Cold sores are a rather unpleasant affair. While it is thought that perhaps around 90% of people around the world may be infected with Herpes Simplex Virus, some people get away with a single cold sore outbreak, while others seem to get them again and again. Once you have Herpes, the virus hangs out in hiding in nerve cells. Whether or not it is reactivated to cause the characteristic painful cluster of blisters on the skin is down to a number of factors. An outbreak can be brought on by illness, stress, sunshine or nutrient imbalances. The lesions or ‘sores’ can happen on any part of the skin or mucous membranes, and while the lips are the most common place, the nose and other areas of skin can also be involved. Usually the virus has a favourite spot it just keeps returning to! Other Herpes virus infections such as shingles or genital herpes may also benefit from the treatment ideas outlined in this article.
Sunshine! It’s good for the soul, good for the immune system, good to top up your Vitamin D, good for so many things, but not so good if you are prone to cold sores! It’s not uncommon for people to be triggered by a strong dose of sun especially when skiing, as this is typically in winter when immunity may be more vulnerable anyway. Anytime of year however, sun can switch on a Herpes revival! Protect your lips with really good sunscreen if this is a trigger for you.
Stress is definitely a trigger for cold sores. Many people know this and report they get a cold sore when they are ‘run down’. We all know that stress lowers immunity, but additionally those who are nutrient depleted and under physical stress can also be vulnerable to infection.
Some women always get a cold sore before their period – not a pleasant pre-menstrual issue! Hormonal balance can play a part in outbreaks also.
Infections such as coughs and colds can also trigger a herpes outbreak. If you are prone to cold sores on the nose, just blowing your nose repeatedly may cause enough physical trauma to induce a cold sore. Anything that lowers your immunity, such as antibiotic use, stress, infection, food intolerances, or poor nutrition, will obviously have an impact on cold sores.
L-Lysine is particularly useful for prevention and treatment of cold sores. This is because of the important balance between the two amino acids Lysine and Arginine. Boosting Lysine at vulnerable times, such as when you’re sick or under stress, can reduce your chance of a cold sore developing. Generally I recommend 500-1000mg of L-Lysine once daily as prevention, and 1000mg three times daily as a treatment during an outbreak.
Nuts & Chocolate are two real trigger foods for some people as they are high in Arginine. I know many clients have reported they just seem to get a cold sore anytime they eat a whole lot of nuts! Its good to keep an eye on whether these are triggers for you.
Diet should focus on lots of protein, especially Lysine-rich foods such as red meat and chicken, ( or black beans and chickpeas if you’re vegetarian) and greens.
Other important nutrients include B vitamins, especially B12, and all immune nutrients, such as Zinc, Vitamin C, and Vitamin A. It is worth assessing nutrient levels if you are getting any recurrent infections.
Hypericum perforatum or St John’s Wort is a botanical medicine specific for the treatment of Herpes infections. Hypericum has specific antiviral activity against ‘enveloped’ viruses, such as the Herpes viruses responsible for cold sores, shingles, chickenpox and genital herpes. In studies Hypericum, has been shown to reduce the frequency of ‘herpetic episodes’ and also reduce the symptoms experienced if there is an outbreak. I have found that for many clients the use of Hypericum stops the recurrent outbreaks of Herpes that have been plaguing them! Yes you do need to be careful with Hypericum if you are taking any prescription medications, just because it can change the way your body metabolises other medicines. Other herbal medicines for immune support may also be useful. These include Astragalus, Echinacea and Andrographis.
Everyone has their favourite home remedy to stop a cold-sore in its tracks. Here are some popular ones: Ice, Tea Tree Oil, Propolis Tincture, Honey. What is one person’s fail-safe however is another person’s failure! Research on herbal remedies for topical creams is promising though; Lemon Balm is one shining star here, showing conclusive results in trials for cold sore treatments.
- Avoid chocolate & nuts
- Take L-Lysine preventatively and increase as a treatment
- Assess and remedy nutrient imbalances
- Support immunity with good diet and specific herbs and nutrients
- Reduce stress
- Use a good thick sunblock for lips and vulnerable areas
- Utilise specific herbal remedies such as Hypericum
- Use topicals of your choice at the first sign of a tingle
So if you get recurrent cold sores and think it is just jolly bad luck, think again and take a closer look. It may be that you simply need to check those nutrient levels, quit the peanut slabs, or make friends with a new herb!