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Cold sores: the common herpes virus.

I used to get cold sores (or fever blisters) every year, usually in the winter or summer. They started with a tingling on the edge of my lip and within 24 hours I had a full-blown sore that lasted a week. Now I don't get them because I understand what causes this common virus (herpes simplex 1) and how to get rid of cold sores at the first sign, before they blossom. Not everyone is fortunate enough to get sores that last only one week. But with a little information, you can either prevent them or shorten their duration.

Not Just a Blister

More than 90 percent of people in this country over the age of 50 have had cold sores. They frequently reoccur at the same site because the virus that causes them hides in nerve cells where it remains dormant until conditions appear that favor them. This stress-related virus is a sign that your immune system is somewhat compromised. Stress that stimulates herpes simplex in one person won't cause it in someone else with stronger immunity.

Cold sores can be a single fever blister or they can arrive in clusters. They announce themselves with a prodrome, a signal that something's on the way. In this case, it's usually a tingling, itching, or throbbing. If you haven't prevented cold sores from starting and want to stop them in their tracks, you'd better move quickly at this first warning. While many people get only the sores themselves, others get the same kinds of symptoms as with any virus: including a neckache, fatigue, fever, and swollen glands.

Herpes simplex blisters seem to have a life of their own. They begin as blisters that burst into open sores, then they crust over and eventually go away. But like any virus, they're extremely contagious -- from the first tingle until the blisters have crusted over. Touch them and you can spread them or pass them along to your husband, niece, or a friend's cute baby. Be sure to wash your hands frequently if you have cold sores and keep your hands away from your face.

What Else Causes Them?

A simple cold can reactivate cold sores, as can hot weather, nutrient deficiencies, fluctuating hormones, or fatigue. Anything, in fact, that lowers your immune system. One amino acid, arginine, stimulates the virus, so it's important to avoid foods high in arginine either when you're under a lot of stress, coming down with cold sores, or are in the middle of an outburst. Limit the following foods, high in arginine, during these times: grains, seeds, nuts, peanut butter, chocolate, beer, raisins, and gelatin. Chocolate, nuts, and seeds are particularly harmful, so stay away from your favorite chocolate-covered almonds.

Since a weak immune system can contribute to cold sores or lengthen their stay, avoid foods that suppress the immune system such as high amounts of sugar, alcohol, coffee, tea, and refined grains.

Stopping Cold Sores

Lysine is an amino acid that opposes arginine. It inhibits the growth of herpes viruses (both herpes simplex 1, which results in cold sores, and herpes simplex 2, which causes genital herpes). So boost your diet with high-lysine foods, such as fish, chicken, turkey, eggs, black beans, lentils, soy, potatoes, and brewer's yeast, at the first sign of a cold sore.

In addition to your multivitamin, you may be able to interrupt the life cycle of the herpes virus by taking a lysine supplement. I suggest taking 1,500 mg of l-lysine three times a day during the duration of an outbreak, and 500 mg three times daily as a preventive (if you're susceptible to them, that is). Some animal studies have shown that lysine may cause the liver to make more cholesterol. If you're taking lysine for a long period of time, have your cholesterol checked. There's nothing to suggest this happens in humans, but just be aware of it.

Lemon balm (Melissa officianalis) is my favorite anti-cold sore medication. It's an herb that has antiviral activities against herpes, and I've found it stops my cold sores from even forming. Numerous studies show that non-affected cells are protected from the herpes virus when you apply either the crushed lemon balm leaves or an ointment of its extract on the affected area. Steep two to four teaspoons of the herb in a cup of boiling water, and apply the cooled tea to the cold sores with a cotton ball four times a day.

I use an ointment from Enzymatic Therapy called Herpilyn[R] with a 70:1 ratio. This means that 70 pounds of herb are used to make one pound of the extract! In addition to containing Melissa extract, it also has other antiviral compounds. A onie-ounce tube costs about $10, and I've had the same one for years. It takes very little to stop a cold sore, or to speed its healing -- just apply it twice a day. Enzymatic Therapy products are sold in many health food stores, or call them direct at 800-783-2286.

Vitamins and minerals can support your immune system and suppress the herpes virus, so be sure to take a good protective multi every day. You can't physically pack a lot of nutrients into a single capsule or tablet, so look for a formula where you take two tablets with each meal to cover your nutritional bases. When you're under stress, you use up more B vitamins, magnesium, and other important nutrients than when you're relaxed and calm.

Zinc (50 mg/day) was shown in clinical studies to reduce the duration and frequency of herpes. Add some to your multi to reach this amount.

Vitamin C with bioflavonoids (from 200 mg to 4,000 mg/day) heals cold sores fast. Take the amount that feels comfortable and doesn't cause loose stools. A randomized, double-blind study showed that people with cold sores who applied vitamin C topically twice a day, by soaking cotton balls in ascorbic acid dissolved in water or applying a vitamin C paste, had a shorter outbreak of herpes with fewer symptoms.

Traditional prescription medications to prevent and treat cold sores include Acyclovir (Zovirax), valacyclovir (Valtrex), and famcyclovir (Famvir). You can use a topical cream with a two-percent lidocaine solution, available in drugstores, for pain, but it won't prevent or shorten the duration of sores. Topical penciclovir cream (Denavir) may. Talk with your physician about these items.

Homeopathics I've found to be helpful for cold sores include: Natrum muriaticum 12c (or 30c) for sores on or around the lips. Rhus tox 30c, used twice a day, for cold sores on the lip. Rescue Remedy (Bach flower remedies) or Five Flower Formula (from Flower Essence Services) are tinctures found in health food stores that can be applied externally to reduce pain.

If you follow these simple steps, cold sores can be a thing of the past for you, too. They certainly work for me.

Jacknin, Jeanette, MD. Smart Medicine for Your Skin, Avery Publishing, 2001.

Mohrig, V. "Melissa extract for herpes simplex: the alternative to nucleoside analogues," Deutsche Apotheker Zeitung, 1996, vol. 50.

Murray, Michael, ND, and Joseph Pizzorno, ND. Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, Prima Publishing, 1998.

Werbach, Melvyn R., MD. Textbook of Nutritional Medicine, Third Line Press, 1999.
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Article Details
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Author:Fuchs, Nan Kathryn
Publication:Women's Health Letter
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2001
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