Nutrition Tips for Preventing Cold Sores

There's no getting rid of the virus that causes cold sores. Can the right diet help prevent outbreaks?

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS
4-minute read
Episode #371

Chris writes:

“A couple of months ago I got my first ever cold sore and since then I’ve had several. A blood test confirms that I have HSV-1, the oral herpes virus. Do you have any suggestions on healthy ways to eat and the best foods to avoid while living with herpes?”

As a carrier of the HSV-1 virus, Chris is not certainly alone. It’s estimated that between 50% to 85% of the population is walking around with this virus in their blood stream. Many of them never develop the tell-tale cold sore or fever blister. Others might have one or two over their entire lifetime. And some are plagued with regular outbreaks.

HSV-1 stands for herpes simplex virus, and it belongs to the same family of viruses that cause chicken pox and shingles. There’s no getting rid of a herpes virus; it remains in your body for your entire life. Most of the time, if you’re lucky, the virus lies dormant and causes no symptoms. But there’s always the potential for a herpes virus to be re-activated, especially if your immune system is weakened by stress, fatigue, or illness.

Can Diet and Nutrition Prevent Cold Sores?

What role does diet play in keeping HSV from flaring up? Given how many people this virus affects, it’s a little surprising how little research has been done. Of course, that doesn’t stop folks from spouting off all kinds of advice. But much of the advice you might encounter on the Internet is anecdotal or speculative … or even just mistaken. For example, you might see recommendations for nutrients or herbs that supposedly strengthen the immune system—but that doesn’t necessarily mean that these nutrients will help suppress herpes outbreaks.

We often talk about “the immune system” as if it’s a single piece of equipment, like a hammer or a saw. In reality, the immune system is more like a toolbox, full of all kinds of different tools for different jobs. The sharpest saw in the world isn’t going to be much use if what you need is a Philips head screwdriver.

So when it comes to suppressing herpes, we’re not looking for things that affect any aspect of the immune system. We’re looking for things that specifically impact the immune response to viruses … and not just in test tubes but in actual human beings.

But can your nutritional choices help prevent cold sores?


About the Author

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS

Monica Reinagel is a board-certified licensed nutritionist, author, and the creator of one of iTunes' most highly ranked health and fitness podcasts. Her advice is regularly featured on the TODAY show, Dr. Oz, NPR, and in the nation's leading newspapers, magazines, and websites. Do you have a nutrition question? Call the Nutrition Diva listener line at 443-961-6206. Your question could be featured on the show.