Could a Japanese mushroom extract be the cure for HPV, the virus that causes cervical cancer?

It’s a potential breakthrough in treating the currently untreatable human papilloma virus (HPV) — one that comes directly from nature.

At a recent Society for Integrative Oncology conference, Judith A. Smith, a pharmacist and an associate professor at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston Medical School, presented the results of a small study that found the supplement active hexose correlated compound (AHCC) can eliminate the HPV virus.

The nutritional supplement is made from Japanese mushrooms.

Smith noted that HPV is linked to 99 percent of cervical cancers cases, as well as cases of many other potentially fatal cancers. As it stands, there are no medications or supplements that can effectively treat HPV.

“Patients who learn that they have HPV, and their doctors, are understandably frustrated because all we can do is monitor them for the abnormal changes associated with cancer. What we need is a safe, effective treatment for HPV before the cancer occurs,” Smith said in a press statement.

In the study, 10 women who had tested positive for HPV were given AHCC once a day for up to six months. Upon retesting, five came back negative for the virus. In three of those women, the HPV stayed at bay after stopping AHCC treatment. The other two patients who tested negative are still in the study, aiming to complete a six-month treatment course of AHCC.

“With this study, for the first time, we’ve shown it’s possible to eradicate HPV in women using AHCC for only three months or up to six months,” Smith said.

An official phase II randomized, placebo-controlled trial is now underway at Houston Medical School.

Learn More: What Is HPV? »

Do these results mean that doctors might one day recommend AHCC as a treatment for HPV?

“If the larger study confirms our results, then yes, a clinician could recommend using AHCC as a nutritional supplement to treat HPV infections,” Smith said.

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Dr. Serena Chen, director of the division of reproductive endocrinology at Saint Barnabas Medical Center in New Jersey, warns that the extract is not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. She said it could be hard to find AHCC in the form, purity, and dose that were used in Smith’s study.

Chen cited evidence that supplements can be tainted with other agents, so people need to be careful about consuming them unless the company adheres to certain production standards.

“It is hopeful that this may eventually yield a treatment for HPV, but too early for actual clinical use at this time,” Chen said.

Studies have already confirmed how AHCC operates in the immune system. It boosts the amount of natural killer cells, dendritic cells, and cytokines — all types of cells that help the body fight infections and suppress tumor growth.

In the United States, HPV is the most common sexually transmitted illness. About 70 percent of adults who are sexually active will contract the virus during their lifetimes, Smith noted.

Gardasil and Cervarix are vaccines currently on the market to prevent HPV infections. However, a recent University of Pennsylvania study found that just 14 percent of 360 participants received the vaccine. All were classified as ideal vaccine candidates.

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Two recent Centers for Disease Control reports show that about 8 million women ages 21 to 65 have not received a Pap test to check for cervical cancer in the past five years. Moreover, just 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 7 boys had received the full recommended course of an HPV vaccine. The agency recommends that all children ages 11 to 12 receive the vaccine.