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

Nutrition Tips for Preventing Cold Sores

In a previous blog post, I talked about how the amino acids lysine and arginine may affect herpes outbreaks. In a nutshell, it may help to avoid foods that are high in arginine, which include most nuts, seeds, eggs, chocolate, and wheat. At the same time, try to increase your intake of  foods high in lysine, which includes fish, poultry, and dairy products.

In addition to that advice, here are the best new leads I could find.

Get your Vitamin D: Although no studies have specifically looked at vitamin D for the prevention of herpes outbreaks, this nutrient is critical to the activation of T cells, which is one of your primary defense mechanisms against viruses. School kids who took vitamin D supplements during cold and flu season were significantly less likely to get the flu. Cold and flu season is in the wintertime, when vitamin D levels tend to be at their lowest.

If you know you have HSV, you might want to take a vitamin D supplement in the winter—and be sure to look for a supplement containing vitamin D3, which is the active form of the vitamin. You can also get active vitamin D from oily fish such as herring and mackerel. Click here to learn a very cool trick for enhancing the vitamin D content of mushrooms.

See also: What are the Benefits of Vitamin D?

Eat your fruits and vegetables: If you’re looking around online, you’ll probably see recommendations for taking vitamin C, or zinc to prevent herpes outbreaks. To see whether this advice is any good, researchers set out to see whether the intake of various nutrients seemed to offer any protection against herpes zoster, which is the member of the herpes family responsible for shingles, a painful condition that often afflicts older people.

This is not the virus that causes cold sores, but zoster and HSV-1 are both herpes viruses that lie dormant in the bloodstream until something triggers an outbreak. When the researchers looked at individual nutrients, such as vitamin C or zinc, it didn’t seem getting more of these nutrients offered any protection. However, those who ate the most fruits and vegetables did have fewer outbreaks.

The researchers concluded that, rather than any one vitamin, the cocktail of nutrients that you get when you eat plenty of fruits and vegetables every day might be the winning ticket in this particular lottery. I certainly don’t see any downside to this strategy and lots of collateral benefits!

See also: How to Get More Vegetables into Your Diet

Limit sugar and refined carbs. These foods may suppress various aspects of immune function. You’ll see a lot of anecdotal evidence from herpes sufferers who find that avoiding these foods seems to reduce outbreaks. Because I think this is really good advice anyway, I’m willing to include it in my list of things that may help with herpes, despite the lack of hard evidence.

See also: Why Is Sugar Bad?

I’m sorry that I don’t have more to offer in the way of nutritional therapy for cold sores and herpes. We all love to quote Hippocrates (“Let food by thy medicine”) and I hate to see people turning to medications to solve problems that are caused by poor diet and lifestyle choices. But as valuable and important as a healthy diet is, some medical conditions can’t be entirely prevented or cured by good nutrition alone. Fortunately, there are some prescription medications that can help treat and prevent herpes outbreaks in those who are particularly prone to them.


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. 

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