In my acupuncture practice, I often see patients who think they are just stuck suffering through cold sores. Luckily, there are some great immune boosting techniques and home remedies for cold sores that actually work.
If you’re one of the millions who struggle with this annoying condition, then you’ve come to recognize that characteristic tingling feeling when one is about to emerge.
As many as 85% of people carry the herpes simplex 1 virus (HSV). This form of the virus lives in the nerve cells next to the ears. The virus is passed through contact with saliva, so kissing, sharing drinking glasses and similar activities can spread it from one person to the next.
The key to living with the herpes virus is PREVENTION, PREVENTION, PREVENTION.
So without further ado, let’s make sure you have your bases covered:
How to tune in to prevent cold sores
While it can remain dormant for long periods of time, stress, poor eating habits, illness, excess sun exposure and other bodily stressors can all trigger an outbreak.
This may be easy to glaze over and think, “Yeah, yeah. I already know that.” But ask yourself, do you really pay attention when your body is run down? Do you slow down and rest when you need to? Or do you push through anyway?
If you’re in a period of high stress, do you take care to go to bed earlier, eat right, take immune boosting supplements?
If you can’t say that you are 100% on top of stress management, then that is the essential place to start for project Prevent-Cold-Sore-Outbreaks. If you don’t already have my free Immune Boosting Ebook, subscribe to my newsletter to get it now.
The role of gut health in cold sores
An unhealthy gut is the birthplace of a whole host of issues. When there is an imbalance of beneficial microflora (bacteria and yeast) in your digestive tract, this not only suppresses the immune system, but it may allow the HSV to replicate more easily, causing more cold sores. Addressing and controlling microflora balance and restoring gut health is an important piece of the puzzle. (source)
You don’t need to have specific digestive symptoms for poor gut health to be affecting you. If you have a history of antibiotic or birth control use, you can assume that your digestive system will need extra support to be healthy. Read this post and take this quiz to determine whether your gut is at its best.
The right foods to prevent cold sores
Poor food choices also stress and weaken the immune system. A diet low or free of refined sugars, processed and pasteurized food and other junk food will help keep your immune system strong and better able to fight off infections, like HSV.
Beyond poor diet, there are also otherwise “healthy” foods that can increase your likelihood for a breakout. One of the main consideration is the balance of two amino acids – lysine and arginine.
Lysine and arginine
Because HSV is a virus, it works by invading a healthy host cell in the body and hijacking it.
In order to thrive, HSV requires proteins that contain a higher ratio of the amino acid L-arginine, while the host cell naturally requires proteins that are high in the amino acid L-lysine.
Arginine is necessary for the cold sore virus to replicate. Since lysine and arginine compete in the body, greatly increasing the body’s available lysine can both prevent and treat cold sores.
Foods high in lysine include:
- dried apples and pears
- red meat
Foods high in L-arginine should be avoided during an outbreak, or altogether if cold sore flare ups are frequent.
Foods high in arginine include:
Foods that are highest in lysine and low in arginine are animal products. It’s also interesting to note that when these foods are heated, it diminishes the amount of usable lysine. So pasture-raised raw or lightly cooked animal products, especially raw cheeses, are the best way to get more lysine in the diet. (source) and (source).
Home Remedies for Cold Sores
Lysine is most effective when used daily to prevent cold sores, but can also help at the first signs of an outbreak.
One recommendation is to supplement with about 1,500 milligrams of it daily for 6 months if you deal with recurring cold sores. Take a break before resuming the supplement for another 6 months if cold sores recur. (source)
This study found that supplementation with 1 gram of lysine daily had no significant effect at shortening the duration of cold sores once an outbreak had occurred. However this source indicated that higher doses, up to 3 grams daily were effective at shortening cold sore healing time.
In addition to supplementing with lysine, it can be used topically too. Ointments like this one can be applied preventatively or at the very first tingling of a cold sore.
Zinc for immune support
Zinc is a well known immune booster, specifically shown to help prevent and treat cold sores.
This study treated recurrent cold sore lesions with a low dose of zinc sulfate, either topically or in a mouthwash. Participants were reassessed 2 years later, and none of them had had any more cold sores after the zinc treatment.
The mouthwash used in the study only contained .025% zinc sulfate, yet it was still very effective at a low dose. Zinc oxide though, the kind found in sunscreen, has been shown to be ineffective at healing or preventing cold sores.
Tea tree & lemon balm
When it comes to cold sores, the invading HSV doesn’t just destroy a healthy cell, it hijacks it and continue to replicate (source).
Essential oils, are unique in that they can penetrate the cell membrane and meet the viral infection at the source. This study found that tea tree essential oil was superior to several other essential oils when tested against HSV.
Lemon balm can be effective against cold sores too. In this study participants noticed a significant improvement compared to the placebo group when the lemon balm was applied within 72 hours of an outbreak. This remedy is most effective though when used at the very first sign a cold sore is coming, before it’s erupted into the characteristic red sores. Because lemon balm essential oil can be very irritating to skin, it should be used at about a 1% dilution.
Drying an existing cold sore
Sometimes you’re not able to prevent a cold sore in time and you end up with an ugly, seeping breakout. In this case, alum powder can be used to dry the sore out and speed healing.
You can find alum in any grocery store, as it’s typically used to keep cucumbers crisp when pickling. To use, dip a clean finger in the powder and apply directly to the sore. This will sting a little bit, but it really helps.
What home remedies for cold sores have worked for you?