We’ve all been there. You’re getting ready for a big presentation or a first date when you notice a small red blister making an unwelcome appearance. It’s a cold sore and of course applying an over-the-counter cream to get rid of it only makes it more obvious.
We become prone to cold sores (also known as fever blisters or herpes labialis) when our immune defenses are weakened. When we’re under stress, like when we’ve had too much sun or after a life trauma, our vulnerable spots like the nose, mouth, lips or chin are susceptible to infection. Failing to follow a healthy, nutrient-rich and balanced diet can further promote an attack.
When our immune system isn’t at full strength the normally inactive, but opportunistic, herpes simplex virus – 1 (HSV-1) that causes a painful cold sore outbreak, becomes active in our nervous system. Some of us become infected with HSV during childhood but prevalence significantly increases with age since it’s a highly contagious and easily transferable virus. It can be transmitted in saliva during kissing or by sharing cups, utensils, razors or toothbrushes with someone who is infected. The good news is that there are things you can do to both prevent and treat it naturally. Here are my suggestions:
1. Look into lysine
Be aware of arginine which has been known to trigger the herpes virus. It’s often present in high amounts in sports and growth hormone boosting supplements. You may also be consuming foods high in arginine such as almonds, soy, chocolate, peanuts, peas, seeds, oatmeal and whole-wheat. Fortunately, lysine has been shown to suppress the herpes virus (both oral and genital) and even speed up healing from outbreaks with continued use.
Bottom line: Take 500–1000 mg of lysine three times a day to slow the replication of the virus. Or try taking 200-4000 mg as soon as you feel the symptoms of a cold sore.
2. Include immune boosters
Olive leaf extract has antiviral, antibacterial, anti-fungal and immune boosting properties. The active ingredients found in olive leaves can help inactivate the virus and alleviate symptoms with regular usage. Your susceptibility to colds and other viruses may also improve over time.
Bottom line: Take 500–1000 mg of olive leaf extract twice daily with an additional 1-2 grams of vitamin C containing bioflavinoids to assist your immune function. To further maintain your immunity add 4,000-5,000 IU of vitamin D3 and a high potency probiotic, containing 10 billion active cells, daily.
3. Wild over resveratrol
I have written about the many benefits of resveratrol and one I didn’t mention is it can inhibit the herpes simplex virus (both oral and genital) by preventing the reactivation of the latent virus. For optimal use, early exposure to resveratrol is required so consider it more of a proactive supplement if you get cold sores regularly. The sooner it can attack the virus the better.
Bottom line: I recommend taking 1-2 capsules per day on rising with an empty stomach.
4. Try some topicals
While the above supplements can work to arrest the virus from the inside out, there are topical applications that can reduce the healing time if you do get a cold sore. Available at most health food stores, these include:
– Lemon balm, also known as Melissa cream: Apply a one percent, 70:1 ratio herbal extract 2-4 times per day to speed healing and reduce the risk of spreading. Past studies have shown that individuals who are starting to develop a cold sore and apply Melissa cream see significant benefits by day two; reducing intensity of discomfort, number of blisters, and the size of the lesion.
– Tea tree oil: Apply to the lips no more than three times a day with a Q-Tip or cosmetic pad.
– Witch hazel: Apply to the area several times a day to reduce pain and speed healing.
– Zinc sulfate: Apply once daily at the first sign of redness and inflammation.
– Peppermint oil: Studied in test tubes, peppermint oil has stopped a number of viruses from reproducing, including herpes. And though there is not a large amount of research done on humans, I recommend applying the oil 1-2 times per day to treat the infected area.
Though there is still no cure for herpes, I hope these suggestions make your flair-ups less common and easier to handle. Tell me, what do you find triggers your cold sores and what do you usually do to remedy them?
Natasha Turner, N.D. is a naturopathic doctor, Chatelaine magazine columnist, and author of the bestselling books The Hormone Diet and The Supercharged Hormone Diet. Her newest release, The Carb Sensitivity Program, is now available across Canada. She is also the founder of the Toronto-based Clear Medicine Wellness Boutique. For more wellness advice from Natasha Turner, click here.