Cold Sores

Many people eventually become infected with the virus that causes the unsightly and painful lip blisters called cold sores. Using antioxidants, immune boosters, and especially the amino acid lyine, you'll have the tools to inhibit the birus and help heal the inflamed skin.

What is it?

Cold sores are fluid-filled blisters that usually appear on the lips, although they can also develop on the gums, the inner cheeks, the roof of the mouth or the area around the nostril.s The cold sore can also spread by touch to the mucous membranes of the eyes, nose and genitals, or to abrasions. Typically, cold sores (also called fever blisters) break and then form a scab, disappearing in a weeks to ten days.

What causes it?

Cold sores are usually caused by herpes simplex type 1 virus (HSV-1). (This is not the main virus responsible for genital herpes – herpes simplex type 2 – which is generally transmitted through sexual contact.) Because the virus lies dormant in nerve cells after the first outbreak, new sores may recur as frequently as every few weeks or as infrequently as every few years. Sores often reappear when the immune system is depressed by a fever or a viral infection. Recurrences can also be tirggered by fatigue, menstruation, stress, or exposure to sun and wind.

What are the symptoms?

  • The initial outbreak is often marked by unsightly and tender blisters on or near the mouth. Sometimes, flu-like symptoms and swelling in adjacent lymph nodes occur as well.
  • Recurrences may be milder: an itchy or tingling sensation on the lips, followed in a day or two by one or more fluid-filled blisters.

Are there any natural therapies?

Most useful is the amino acid lysine, which, when taken orally, suppresses the growth of HSV-1; in cream form, lysine can be applied directly to the sores. It's fine to use long term and may help to prevent cold sores from forming. Also effective is melissa cream, made from the potent antiviral herb Melissa officinalis; use at the first hint of tingling.

Vitamin C and flavonoids may help as well. As powerful antioxidants, they facilitate healing by eliminating naturally occurring cell-damaging compounds known as free radicals; both also boost virus-fighting immune systems cells. Vitamin A and selenium have antioxidant properties, too. Along with flaxseed oil, they speed along the healing process by promoting cell renewal. (Vitamin A is also available in topical form; apply it directly to sores, alternating it with vitamin E oil.) Flare-ups may be treated with the immune-enhancing herbs echinacea and goldenseal, which are natural antivirals and antibiotics.

To prevent recurrences, take 500 mg of lysine a day, plus (with your evening meal) 30-50 mg of zinc. (if you're using lysine long term, add an amino acid complex to provide a balanced mix of amino acids.) It's also beneficial to alternate herbs: try echinacea (200 mg a day); astragalus (200 mg a day); or a mixture of reishi (1500 mg a day), shitake galus (1200 mg a day) and maitake mushrooms (600 mg a day). Take one preparation for a week, then switch to another, and finally to the third.

What else can I do?

  • Apply sunscreen (SPF 15 or higher) to the lips to prevent recurrences. In a study involving people with recurrent cold sores, those who didn't use sunscreen developed a cold sore after 80 minutes in the sun.
  • Don't touch the blisters. This can spread the virus, as can sharing personal items such as towels, razors, drinking glasses or toothbrushes.
  • Try meditation, yoga or other forms or relaxation to reduce stress.
  • Stay away from nuts, chocolate, whole-grain cereals and gelatin. They contain a large amound of the amino acid arginine, which some doctors think triggers cold sores. Lysine may counteract its effect.

Did you know?

If used early, 1 or 2 drops of licorice extract applied to the lesion several times a day will prevent a cold sore from developing. If the sore has already developed, the extract will reduce pain and speed healing. The same treatmentis effective for genital herpes.