Cold sores are painful fluid-filled blisters that form on the edge of the lips. They are caused by a herpes virus, most often the herpes simplex 1 virus. (Not be confused with canker sores, which are small ulcerations in the mouth). Initially, there may be tingling or prickling at the site of the cold sore even before it becomes visible (this is called the prodrome). The blister is highly contagious and eventually breaks, oozes, and crusts over before starting to heal. It usually disappears within two weeks. They are easily spread to other parts of the body or to other people. Infection in the eye may lead to blindness.
The virus lives permanently in the nerve endings of many adults and children. Scratching will spread the virus which can then lead to secondary bacterial infection. Recurrences are common and can be triggered by such things as colds, stress, sun exposure, illness and the menstrual cycle.
Note: Genital herpes infection (usually caused by herpes simplex 2) is a related condition and potentially may be treated in much the same way as herpes simplex 1.
Dietary and lifestyle modification
Eat more high-lysine, and fewer high-arginine, foods
Arginine is an amino acid (a protein building block) that is required for the creation of new herpes viruses. On the other hand, the amino acid, lysine, replaces arginine in the cells and therefore inhibits replication of the virus. So, a diet that is low in arginine and high in lysine may help prevent or treat herpes outbreaks. Several studies have shown that increasing lysine intake can reduce the recurrence rate of cold sores.
- Avoid foods with high arginine-to-lysine ratios, such as nuts, seeds, grains, peanuts and chocolate.
- Yoghurt and other organic dairy products as well as most meats can be a healthy way to increase lysine intake.
The herpes virus prefers an acid environment. In optimum health, the body’s pH balance should be around 7.4, which is slightly alkaline. When the pH drops below 7.0 the body tissues become acidic. Any stress, flu, colds, or too much sun will cause the body to move toward acidity. During these times it is therefore particularly important to avoid eating acid foods, such as tomatoes, citrus, carbonated soda or anything with vinegar. Avoiding acidic foods, along with continual cleaning of the wound with alcohol or hydrogen peroxide, can cut the cold sore healing duration by 50%.
Boost the immune system, assisting the body to combat the virus:
- Cleanse the body of toxins so that the immune system is able to function at its best
- Focus on a diet high in fresh fruit and vegetables including broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussel sprouts and kohlrabi, garlic and onion, chilli, ginger, sprouted seeds and beans and use cold pressed seed and vegetable oils. These all assist the immune system
- Have plenty of garlic or use a garlic supplement or other natural antibiotic such as olive leaf extract or grapefruit seed extract
- Take vitamin C
- If indicated or prescribed, take a good multivitamin and mineral supplement
- Manage stress levels. Progressive relaxation and creative visualisation can reduce stress, anxiety or depression
- Applying ice as soon as the first tingle or itch is experienced will greatly reduce the severity or delay the onset of a cold sore.
Nutritional supplement treatment options
Lysine has been shown to reduce the recurrence rate of herpes simplex infections in double-blind trials.
Vitamin C and Flavonoids – Compared with placebo, vitamin C and flavonoids have been shown to reduce the duration of symptoms by 57%.
Vitamin E – Apply cotton saturated with vitamin E oil for 15 minutes every three hours on day one, then three times daily on days two and three. This topical application of vitamin E oil has been shown to accelerate healing of the cold sores.
Zinc is most effective against cold sores when applied topically. Use under the guidance of a healthcare practitioner.
Boric Acid has antiviral activity. Topical application of an ointment containing boric acid (in the form of sodium borate) has been shown to shorten the duration of cold sores by about one-third. However, there remain some concerns about the potential toxicity of boric acid.
Botanical treatment options
Lemon Balm has known antiviral properties and has been to speed the healing of cold sores when used topically as a cream. It can also lead to significantly fewer symptoms and fewer blisters.
Witch Hazel – The proanthocyanidins in witch hazel have been shown to exert significant antiviral activity against herpes simplex 1. Double-blind trials involving people with acute cold sore outbreaks showed a pronounced and statistically significant reduction in the size and spread of the inflammation in the group using witch hazel.
Additional herbs to consider:
- Golden seal
- St John’s Wort
In traditional herbal medicine, tinctures of various herbs, including Chaparral, St. John’s wort, Golden seal, Myrrh, and Echinacea, have been applied topically to herpes outbreaks in order to promote healing.
Caution: St John’s Wort is known to interact with a number of prescription drugs and should therefore be used in full co-operation with a suitably qualified healthcare practitioner.
Licorice contains the active ingredients glycyrrhizin or glycyrrhetinic acid which are believed to provide beneficial activity against the herpes simplex virus.
Article contributed by Dr Tracy S Gates, DO, DIBAK, L.C.P.H., Consultant, Pure Bio Ltd. Copyright © Pure Bio Ltd 2022. All rights reserved
Pure Bio are a leading UK supplier of the highest quality PURE nutritional supplements, based in Horsham, West Sussex. Proud Winners of Southern Enterprise Awards, Best Nationwide Hypoallergenic Nutritional Supplements Distributor 2022.
Visit www.purebio.co.uk for all your nutritional supplement needs.
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