“Your pap test shows cervical dysplasia.”
Many women worry when they hear their doctors say these words.
Cervical dysplasia, or abnormal cell growth on the cervix, could be
a sign that cancer is developing. If untreated, cervical dysplasia
may spread to the upper vagina, the uterus, and other parts of the
But the progression is far from inevitable. For many women,
these cell abnormalities clear up on their own. And for others, the
early warnings provided by annual Pap tests and the available array
of herbal and medical treatments offer chances to defeat cervical
dysplasia before it becomes cancer.
Who has it?
Approximately 5 percent of all Pap smear tests conducted in the
United States note cervical dysplasia, with the peak incidence
occurring in women aged twenty-five to thirty-five. Health
practitioners know that some women are more at risk for cervical
dysplasia than others, particularly those who smoke, who are
vitamin-deficient, or who have been infected with the viruses that
cause herpes, genital warts, or HIV.
The more advanced the dysplasia, the more likely it is to become
cancerous, but even mild cervical dysplasia should be closely
monitored. When a Pap test reveals cervical dysplasia, another Pap
test is usually ordered to confirm the first test result. If
abnormal cells are still present, a procedure called a colposcopy
may be performed, which allows the doctor to examine cervical
tissue in greater detail and biopsy any abnormal areas. If the
cells from a follow-up Pap turn out to be premalignant, your doctor
may surgically remove or otherwise destroy the offending cells.
You can help correct mild to moderate cervical dysplasia by
adopting a natural health program that includes exercise and a
nutrient-rich, toxin-free diet. This regime helps support the
body’s immune system and cleansing abilities, two important
functions when it comes to treating cervical dysplasia. The five
herbal action groups described below are especially strong allies.
Whether hormone imbalance promotes dysplasia hasn’t been
established by science, but we believe hormones’ intricate
interplay is an important consideration. To prevent both dysplasia
and cancer, we recommend herbs that increase progesterone, regulate
estrogen, and reduce prolactin levels. Excessive estrogen, whether
synthetic or produced by the body, can also increase the chance of
cervical dysplasia or cancer.
Vitex berries (Vitex agnus-castus): Usually
considered the herb of choice for cervical dysplasia, vitex helps
balance progesterone levels. Scientists think that vitex works by
regulating the pituitary gland, which sends chemical signals to
other glands, telling them how much of each particular hormone to
Black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa): This
hormone balancer acts as a mild sedative, fights inflammation, and
has estrogenic properties.
Many cancers are a response to a continual irritant—such as
cigarette smoke—that stimulates abnormal cell growth. Western and
Chinese herbalists theorize that the liver’s inability to break
down and eliminate toxic waste products may increase the chance of
developing cervical dysplasia and cancer. Liver-supporting herbs
also help keep excess estrogen from causing damage. Some herbs and
foods can support the liver and help it detoxify the body.
Artichoke leaf (Cynara scolymus): This popular
Mediterranean plant has bile-promoting qualities.
Boldo leaf (Peumus boldus): This South American
herb stimulates bile flow.
Burdock root (Arctium lappa): One of the
foremost detoxifying herbs, burdock root removes toxins and acts as
Dandelion root (Taraxacum officinale): A
well-known and safe diuretic, dandelion root helps maintain
potassium levels while eliminating excess fluid from the body.
Ginger (Zingiber officinale): This warming herb
helps strengthen digestion and settle the stomach.
Milk thistle seed (Silybum marianum): Tests
show that milk thistle contains silymarin, which helps protect the
liver from free radicals as well as heal it.
Turmeric (Curcuma longa): Common in Indian and
some Mediterranean food, this spice is tasty and good for you—it’s
an antioxidant and an anti-inflammatory.
Yellow dock root (Rumex crispus): Another
popular cleansing herb, yellow dock root helps boost iron
Blood detoxifiers, immune stimulants
Herbalists believe that increasing elimination of waste products
from the blood via the bowels and kidneys can help heal the source
of many ailments. Immune stimulants such as echinacea should only
be used short-term.
Echinacea leaf or root (Echinacea spp.): This
native American plant is a superior immune booster.
Red clover flower (Trifolium pratense): A
common American forage plant, red clover is a traditional blood
Sarsaparilla root (Smilax spp.): This original
flavoring for root beer cleanses and detoxifies.
Other herbs can support the immune system in its effort to
recognize abnormal cells and eliminate them from the body. Tonic
herbs strengthen the immune system and help it eliminate infections
Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus): This herb
improves immune-system vitality (for more about astragalus, see
Shiitake mushroom (Lentinula edodes): This
nutritious mushroom boosts immunity and can be found fresh in the
produce section of natural food stores.
Ligustrum berries (Ligustrum spp.): Good
blended with astragalus, ligustrum berries protect the liver and
Reishi mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum): This herb
is a classic immune tonic known as “the mushroom of immortality” in
Some herbs have a mild estrogenic effect on the body and are
known as plant estrogens, or phytoestrogens. They prevent human
estrogen from overstimulating sensitive tissue and reduce the risk
of developing cancer.
Kudzu root (Pueraria lobata): Kudzu contains
the estrogenic compound daidzein.
Red clover: Flavonoids in the flowers and
leaves are estrogenic.
Directly applying herbs
In addition to taking herbs, you may wish to consult your doctor
about applying them internally. Naturopathic doctors can “paint”
the cervix with an herbal solution that causes the cervical lining
to slough away, much as occurs after cryotherapy (cold surgery).
More visits to the doctor are required, however. An alternative is
to make your own suppositories (suppository recipes are included in
our forthcoming book, Women’s Herbs, Women’s Health from Botanica
The importance of nutrients
Much research has focused on cervical dysplasia and nutrient
levels. Women with cervical dysplasia often have lower-than-normal
blood levels of vitamin C, folic acid, and selenium, and many
physicians recommend they take these in supplement form. Taking a
10-mg folic acid supplement daily has been associated with improved
Pap smears in dysplasia patients. And recent research indicates
that insufficient dietary amounts of vitamin A, vitamin C,
riboflavin, and vitamin E are also strongly linked to the
High blood levels of vitamin A, which is formed by the liver
from carotenoids, have been associated with regression of cervical
dysplasia. In particular, lycopene, a carotenoid found in both
fresh and cooked tomatoes, seems to have a protective effect
Another way to help your body is to normalize the microflora in
your intestines by eating fermented foods such as yogurt and
sauerkraut. Acidophilus supplements also encourage a healthy
balance of microflora.
We believe that anything that lowers general immunity probably
contributes to cervical dysplasia and cancer. Whenever you are
trying to strengthen your immune system, avoid fried food,
caffeine, and refined sugar in any form because they can increase
inflammation and reduce immune function. Inflammation is closely
associated with free radicals, which may also be involved in the
creation of abnormal cells that may develop into tumors.
Cardiovascular exercise also increases the strength of the
immune system. Daily exercise such as walking stimulates deep
breathing and greatly increases the circulation of life-giving
oxygen and blood. 8
These recipes incorporate herbs from each of the five herbal
action groups mentioned above, but you can create your own blends.
Simply select one herb from each action type, depending on
availability, quality, and preference. You can use dried herbs,
tinctures, tablets, or capsules. Use two parts of the
hormone-regulating herb to one part of each herb from the other
If you’re making a tea from dried herbs, separate them into two
categories: (1) roots, berries, or barks, and (2) leaves, flowers,
or other aboveground plant parts.
The roots, berries, and barks can be simmered to make a
decoction, or strong tea. Bring about six cups of water to a boil
and add one-fourth to one-half cup of herbs; simmer for about
twenty minutes, let cool, and strain.
For leaves and flowers, make an infusion by pouring boiling
water over the herbs and letting them steep for about five minutes
in a covered teapot or mug.
If you’re using a prepared formula, follow the directions on the
package. Several of these herbs can also simply be sprinkled into
any cooked dish.