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College Students and HPV: Should You be Concerned?

High school and college sex education textbooks stress about the consequences of HIV, herpes, and gonorrhea for example but rarely do they talk about the human papilloma virus (HPV). This comes to a shock, considering that HPV is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases in America. In fact, about 50 % of men and women will contract at least one of the 40 sexually transmitted strains of HPV at least once in their life time, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. While it can vary within age, most that contract HPV are fairly young—”college aged” to be precise. In fact, an average of 14 percent of sexually active American female college students get infected with HPV each year, according to statistics.

While it’s common and usually causes no harm, there are some HPV strains that can result in cervical cancer in women. In fact nearly 90% of all cervical cancer cases manifest because the patient had HPV when they were younger. And since January marks Cervical Cancer Awareness month, what better time to shed some light on HPV as well as give some insight into preventable measures and some common facts.

Fact 1: You Can get HPV if you are a Virgin 

The virus is spread via skin-to-skin contact, so if you are “fooling around” meaning no penetration but your genitals brush against each other, you can become contaminated. Because of the transmission of the virus, this also means that you can get HPV even while using a condom. Granted, you reduce the risk of contracting HPV up to 70% having protected sex, but it’s not a guarantee. The only true preventable way to not get HPV is to never have sex, or save your cookies for a fellow virgin who has never fooled around with anyone else and you stay together forever. But this is very hard to.

Fact 2: Men Cannot be Tested for HPV 

Since there are no screening tests for men, it’s hard to tell whether your male partner is a carrier. And since there are little or no symptoms, it’s difficult to trace when one originally contacted the virus—or from who. It’s important to know that one could have contracted it a whopping two years ago, the virus stayed dormant, and then decided to activate due to stress or some other factor –so it’s often hard to point blame. Women typically don’t know they have HPV until they go in for their yearly pap smear and irregular cells are present on the cervix.

Fact 3: There is a HPV Vaccine Available

While this vaccine, called Garasil, is not a guarantee that you will never get HPV, it can help reduce your risks of contracting the really scary strains of HPV—the kind that cause cervical cancer. Unfortunately the vaccine doesn’t help get rid of the virus if you’ve just been diagnosed. Thus it’s best to take the vaccine before you start having sex with anyone. So what to do if you’re tested HPV positive? If you are diagnosed with high risk HPV, your gynecologist will recommend having the abnormal cells in your cervix removed, either via a freezing or electrocution method. These procedures shouldn’t reduce a woman’s fertility, but she can experience preterm labor. For low risk cases, most gynecologists will wait to see if the virus will go dormant on its own through the body’s natural defense system.

Fact 4: A Strong and Healthy Immunity System can Only Benefit You

Whether you are trying to help your body fight off the virus naturally or want your body to be in better condition so that it can heal up faster after an abnormal cell-removing procedure, eating a diet high in virus and cancer-fighting properties can always help your case. To learn some vitamins that researchers say are a direct link to helping your recovery, continue reading below.

*Note: While vitamin supplements can help, it’s important that one doesn’t solely depend on them. Research show that the vitamins and minerals below can help, but they aren’t sure if it’s a combination of other ingredients found in raw foods that help as well, so try to balance out supplements with real food.

• Selenium. Research shows that women with cervical cancer tend to have lower levels of selenium in their bodies and thus it’s said that this mineral may be a direct link to fighting dysplasia and cervical cancer all together. It’s no surprise either. Selenium is an antioxidant that works to repair damaged cells from oxidative stress, meaning it can help battle the HPV and make it go into its dormant state. Really good sources of selenium include the following: spinach, broccoli, sunflower seeds, oily fish like tuna, salmon, herring and sardines, as well as mushrooms, garlic, and Brazilian nuts. Pork chops are also a great source—it carries nearly five times more selenium than beef and chicken. Recommended daily amount: 200 micrograms

• Folic Acid. Folate (folic acid in its natural state) is responsible for helping controlling the speed of cell division and the growth of cells. When one contracts HPV, infected cells are constantly replacing healthy cells in the cervix. This is bad. Folic acid can help reverse or at lease slow down these cell changes. Good sources of natural folate include leafy greens such as collards and spinach; romaine lettuce; as well as legumes (beans) such as pinto, black and garbanzo; fried liver; raw broccoli and cauliflower also provide good amounts of folate. Folic acid is also commonly found in most fortified breakfast cereals, breads and white rice.

Recommended daily amount: 400 to 800 micrograms. Try not to exceed more than 1,000 micrograms as it can distort your B12 and cause neurological issues.

• Beta Carotene. This carotenoid is an antioxidant, which means similar to selenium it works to prevent cells from being damaged from free radicals and viruses like HPV. It also helps to boost your immune system and can be easily converted into vitamin A, which is needed for continuous healthy cell growth. Good sources of beta carotene include carrots, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, yellow squash, apricots, red bell peppers, cantaloupe, spinach and cabbage. Recommended daily amount: 15 to 50 mg per day

• Vitamin C. Last but not least is vitamin C. Vitamin C helps fight off the harmful agents that cause the common cold and flu virus, as well as help keep your body defenses at maximum capacity to fight off meaner viruses like HPV. It too is an antioxidant. That said, good sources of vitamin c include citrus fruits like oranges, grapefruit, and tangerines; as well as red bell peppers, kiwis, cantaloupe, Brussels sprouts and berries—blue berries, strawberries, and raspberries. Recommended daily intake: 60 mg