Could probiotics prevent HPV-induced cervical cancer?

First pilot study of its kind shows probiotics eradicate HPV infection and delete cell changes linked to cancer. Can we stop the deadly vaccine now?

By Celeste McGovern

Women who took a probiotic long-term had abnormal cell changes linked to infection with human papillomavirus (HPV) and cervical cancer cut in half and were more than twice as likely to see the potentially deadly HPV infection totally eradicated than women who took a probiotic for just three months, a new study has found.

Medical researchers from the University of Rome recruited 117 women who were diagnosed with bacterial vaginosis or vaginitis and lab-confirmed HPV infection. They divided the women into two groups; all of them received standard of care antibiotics or antifungal treatments for their infections but half were given vaginal pills of probiotics for three months and half of them continued to take the vaginal pills for a total of six months.

The long-term probiotic users saw their HPV infection totally eradicated in 31.2 percent of cases (18 women) compared to just 11.6 percent (seven women) who used the probiotic for only three months.

As well, the women using the probiotics longer had double the chances of seeing their HPV abnormalities with twice the amount of abnormal cell changes linked to HPV infection disappearing on follow-up PAP smear examinations.

“To our knowledge, this is the first trial in the literature to assess the efficacy of microbiota balance maintenance against HPV infections and related alterations,” states the study led by Ettore Palma, an obstetrician/gynaecologist and expert in pathology at the University’s Department of Gynecological, Obstetric and Urologic Science.

Fig. 2

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Trend of HPV abnormalities resolution in the two groups (group 1 – short probiotics implementation group, n = 60; group 2 – long probiotics implementation group, n = 57; p = 0.041)

Published online 2018 Jan 5. doi:  10.1186/s12879-017-2938-z

The role of bugs in reproductive health

“An increasing interest has been developed in microbiota, with the belief that probiotics could be able to promote women’s well-being and illnesses in several ways,” the Italian doctors say in the study published in BioMed Central Infectious Diseases

Healthy women are known to have a mix of anaerobic and aerobic microorganisms populating their vaginas, and these are dominated by a subgroup of bacteria called Lactobacilli. In some conditions, this delicate ecological balance of microbes can be thrown off by hormonal changes, sexual practices or douching, for example. When that happens, some microbes die- off and others bloom promoting the conditions that allow infection that could lead to cancer.

Notwithstanding public health messages that inflate fears about HPV infections, most young women clear HPV infections without any treatment at all in one or two years and may not even notice symptoms.  But in the estimated one percent of women in whom the infection persists, the chance of the virus causing changes that lead to cancer is elevated.

“So, a steady vaginal ecosystem would have the ability to tackle infections, by maintaining a sort of local equilibrium between the different microbial subpopulations inhabiting vaginal micro-environment,” the researchers explain.

Lactobacilli are “the most remarkable protagonists of this process,” the researchers noted because as the most populous friendly bacteria, they produce compounds that kill off dangerous pathogens and compete for their resources, starving them out.  

The Italian team hypothesized that attempting to repopulate infected women with Lactobacilli bacteria via probiotics might curb the development of any kind of disease or cancer.

To that end, patients were randomized in two groups and given the standard treatment plus Lactobacilli in vaginal tablets containing 104 CFU/tablet freeze-dried Lactobacillus rhamnosus BMX 54, NORMOGIN ®. They took these once a day for 10 days, once every 3 days for 20 days and then once every 5 days for other 2 months in all patients (three months altogether). One subset of patients belonging to long-term treatment arm of the study continued using the same vaginal tablets once a week for three months longer than the first group and the differences were recorded. All patients followed a strict follow-up (every three months for nine months) and HPV-DNA test was repeated at the end of the study period.

More evidence

The new study follows on the heels of a 2016 study from the same team of researchers at the University of Rome who found that treating patients with bacterial vaginosis with the same strain of Lactobacillus “seems to be useful hindering bacteria growth, especially after antibiotic therapy.” A team from the University of Milan had published similar results two years earlier when they found that women who took Lactobacillus rhamnosus had reduced recurrence of infection.

Other studies have considered the importance of the microbiome in the development of cancer and a 2014 review looks at the possibility of preventing and treating cancers with probiotics and prebiotics (foods for probiotics).

Currently, the Centers for Disease Control and many public health agencies advocate vaccinating billions of girls and boys as young as age nine with two or three doses of aluminum-adjuvanted vaccine to try to prevent cervical cancer. Since the vaccine was fast-tracked onto the US market in 2006, there is insufficient evidence yet to suggest it actually prevents cervical cancer which is diagnosed at the median age of 49. Since children vaccinated today will not reach that age for decades yet to come, it is a gross overstatement for manufacturers to claim that the vaccine has saved lives to date.

Replace the deadly vaccine

As well as its unproven efficacy, the HPV vaccine has a track record of dangerous side effects. Seventeen-year-old Colton Berrett of Utah died earlier this month from complications of the HPV vaccine that he received at age 13, ostensibly to protect him from anal and penile cancers that he might have developed had he contracted an HPV infection. Anal and penile cancers are extremely rare conditions, affecting an estimated 1.8 people in 100,000 per year and only 0.3 to 1 person in 100,000 respectively. That’s less than 0.2 percent of individuals who are affected by the disease. As well, both cancers are most frequently diagnosed in men well into their 60s and, once treated these patients have five-year survival rates between 77 and 85 percent.

The HPV vaccine has repeatedly been demonstrated to have extraordinarily high odds of injury. A 2016 study found that one in 10 (19,351 of 195,270) girls in the Canadian province of Alberta who had recently been vaccinated against HPV had an emergency department visit within 42 days of receiving the shot.

The incidence of vaccine injuries was so high in Japan, health officials there withdrew the HPV shot from the market in 2013. A Japanese study published last month confirmed a temporal relationship between the vaccine’s introduction there and a high incidence of girls experiencing symptoms including an intractable headache, decreased learning ability, chronic fatigue, widespread pain in the limbs, chest, and abdominal wall, frequently accompanied by “violent tremulous involuntary movement.”

Many of the adverse conditions brought on by the vaccine are previously unknown or rare neurological movement disorders and systemic disorders such Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS).

The study also refers to 12,424 documented adverse events associated with the HPV vaccine use in the United States although the total number of vaccine adverse events recorded on the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System in the US exceeds 40,000 reports including reports of 117 deaths up to 2015.

 As well, concerns have been raised about nearly 650 Irish girls who got the shot required medical intervention for adverse events including serious ones — a figure that the Irish government found acceptable. And alarm bells have been sounded about the shot around the world.

With the option of using a treatment that is relatively risk-free and shows more promise of eradicating potentially deadly HPV infections at their root now gaining scientific traction, perhaps parents (and public health?) will be more inclined to worry less about HPV and start worrying more about the deadly effects of the vaccine against it.