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Can Certain Foods Cause or Prevent Herpes Outbreaks?

The internet is full of claims about foods that can supposedly minimize (or bring on) herpes outbreaks. Nutrition Diva doesn't trust rumors. She dives into the scientific evidence to answer a reader's question.

By
Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS,
October 21, 2013

Q. I have a slightly embarrassing question.  About 5 months ago, I had my first herpes outbreak.  I've heard that lysine supplements can reduce outbreak frequency, but are there any foods that I should increase or avoid?  

A. A quick internet search turned up several articles on foods or diets that supposedly prevent herpes, but many of the recommendations I saw (such as eating more raw foods, foods high in antioxidants, or drinking alkaline water) were unsupported by any actual evidence. Other recommendations (such as avoiding junk food and refined sugar) seemed to be based on the vague notion that a healthy diet should also help decrease herpes outbreaks.

In terms of scientifically proven (or even plausible) approaches, I'm afraid there's not much out there.  Most of it falls into the "might help, can't hurt" category.

The Arginine/Lysine See-Saw

We know that the herpes virus needs the amino acid arginine to replicate. Another amino acid, lysine, seems to inhibit the virus.  Although it hasn't yet been proven in scientific trials, some people think that limiting foods containing arginine and emphasizing foods containing lysine might help prevent outbreaks. The problem is that these amino acids frequently appear in the same foods. 

If you want to test this theory, you'd want to avoid nuts and seeds (which are high in arginine), stock up on dairy, fish, and poultry (which are high in lysine), and limit your consumption of eggs, chocolate, and wheat (which are high in both).  No promises, though.

Eat Your Broccoli

There's also some evidence that a compound found in cruciferous vegetables (such as broccoli) can inhibit the replication of herpes infected cells. This hasn't made it out of the test-tube stage yet but I can't see the harm of including cruciferous vegetables in your diet on a regular basis. 

Here are a couple of recipes for you try:

Brussels Sprouts Slaw

Asian-Style Broccoli Salad

Give them a try and let me know how these approaches worked for you.

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