If you’ve ever experienced a cold sore, you’ll know how these small, fluid-filled blisters on your lips can have a big impact on how you look and feel. Tingling sensations, swelling, redness, that ‘run- down’ feeling and the unpleasant appearance of a cold sore is enough to make you run for cover.
Herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV1)
Cold sores are caused by HSV1 and are relatively common. It’s estimated that around 90% of people carry HSV1 antibodies, meaning that they have been exposed to the virus at some point in their lives, and yet only about one third will ever experience a cold sore. Once you have been exposed to HSV1, it tends to lie dormant in the nervous system until triggered by an event, and in some cases, this can be many years after the initial exposure. When triggered, HSV1 travels through the nerve endings until it reaches the skin where many small, and often painful, vesicles or blisters erupt.
HSV1 is highly contagious and is spread through direct contact with a blister, such as kissing, or through indirect contact, such as sharing drinking glasses, cups, straws etc. There are no known antidotes for HSV1, however triggers for future outbreaks have been identified and include:
- A weakened immune system
- Recent cold, flu or upper respiratory tract infection
- A high arginine to lysine ratio in the body
- Stress and fatigue
- Sun or wind exposure on the lips
- Hormonal fluctuations
How to reduce the frequency and duration of cold sores
By being aware of triggers that cause a cold sore outbreak, you can take preventative measures to reduce the frequency and duration of future outbreaks. Supporting healthy immune system function and reducing your stress levels are important in managing HSV1 outbreaks. Supplementation with herbs and nutrients may also be beneficial:
- Lysine hampers the activity of arginine, an amino acid that promotes the growth of HSV1. Therefore, Lysine helps to decrease the frequency of cold sores and reduces the time taken for cold sores to heal. Lysine and arginine compete for absorption, so supplementing with lysine is best combined with a diet low in arginine-rich foods. Foods high in arginine include chocolate, nuts, some seeds and chick peas. Lysine can be taken to help reduce the risk of a cold sore breakout or taken at higher doses during an acute attack. See Herbs of Gold Lysine 1000 + Olive Leaf.
- Olive leaf contains high levels of oleuropein, the key pharmacologically active component that helps maintain a healthy immune system. Olive leaf is traditionally used in Western herbal medicine for the relief of the symptoms of colds, flu and mild upper respiratory tract infections. See Herbs of Gold Olive Leaf.
- Vitamin C and zinc both support the immune system. Zinc is required for enzymes and proteins involved in skin renewal and a zinc deficiency is common in adolescents, the elderly, vegetarians, pregnant and lactating women. Vitamin C is essential for the formation of collagen and connective tissue, which are structural components of the skin. Zinc and vitamin C support wound healing. See Herbs of Gold Zinc Forte + C.
- Withania, Rhodiola, Rehmannia and Licorice are adaptogenic and adrenal tonic herbs that help promote resistance to stress, helping your body function normally during stressful situations while supporting your adrenal glands. Rhodiola, standardised to contain the active components, salidroside and rosavin, may enhance physical and mental performance during times of stress and fatigue. Withania, an Ayurvedic tonic herb, is traditionally used in Ayurvedic medicine to restore vitality during debility, stress and exhaustion. See Herbs of Gold Stress Ease Adrenal Support.