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Natural Remedies to Control Herpes Outbreaks


Herpes viruses are known to cause cold sores, genital herpes, herpes zoster (shingles), post-herpetic neuralgia and in many instances, canker sores (apthous ulcers). One type, known quite simply as herpes simplex virus type one (HSV-1), commonly affects the mouth and throat. Herpes simplex virus type two (HSV-2) usually affects the genital areas. The herpes virus that causes shingles is the same herpes virus that causes chicken pox in younger individuals. Once a person is infected through skin contact the herpes virus travels up the nerve until it reaches the nerve ganglion in the spinal cord. It remains there in a dormant state, but on occasion the virus starts replicating again and travels down the nerve to the skin where it produces skin eruptions on the areas of the skin innervated by the affected nerve. The number of outbreaks can vary widely from one individual to the next, but the virus is thought to be a permanent fixture that resides within the nerve ganglion for a lifetime, even though it may remain dormant for long periods. In the case of canker sores, not all canker sore problems are due to herpes infections. However, some of the nutrition and lifestyle information that appears in this article are useful for all canker sore sufferers, regardless of the cause.

Prevention and Management:

There are a number of anti-viral drugs that physicians prescribe to prevent and/or manage herpes outbreaks in affected persons. However, these drugs often do not suppress herpes outbreaks to a satisfactory degree, and thus, many afflicted individuals look to lifestyle, nutrition and supplementation practices to further reduce the number and severity of herpes outbreaks. The following considerations involve known trigger factors and natural remedies that have been used by various individuals to help manage herpes conditions.

Factors That Cause Outbreaks

  1. Fever, cold, flu, weakened immune system, stress: Herpes attacks often occur when a person is run down, sleep-deprived, experiencing excessive stress, all of which weaken the immune system, enabling the virus to replicate more easily.
  2. Ultra-violet light (sun and tanning beds) exposure: Ultra-violet light is a known trigger factor for herpes viruses. Encourage patients not to over expose themselves to UV- light.
  3. Trauma to the skin: Cold sores and canker sores are often triggered by trauma or abrasion to the lips or inside of the mouth, including the tongue.
  4. Foods containing high levels of the amino acid, arginine, especially peanuts, chocolate and almonds: The amino acid, arginine, is required for the herpes virus to replicate. As such, eating foods high in arginine are associated with more frequent herpes outbreaks. The same holds true for dietary supplements containing arginine. Supplements that contain arginine often include oral growth hormone secretagogues and supplements designed to correct erectile dysfunction or enhance sexual potency.

Dietary Considerations:

  1. Avoid foods rich in arginine – as reported in the section above, herpes viruses requires arginine to produce an arginine-rich protein (Protein VII), which is at the viral core. An inability to produce this protein inhibits replication of the herpes virus. Although many foods contain more arginine than lysine (explained below) the consumption of chocolate, peanuts and almonds are most frequently reported to trigger herpes outbreaks.
  2. Consume foods rich in the amino acid lysine – studies indicate that herpes viruses extract lysine from the bloodstream, thinking it is arginine, as arginine and lysine have very similar chemical structures. Once inside the virus, the virus attempts to use lysine to make Protein VII, but the attempt fails resulting in an inability for the virus to replicate. As such, lysine acts like an arginine substitute, which fools the virus and prevents it from replicating and causing outbreaks. Foods that contain high levels of lysine include most vegetables, legumes, fish, turkey, and chicken.
  3. Avoid alcohol – alcohol weakens the immune system and is a known trigger for herpes outbreaks
  4. Reduce intake of refined sugars and aspartame – anecdotal reports suggest that consuming refined sugar increases the frequency of herpes outbreaks. Other reports suggest that the same holds true for aspartame-sweetened soft drinks.
  5. Vegan Diet – some individuals report success controlling herpes outbreaks by avoiding the consumption of all animal-based foods. Overall, it certainly makes sense to eat a largely plant-based diet and use only fish, chicken, turkey and low fat plain yogurt, if animal foods are to be consumed.
  6. Consume broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables daily – broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower and bok choy contain an active ingredient known as the indole-3-carbinol, which has been shown to inhibit replication of herpes viruses. Individuals consuming these foods daily and supplementing with indole-3-carbinol have reported decreased frequency of herpes outbreaks

 Dietary Supplements

  1. High Potency Multiple Vitamin and Mineral – the levels of vitamin C, selenium, zinc, vitamin A, beta-carotene, and vitamin E in a high potency multiple vitamin can enhance immune function, which has been reported to suppress herpes outbreaks.
  2. Herbal Detoxifiers and Immune Support – (Reishi Mushroom Extract, Indole-3-Carbinol, Astragalus, Milk Thistle) - A specific protein-bound polysaccharide component of Reishi Mushroom Extract known as GLhw-02 has been shown to possess potent anti-viral properties against herpes simplex virus type 1 and type-2 under experimental conditions. A small human trial demonstrated that Reishi Mushroom Extract reduced pain dramatically in two patients with post-herpetic neuralgia and in two other patients with severe pain due to herpes zoster infection (shingles, which is caused by a herpes virus). Anecdotal evidence suggests that daily ingestion of 60 mg of Reishi Mushroom Extract can reduce the frequency of canker sore and cold sore outbreaks. Indole-3-carbinol has also been shown to inhibit replication of herpes viruses. Astragalus helps to strengthen the immune system and milk thistle raises levels of glutathione, an important antioxidant and detoxifying agent associated with optimal health. Individuals have reported fewer canker sores and other herpes outbreaks with supplementation of these nutrients.
  1. Additional Reishi Mushroom Extract - To help abort a pending herpetic outbreak of any kind, one may consider using additional Reishi Mushroom Extract supplementation totaling 250 mg, four times per day (standardized to 10-12.5% polysaccharide content) at the first sign of a recurrence.
  2. L-lysine – Taking L-lysine supplements each day has been shown to reduce herpes outbreaks and decrease the duration and severity of outbreaks, according to human clinical trials. The amount of lysine required to control herpes varied from case to case but a typical dosage to maintain remission was 500 – 1,000 mg daily, whereas active herpes required 1 to 6 gms, in divided doses, between meals to induce healing and reduce the severity of the outbreak. ( Kagan, C. Lysine Therapy for Herpes Simplex, The Lancet, 1:137 26 Jan (1974) ;Griffith, R.S., A Multicentered Study of Lysine Therapy in Herpes simplex Infection", Dermatologica 156: 257-267 (1978) ;  Griffith, R.S., Success of L-Lysine Therapy in Frequently Recurrent Herpes simplex Infection, Dermatologica 175: 183-190 (1987)
  3. Canker Sores: The use of DGL (deglycyrrhizinated licorice) has been effective in speeding the healing of canker sores. A mixture of DGL and warm water applied to the inside of the mouth has been shown to shorten the healing time for canker sores. This DGL mixture is made by combining 200 mg of powdered DGL and 200 ml of warm water. It can then be swished in the mouth for two to three minutes, and then spit out. This procedure may be repeated each morning and evening for one week. Chewable DGL tablets may be an acceptable substitute.
  4. Canker Sores and Cold Sores: Anecdotal reports suggest that supplementing with probiotics (acidophilus) may help to reduce outbreaks of canker sores and cold sores.
  5. 14 Mushroom Blend ( – standardized to 20% beta-glucans content (powerful immune modulator) – dosage=2 teaspoons (4 grams) per day.
  6. Other Anecdotal Reports Of Interest: The first seven interventions listed above have the strongest research support and should be used as the first line of natural management for herpes. The following interventions represent additional effective treatments for herpes, as reported by herpes sufferers who have posted their advice on various internet sites, as a means to help others with this problem.
    1. Gigartina Red Marine Algae – 1,000 mg capsules, taken 4 times daily – several individuals have reported good success with this supplement in regards to reducing the number of outbreaks.
    2. Virgin Coconut Oil – ingest one tablespoon per day – a number of reports suggest this can reduce frequency of outbreaks
    3. Virgin Coconut Oil  - applied topically to the lips  after exposure to ultra-violet light – this has been reported to inhibit development of cold sores
    4. Witch Hazel (oil) – using a cotton ball to dab Witch Hazel on to lesions at the first sign of tingling has been reported to block herpes outbreaks from advancing (apply several times per day to involved area)
    5. Hydrogen Peroxide and L-Lysine – crush some lysine into hydrogen peroxide and apply to lesions at the first sign of tingling. This has been reported to block herpes outbreaks from advancing as well.
    6. DMSO (dimethyl sulfoxide) – topical application of DMSO to lesions at first sign of tingling has also been reported to block herpes outbreak from advancing
    7. Neem Oil – Neem oil is derived from an evergreen tree endemic to India. Neem oil is used for many purposes, including antiseptic use. Some herpes sufferers report good success by topically applying Neem Oil to lesions at the first sign of tingling. Some people also report good success with blocking a herpes outbreak by ingesting up to 10 Neem Leaf capsules (400 mg per capsule) at the first sign of tingling.
    8. Apple Cider Vinegar – using a cotton ball to dab apple cider vinegar on lesions at the first sign of tingling has also been reported to block herpes outbreaks from advancing
    9. Ear Wax – believe it or not, many people report that taking the wax from their ears and applying it to herpes lesions (lips or genitalia) at the first sign of tingling, blocks the herpes outbreak from advancing.


About 80 percent of American adults have oral herpes (cold sores) and an estimated 25 percent of American adults have genital herpes. Since the late 1970s, the number of Americans with genital herpes infection has increased 30%. Many patients report that pharmaceutical drugs to control herpes outbreaks are not completely effective and, thus, afflicted patients often seek additional advice from alternative health practitioners, to help further reduce herpes outbreaks and/or reduce the severity and duration of outbreaks. This article contains the best studied evidence-based natural interventions shown to be useful in this regard, as well as interventions with the strongest anecdotal support, which should serve as a guideline from which to counsel patients about this common health challenge.

References on Herpes Statistics

  1. American Social Health Association. Sexually Transmitted Diseases in America: How Many Cases and at What Cost? Menlo Park, CA: Kaiser Family Foundation, 1998.
  2. Fleming DT, et al. Herpes Simplex Virus type 2 in the United States, 1976 to 1994. NEJM 1997;337:1105-11.
  1. Institute of Medicine. Committee on Prevention and Control of Sexually Transmitted Diseases. The Hidden Epidemic: Confronting Sexually Transmitted Diseases. Eng TR and Butler WT, eds. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1997.

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