Natural treatment for cold sores
Approximately 30% of all adults suffer from outbreaks of cold sores, so whether it is you, your family members or close friends who gets them, this information is likely to be relevant to your life. Although they are not serious afflictions and resolve themselves without medical treatment, cold sores are unsightly and uncomfortable, so most people jump through hoops trying to prevent outbreaks or help them resolve more quickly. Luckily there are a handful of herbs and dietary measures that really do help.
So, what exactly are cold sores? Cold sores are the physical manifestation of the Herpes Simplex 1 virus; these are generally found on the lips and less commonly in or around the nostrils or the chin. Once caught, this virus can live forever in the body and emerge as a cold sore in times of compromised immunity, emotional stress or illness. Initially during an outbreak, the area tingles and feels very sensitive to touch. This then progresses to redness, swelling and small fluid-filled blisters. After a few days, the blisters generally resolve to a semi-healed scab. From the initial tingles to the final healing of the skin usually takes 7-10 days.
Having suffered from cold sores for many years myself, I have tried and tested many different natural and pharmaceutical products to get rid of a cold sore as quickly as possible. Although there is no magic bullet, there are a number of herbs and dietary supplements that make the process much easier and the healing time much quicker.
This part is very simple. Reduce arginine-containing foods and take a lysine supplement. The herpes virus feeds on arginine, which is an amino acid (protein building block). All amino acids form bonded pairs – in this case arginine bonds with lysine. When bonded, the arginine is no longer available for the herpes virus to feed on. So, simply increasing lysine via a dietary supplement and reducing arginine-containing foods will reduce the severity and duration of the outbreak. Which foods contain arginine? Nuts, seeds, coffee and chocolate! It may sound hard but it is worth it. Some people find that taking Lysine supplements regularly can prevent outbreaks, although it is important not to take high doses of Lysine continuously for more than 6 months .
The kinds of herbs that are useful for cold sores are anti-viral herbs, immune stimulating herbs and general stress-relieving herbs. The three herbs that have demonstrated the best anti-viral effects specifically on the herpes virus in clinical trials, that are also folk-medicine favourites, are licorice root, dragon’s blood and lemon balm. Licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra) has been shown to have an inhibiting effect on the herpes virus and also makes a delicious and sweet-tasting tea . Licorice root is not recommended for people taking cardiac gylcosides, hypotensive agents, corticoids, diuretic drugs or MAOIs . Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) has also demonstrated significant effects on herpes outbreaks. The tincture or tea can be applied topically to the cold sore to reduce the severity and duration of the outbreak , and the lemony-tasting tea can also be drunk internally. Sangre de Grado has a long traditional use in the Amazon as a topical application for wounds and cold sores. This has been confirmed by Belgian scientists during a laboratory study . Another great approach is to use herbs that generally stimulate the immune system, which assists the body to fight the virus itself. Classic herbs such as Echinacea are indicated here.
I have personally found that using the above herbal and nutritional approaches at the first sign of an outbreak (tingling) often greatly reduces the size of the cold sore and the healing time, and has even occasionally prevented the outbreak from happening.
Cold sores tend to happen when people are emotionally stressed out, so if you suffer from recurring infections and you have a high-stress life, it makes sense to use some well-known stress relieving herbs such as passionflower or chamomile. We hope this information helps you to minimise the discomfort and distress that cold sore outbreaks can cause!
1. Balch, P. 2000. Prescription for Nutritional Healing. P296.
2. Pompei R, Flore O, Marccialis MA et al. Glycyrrhizic acid inhibits virus growth and inactivates virus particles. Nature 1979 Oct 25; 281 (5733): 689 -90.
3. Hoffman, David. 2001. Medical Herbalism. p555.
4. University of Maryland Medical Centre. Article available at: http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/lemon-balm#ixzz2qKzsMtQn; also Hoffman, D. 2001. Medical Herbalism. P567.
5. Taylor, Leslie. 2005. The Healing Power of Rainforest Herbs: A guide to understanding and using herbal medicinals