Herb Formulas and Dietary Therapy for Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Traditional Chinese Medicine

Human papillomaviruses (HPV) are a group of small DNA viruses of which there are more than 100 types that can infect the epithelial cells of humans. More than 30 types of HPV are transmitted through sexual contact and cause genital warts (like HPV 6 and 11). Others are oncogenic types and are considered higher risk since they can lead to pre-cancerous conditions as well as cancer of the cervix, vulva, vagina, penis, oropharynx, or anus (HPV 16, 18, 31, and 45).

Based on Western medicine research, the link between HPV and cervical cancer was a revolutionary find. Now that the test for high-risk HPV has become a standard routine test for females, the diagnosis of cervical dysplasia has become easier, which has dramatically decreased the morbidity of cervical cancer. However, most management for cervical dysplasia in Western medicine is merely conservative observation until the mild cervical intraepitheliael neoplasia stage 1 (CIN 1) progresses into medium or severe (malignant) stages (CIN 2 and CIN 3). At this point, invasive procedures like ablative therapy with laser, cryotherapy, electrocautery therapy, or even hysterectomies are performed, resulting in many cases of scarring and infertility due to these procedures. For vaginal or vulvar warts, the treatment is ablative, but the recurrence is so common that ablative therapy to treat warts actually becomes ineffective for some long-standing cases.

The TCM Approach

Currently, the treatment outcomes for latent HPV, and HPV with long-standing genital warts, as well as HPV with genital neoplasia or premalignant lesions of the cervix, have been less than satisfactory using Western medicine therapy. As a result, Chinese medicine treatment is in demand. Acupuncture treatment for warts was documented in the texts of Huang Di Nei Jing and Zhen Jiu Jia Yi Jing more than 2,000 years ago. Chinese herbal remedies have been gradually developed for treatment of vulvar and vaginal warts, along with cervical pre-cancerous and cancer conditions, with very good results.
HPV infection is very common for women: 79 percent of women catch at least one infection in their lifetime; 60-70 percent of female cases are temporary and will resolve spontaneously within two years due to the host’s immune response to the virus. Accordingly, some clinicians prefer to do nothing except observe, though during this watch-and-wait period it impacts a female’s sexual and reproductive life and increases the risk of HPV transmission. Chinese dietary therapy helps to decrease viral load and provide the individual’s own immune system with a better and faster chance of eliminating the virus.
Chinese dietary therapy can be singly used for prevention of HPV infections, or combined with Chinese herbs and Western medicine for HPV infections with lesions.

Who Tends to Develop Serious Infections?

According to Chinese medical theory, a woman who has the tendency to develop an HPV infection (with or without lesions) is said to have a qi deficiency of the spleen and kidney, which makes her unable to generate enough defensive qi to resist the (toxic-damp) HPV that is invading the body. After HPV invades, more toxic dampness, either with heat or cold, impairs yin and yang, and tends to further injure liver, spleen, and kidney functions. This causes an incoordination of qi and blood, qi stagnation, and blood stasis. Ultimately, liver blood and kidney essence become exhausted during the late stages of cervical cancer.
Those who smoke, endure excessive stress, overwork, indulge in sexual activity with multiple partners, and use the contraceptive pill long term are the ones who tend to suffer from spleen and kidney deficiency.

Chinese Herbal Formulas

In Chinese medicine, we often treat HPV infections with oral herbal prescriptions, topical herbal creams or powders, and hip baths. The hip baths include herbs that are anti-HPV and that promote skin healing. In our clinic, we also make herbal creams to kill the infected skin cells. When the cream and hip bath are used together, they can prevent scar formation. The oral herbal remedy is prescribed on a patient-by-patient basis.

Based on Traditional Chinese Medicine practice, the following herbs/foods are used to treat HPV infections:
Zi Cao, Radix Arnebiae seu Lithospermi; Green Tea, Camellia Sinensis; Huang Lian, Rhizoma Coptidis; Yi Yi Ren/Job’s Tears, Semen Coixis; Zi Su Ye, Folium Perillae; Ling Jiao/Water Caltrop, Trapa Bicornis; Carrots, Daucus Carota; Huang Qi, Radix Astragali siu Hedysari; Shan Yao/Chinese Yam, Rhizoma Dioscoreae; Huang Bai, Cortex Phellodendri; Dong Gua/Winter melon, Benincasae; Hei Dou/Black Bean, Radix Glycinae; Ma Chi Jian/Purslane, Herba Portulacae; Ban Lan Gen, Radix Isatidis.

There are many more herbs with anti-HPV effects, but these need to be prescribed by experienced Chinese medicine practitioners for safe use.
In addition, food therapy can help to boost the immune system and clear HPV. It can be used singly or alongside Western medicine for HPV prevention or infection with or without visible lesions, or vulvar, vaginal or cervical intraepithelial dysplasia and cancer. Here are some examples of recipes that can be used.

Tea of Coix Seed and Water Caltrop (2 servings)

Ingredients: 60g Coix seeds* plus 3 Water Caltrops**
Instructions: Soak Coix seeds in 2 cups water in a pot overnight. Peel off the hard shell of Water Caltrops and cut into chunks. Place Water Caltrop chunks in pot with Coix seeds and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until Coix seeds become soft (about 30 minutes).
Administration: Eat 1 serving, 2 times daily, for 1 month.
(Caution: do not eat pork.)
* Coix seed, also known as Job’s Tears, is a food-herb that looks similar to barley.
** Water Caltrops is variety of water chestnut.

Coix Seed and Carrot Porridge (2 servings)

Ingredients: 30g rice, 30g Coix seeds, 1 medium carrot
Instructions: Soak Coix seeds in a pot with 4 cups water overnight.
Cut carrot into small chunks. Place rice and carrot chunks into pot with undrained Coix seeds. Bring water to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer gently, partially covered, until Coix seeds and rice are very soft and liquid becomes thicker (about 30 minutes), stirring occasionally to keep rice from sticking. Serve porridge warm.
Administration: 1 serving, 1-2 times a day for a month.

Water Caltrop Porridge (2 servings)

Ingredients: 100g round grain rice, 30g water caltrostarch
Instructions: Place rice into a pot, with 3 cups water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer about 15 minutes.
Add water caltrostarch to pot, continue to simmer until rice is very soft (about 30 minutes), stirring occasionally to keep rice from sticking. Serve porridge warm.
Administration: Eat 1 serving 1-2 times per day

Astragalus Porridge

(2 servings)
30 grams astragalus root
30 grams Coix seeds
30 grams rice
15 grams red beans
Place astragalus into a stainless steel pot with 4 cups water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer about 20 minutes. Strain out the herb and use the resulting decoction as a broth for the next step.
Put Coix seeds, rice, and red beans into the broth. Simmer until those ingredients are very soft (about 60 minutes), stirring occasionally to keep rice from sticking. Serve porridge warm.

Final Notes
Along with the above dietary therapy, it is also recommended to drink green tea every day, quit smoking, avoid contraceptive pill use, avoid overwork, and do regular hip baths with a green tea leaf decoction or prescription herbal solution.

This article is excerpted from a longer one, with more recipes, which was used as part of an HPV workshop held at the Canadian Gynecology Institute of Chinese Medicine. At CGICM, we are dedicated to providing continuing education on women’s health issues.

Wang, Yuxiang (2013). Integrated Gynecology Course Notes. CGICM. Toronto, Canada.


Yuxiang Wang graduated from the Tianjin University of Traditional Chinese Medicine with a Bachelor’s degree in TCM in 1983. In 1986, she took her Masters Degree in Gynecology of TCM. She has been practicing and teaching Chinese medicine for several decades. In recent years, she has maintained a private practice in Toronto and teaches TCM for several Chinese medicine programs. Her clinic, Radiance Chinese Medicine and Wellness Centre (formerly the Canadian Gynecology Institute of Chinese Medicine), is dedicated to providing continuing education and treatment for women’s health issues. Check CGICM.ca for upcoming workshops. For more information and appointments call (416) 644-1937, or (416) 354-2045 (clinic at 2951 Lakeshore Blvd. W., Etobicoke). Her book Handbook of Pediatric Chinese Dietary Therapy is published by PublishAmerica


Write a comment
  1. A
    May 05, 00:41 Amy

    Dear Yuxiang Wang,

    I am live in San Francisco. I have just been diagnosed with HSIL after biopsies.
    I am looking for a Chinese Herbalist who has the knowledge to prescribe me the correct herbs for my condition. Do you have a colleague in San Francisco or the Bay Area that you can recommend that I go see?

    Thank you

    Reply this comment
  2. M
    April 06, 04:28 Melissa

    Wonderful article- thank you for sharing!

    Reply this comment

Write a Comment

view all comments