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Nutrition & Healing - Herpes Simplex

By Dr. Jonathan V. Wright

If you have herpes simplex, you know it can be difficult to control. When you feel the preliminary pains, then see the tiny, tightly grouped blisters on red inflamed skin, you know herpes is back for another painful stay. Worse, with it's tendency to erupt on the mouth and lips, or in the genital region, herpes makes us at least temporarily unacceptable socially.

Many have turned to use of 'acyclovir' [a-sye-clo-veer], a drug commonly prescribed in "mainstream" medical practice, which effectively suppresses herpes outbreaks, and is available in both oral and topical forms. If you prefer to control herpes without drugs, there are effective diet changes, supplemental nutrients and herbal preparations which can control herpes while using substances found in nature.

General dietary measures that help control any type of recurrent infection apply to herpes control, too. You might want to read the brief Recurrent Infections for more information on this. These include elimination of sugar and refined carbohydrate, and identification and elimination of food allergies. Sugar specifically interferes with the ability of white blood cells to fight off germs. Don't substitute synthetic chemicals for sugar; look for whole natural alternatives available in natural food stores, such as filtered raw honey, molasses, and 100% maple syrup. Even these should be used sparingly.

Experts in natural and nutritional medicine have pointed out for years that nearly all recurrent infections can be lessened by identification and elimination of specific food allergies and sensitivities. Many individuals with recurrent herpes simplex as well as other recurrent infections are surprised to find they have allergies or sensitivities to foods, but are pleased when elimination of offending foods also eliminates some of their herpes problem. It's usually difficult to self-identify food allergies in recurrent herpes, so I'll tell you about two organizations that can refer you to a specialist in this area. The two organizations are: the American Academy of Environmental Medicine at 913-642-6062 and the International Federation of Electrodermal Screeners at 800-258-2172. For further information about food allergy testing, you might want to read the brief on Allergy Testing.

In addition to general anti-infection diet changes, there are diet changes specific for herpes simplex control. The amino acid arginine encourages the growth and reproduction of the herpes virus, while the amino acid lysine discourages herpes growth and reproduction. Foods high in arginine include nuts, chocolate, grains, beans and vegetable proteins in general while lysine is higher in animal proteins, such as chicken, fish, turkey, and beef. If you've been having recurrent herpes eruptions, at least a temporary shift towards high lysine, lower arginine foods is probably advisable. Since many of us have decided to move away from diets high in animal protein for longer-term good health, such a move can present a dilemma that is fortunately solvable with lysine supplementation.

Lysine is widely available in 500 or 1000 milligram tablet or capsule sizes in natural food stores, drugstores, grocery stores, and 24-hour convenience stores. For acute herpes, I usually recommend 2000 to 3000 milligrams of Lysine taken in between meals, three to four times daily, along with an equivalent amount of vitamin C. As the acute infection subsides, quantities should be tapered. For long-range control of recurrent herpes simplex infection, I usually recommend 2000 to 3000 milligrams of lysine daily once again taken in between meals with an equal amount of vitamin C. With lysine supplementation, less drastic diet changes are needed to control recurrent herpes simplex.

If you have herpes simplex, you know that acute eruptions are frequently preceded by tingling, burning, and pain. Many individuals have found that the actual eruptions can be prevented or made considerably less if echinacea [ek-in-a-she-uh], an herbal, is started at the very first warning pain. I usually recommend 500 to 1000 milligrams three times daily for acute situations. Echinacea acts as a very broad-spectrum and safe stimulant for the immune system.

On a longer range basis, the mineral zinc can help reduce recurrent herpes simplex infections by boosting the ability of the immune system to fight germs. I usually recommend zinc picolinate, 30 milligrams daily. If taken for several months or longer, zinc supplementation could possibly reduce body copper levels, so I also recommend copper sebacate [seb-ah-kate] 4 milligrams daily, taken at a different time of day than zinc.

Vitamin A also boosts the immune system against viruses. For adults, I usually recommend 25,000 units of vitamin A daily. Beta-carotene will not do the same job.

Once herpes has erupted, there are several topical applications that can reduce both pain and healing time.

The most specific is Licorice extract containing glycyrrhizin, which irreversibly inactivates herpes simplex virus type 1. Other topical external applications that can help include zinc oxide, vitamin E, and lithium succinate.

The mineral lithium specifically interferes with the reproduction of herpes simplex virus. Since it's also possible for lithium to cause unwanted toxic effects when taken internally, it should only be used with the supervision of your doctor. If herpes simplex is severe, frequently recurrent, and not otherwise well controlled, I prescribe 300 milligrams, two to three times daily. Unwanted effects of lithium are specifically prevented with essential fatty acids, without interfering with beneficial effects, so I always recommend 3000 to 5000 milligrams of flax oil daily whenever lithium is prescribed.

Because of differences in age, sex, metabolism, or potential allergy, these diet and supplement therapies may not be suitable for you. Consult a health care professional skilled in nutritional and natural therapies. To locate one near you, you might call the American College of Advancement in Medicine at 800-532-3688 or the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians at 206-323-7610.


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