Cold Sores

Author: ANCP   Date Posted:5 May 2016 

Anyone who suffers from cold sores will be familiar with the symptoms: first a day or two of tingling at a specific location around the mouth or nose, then the formation of a small cluster of blisters that are hot, tender and painful. After the blisters burst a scab forms, which eventually falls off about ten days later. Once you’ve contracted the Herpes simplex virus (HSV) that causes cold sores, it’s with you for life.

Luckily, there are steps you can take to reduce the likelihood of outbreaks occurring.

Avoid cold sore triggers

Once you know what triggers your cold sores, you’ll be in a better position to minimise the frequency of outbreaks.

Common triggers to avoid include:

  • Over exposure to wind or sun (wearing sunscreen is recommended).
  • Poor immunity (for example, from being run down).
  • Exposure to another virus such as a cold or flu.
  • Fever.
  • Stress and fatigue.
  • Hormonal fluctuations (e.g. during menstrual periods).

Eating to prevent cold sore outbreaks

The cold sore virus requires the amino acid arginine in order to replicate itself, and reducing your consumption of foods rich in arginine may help to prevent cold sore outbreaks. Arginine-rich foods to reduce include carob, chocolate, coconut, dairy products, gelatine, red meat, oats, peanuts, soybeans, walnuts and wheat (including white flour and wheat germ).

At the same time, increase your intake of lysine – an amino acid that competes with arginine in the body. Lysine-rich foods to consume in liberal quantities include eggs, lima beans and yeast. Also avoid consuming sugar and any foods that you have allergies or intolerances to, as these may increase the strain on your immune system.

Support your immune system

Herbs and nutrients that may help support your immune system include:

  • Vitamin CVitamin C is necessary for both immune system health and wound healing, and is required by the body in increased quantities during times of infection and stress. Taking vitamin C supplements from the first tingling that heralds a cold sore’s onset may help to reduce the amount of time it takes the lesion to heal. (Ideally, choose a vitamin C supplement that also contains bioflavonoids).
  • Zinc: Zinc is involved in many aspects of immune function. It is needed for the healthy function of the immune system and helps prevent infections. Like vitamin C, healthy zinc levels are needed for wound healing. Zinc supplements are often taken in conjunction with vitamin C, and preliminary scientific evidence suggests that this combination of nutrients may help to reduce the duration and frequency of cold sores.
  • Echinacea and andrographis: Echinacea and andrographis have immune-boosting properties and may help support your defences against infection.
  • Olive leaf and garlicOlive leaf extract plays a role in immune system function. It contains a rich source of oleuropein, which is believed to be the component responsible for its immune-supporting effects. Garlic is also used to help the immune system fight off infections such as cold sores.

Manage your stress levels

As cold sore outbreaks are more likely to occur when you’re under pressure, it’s important to support your nervous system and manage your stress levels. Herbs and nutrients that may assist include:

  • B-group vitamins: The B-complex group of vitamins support the body’s stress-coping mechanisms. In particular, vitamins B5 and B6 are required for the production of hormones involved in the stress response by the adrenal glands
  • Oats: In Western herbal medicine, the green part of the oat plant is viewed as a nourishing tonic that calms and restores the nervous system
  • St John's wort: St John's wort is a calming herb beneficial during times of stress.