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Thursday, May 15, 2008

Dealing with cold sores (aka fever blisters or herpes simplex 1)

Cold sores are one of those annoying and embarrassing things that people hate to deal with, and seem to pop up when you least want them. Let's face it, when do we ever want those damn things? It may be a simple virus infection, but herpes is still herpes and it will always have the negative connotations that come with it, regardless of whether or not you have the genital kind. (Which, for the record, I do not have, thank you very much.)

I never used to get cold sores much, and can't remember when it ever started. However, ever since I became vegetarian my the recurrence of blisters has more than quadrupled. I couldn't figure out why until I researched herpes simplex 1 a little more. Now that I know more, I'd like to share my knowledge and what has worked for me.

First of all, several things can trigger an outbreak:
  • Sun exposure
  • Excessive wind exposure
  • Stressed immune system (like when you're sick)
  • Foods high in arganine (like chocolate, nuts, and oatmeal)
The first two are easy enough to deal with. Just limit your exposure to wind and sun (my apologies if you're an avid skier, cyclist, whatever). That last item is what caused my more frequent blister outbreaks. When my diet changed, the nutrients I was getting changed as well, more than I realized.

Viruses seem to thrive on arganine, so naturally foods high in that amino acid will be feeding your virus infections. On the other hand, lysine seems to impede the virus' ability to absorb arganine. Therefore, foods high in lysine and low in arganine are ideal for keeping your cold sores at bay.

The reason my outbreaks became more frequent after I cut meat out of my diet is because meats naturally contain high amounts of lysine. Couple that with the fact that I relied more on nuts for protein than in the past, and you can see how I developed a bit of an imbalance.

It's not just about avoiding foods high in arganine. Some articles you might read about herpes simplex will tell you to avoid dairy for this reason. However, dairy are some of the foods highest in lysine, usually more than double the amount of arganine. This chart will help you identify the foods with the highest and lowest lysine to arganine ratio.

Additionally, I have been taking Lysine supplements. I take one 500 mg pill a day, unless I feel that familiar tingling in my lip, then I increase it to two a day. If the area starts to feel slightly rough, like the blister is about to form, then I increase to three pills a day (over the course of the day, not all at once). I've found that this usually prevents the outbreak and the blister site smooths out and becomes normal again.

I'm so relieved that I've found this solution to my problems. I was starting to feel like some kind of leper with cold sore outbreaks every two months. I always thought I was eating healthy, and I hardly ever got sick. Turns out my diet was too low in lysine to stop the virus from flaring up.

As a final note, bear in mind that I am not a doctor or nutrionist. Please don't down a bottle of lysine in one day and then wonder why you have diarrhea. If you have doubts or experience anything unexpected or worrisome, do talk to a doctor about it. I'm just a regular person sharing her experiences in the hopes of helping someone else.

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