clear an HPV infection with a healthy immune system. However, stress and a poor nutritional status can weaken your defenses and increase your susceptibility to HPV by reducing your body’s ability to clear the infection. Early detection by getting regular Pap smears and by consuming a nutrient dense diet that is high in antioxidants, folate, vitamin D and carotenoids is key to maintaining a healthy immune system and to decreasing your risk of cervical cancer.

Here are 5 foods to include in your diet for cervical health.

Sweet Potato

Sweet potato and other orange foods such as carrots, squash and pumpkin contain beta carotene. Once this potent carotenoid is digested, it forms vitamin A in the body. Vitamin A is responsible for warding off infection and supporting healthy cellular function. Sweet potato is sweet, hence the name, but is low on the glycemic index which means that it does not tend to spike your blood sugar levels as much as refined carbohydrates do. Be sure to include the skin of this vegetable with your meal as it also packs a punch with fiber, antioxidants and minerals.

Tomato

The red colour of the tomato is due to lycopene. Watermelon is another great source of this potent plant chemical. Lycopene is a carotenoid and antioxidant that protects against hormone related cancers and heart disease. It is best to consume tomatoes cooked in order to maximize the absorption of lycopene. Therefore, go for the tomato sauce as opposed to the tomato salad.

Watercress

You don’t hear too much about watercress which is a shame in my opinion because it is a very nutrient dense member of the cruciferous vegetable family. This family also includes broccoli, kale and cauliflower. Watercress and the other cruciferous vegetables contain indol-3-carbinol, a plant chemical which is involved in the detoxification of carcinogens and other toxins. It also counteracts the negative effects of estrogen, making it an important vegetable to include for cervical health.

Salmon

When you hear salmon, I bet you think omega-3 fatty acids. Salmon is indeed a great omega-3 source; however, it is also a good source of Vitamin D. Vitamin D is also obtained from exposing your skin to the sun on a regular basis. Vitamin D decreases abnormal cell growth at the cervix and helps your body to fight infection. Organic beef liver, egg yolks and sun-exposed mushrooms are other good food sources of vitamin D. If you are thinking of adding more salmon to your diet, choose wild Alaskan salmon which is more sustainable and less contaminated by environmental pollutants than salmon obtained from other bodies of water.

Black Beans

Black beans are a healthy source of folate along with dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach and asparagus. Folate plays an important role in the repair of damaged DNA which can occur at any point during a cell’s cycle. Your DNA contains instructions on how each cell in your body should function. If your DNA is damaged, this can lead to a poorly functioning cell and the development of cancer. A low level of folate in the blood has been associated with cervical dysplasia, a precancerous condition which can eventually lead to cervical cancer if left unchecked.

Research has shown that a plant based diet that is nutrient dense is best for maintaining a healthy immune system, which can only prove to be helpful for supporting a healthy cervix. Along with including these foods in your diet, it would also be helpful to decrease added sugar, alcohol consumption, smoking and to go for regular Pap examinations, to decrease your risk for cervical cancer.

Dr. Olivia Rose
About the Author

Dr. Olivia Rose is a naturopathic doctor and a registered acupuncturist with a family practice located in the Beaches area of Toronto. She graduated from the University of Guelph with a Bachelor of Science Honours degree in Nutritional and Nutraceutical Sciences. In 2006, she graduated from the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine where she completed 4 years of study and a clinical internship at the Robert Schad Naturopathic Clinic and at the Sherbourne Health Centre where she worked with patients afflicted with HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C.

Olivia is also the director of Fertility Acupuncture Services, a program that brings acupuncture to couples undergoing in vitro fertilization and intrauterine insemination in Toronto fertility clinics. In practice, her special areas of interest include stress management, heart disease, digestive health, infertility, pediatrics and weight management.

In her free time, when she is not at the spa or spending time with her husband and tea-cup Yorkie, Dr. Rose guest lectures at corporate events, local groups and schools. She is featured regularly as a health expert on Global Toronto’s “News at Noon”. For more information on Dr. Rose's practice and upcoming events please visit, www.oroseND.com.