Women infected with human papillomavirus (HPV) may reduce the odds that the virus will persist by increasing the amount of certain carotenoids - plant compounds with antioxidant properties - in their diets, a study suggests.
Specifically, the study found that increasing dietary intake of lutein/zeaxanthin, beta-cryptoxanthin, vitamin C, and papaya appears to lower the risk of persistent HPV infection, a strong risk factor for cervical cancer.
There are more than 100 different types of HPV, including some that cause genital warts. A portion of these viruses are sexually transmitted, and some are linked to cancer. It is believed that certain "high-risk" HPVs are the primary cause of cervical cancer. However, HPV infection usually goes away on its own, and most women who get the virus do not develop cervical cancer.
In the current study, researchers used food-frequency questionnaires to assess the diets of 433 Brazilian women. They used a test called polymerase chain reaction to assess HPV status at the start of the study and 4, 8, and 12 months later. All of the women had tested positive for HPV at some point in time.
On average, women with transient HPV infection had higher mean daily intakes of beta-cryptoxanthin and lutein/zeaxanthin - members of the carotenoid family of nutrients - than women with persistent HPV infection.
The risk of persistent HPV infection was lower among women in the top 2 quartiles of dietary beta-cryptoxanthin intake compared with those in the lowest quartile of intake. The risk of persistent HPV infection was similarly reduced in women in the upper 2 quartiles of lutein/zeaxanthin intake compared with those in the lowest quartile of intake.
Increasing levels of vitamin C and consumption of carotenoid-rich papaya at least once per week also appeared to lower a woman's risk of persistent HPV.
The study supports current evidence suggesting that carotenoids and vitamin C have anti-cancer properties. It also suggests that among populations with low levels of intake of antioxidant nutrients, increasing dietary consumption of certain fruits may confer protection against cervical cancer.
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