Cast your mind back, where did you catch your first? Was it an impromptu game of spin the bottle or maybe your first girlfriend gave you it? The cold sore, named because it usually follows a cold in childhood, is synonymous with teenagers and in the UK roughly 25% of us catch this by the time we are 15. By the time we are 30, roughly 50% of Britons have the cold sore virus. Well I’m in this 50% and although I get cold sores pretty rarely now, they are quite annoying. Exposing myself to cold weather can often be a trigger for my cold sores, this could be because of your lips drying out, dry warm air indoors or even a weaker immune system, but it’s that time of year. In this post I’m going to cover some hacks to help you win the cold sore battle.
What causes cold sores?
Cold sores are caused by the Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV). Most cold sores are linked to the HSV-1 virus, with the HSV-2 virus being more commonly linked to genital herpes. Although both HSV-1 and HSV-2 can be linked with both oral and genital herpes. As you probably know, once you’ve got the virus it stays with you and for most people becomes less active over time.
If you’ve been getting cold sores for a while, then maybe you know what triggers yours. Common triggers for cold sores are sun (UV) exposure, stress, periods, being run down or excessive alcohol. Knowing your trigger is probably the easiest way to take command of your cold sores, but sometimes it isn’t always obvious.
Why you should look to other methods to kill your cold sore
Whenever I’ve had a cold sore before, my first thought is to go to the pharmacy and get whatever I can to get rid of it. Usually I buy Zovirax cold sore cream and/or little patches (I’ve also heard of various tablets to tackle the problem), then in my experience they all seem to be fairly ineffective. Maybe they slightly speed up the healing process, but by no means do they lead to a quick fix.
Alternative ways to fight cold sores
There’s lots of interesting and more natural ways to try fix the problem. Unless you regularly get cold sores, I imagine like me that you aren’t always thinking about prevention. When you do get the cold sore though you want rid of it as soon as possible, so you need to plan your attack.
It’s usually easy to tell when you’re getting a cold sore, that tingling feeling like you’ve bitten your lip maybe. This is the best time to hit your cold sore head on, as soon as you notice the tingling. There are a few options to try at this point:
- Apply an ice pack to the tingling for 90 mins (be careful of frostbite). Many people cite this as stopping a cold sore in it’s tracks and it may not even fully appear.
- Swallow an eighth of a teaspoon of cayenne pepper or create cayenne pepper paste to apply directly to the tingling area. Cayenne pepper can slow the herpes virus through its antioxidant and antiviral properties.
- Apply a cold, used teabag for 20 minutes, the tannic acid is an antiviral agent. This is advised for repeated use while you have a cold sore.
- Take a lysine supplement, most people recommend something 3000mg/4000mg. This will help restore you lysine/arginine balance, which I will be coming onto in a second.
- Lemon balm topical cream is said to decrease the duration of a cold sore outbreak by half due to its antiviral properties.
Why is lysine so important?
Lysine is an amino acid found predominantly in meat, dairy and fish. It is said that when you have a cold sore outbreak or even if you feel one coming on then you should have a high lysine to arginine ratio. This is because one of the main ingredients the cold sore virus needs to replicate itself is arginine. Cells with a high arginine content are good targets and can help the herpes virus spread.
Lysine is thought to block the absorption of arginine in the intestine, which creates a less fertile environment for the herpes virus to spread. This is why many people swear by lysine supplements to kill your cold sore when it arises.
If you are getting cold sores on a regular basis you could also look at your diet and try to maintain a high lysine / low arginine ratio. This could be a potential factor in your outbreaks, assuming you are generally healthy otherwise. Foods such as dairy, meat and fish all have a high in lysine to arginine ratio. Foods to avoid for their high arginine content are, most nuts, orange juice and chocolate!
What else can help speed up recovery?
There are many other herbs and minerals that can have positive effects against cold sores. Liqorice root can be great to take due to its antiviral properties and attacks the virus. There have also been a couple of studies on mice that show a selenium deficiency is correlated to higher instances of cold sores. So if you are getting regular outbursts having a handful of brazil nuts every now and again could help with that (Selenium is also great for hair health as I wrote here).
The other major point I want to say with regards to speeding up your recovery is DO NOT DRINK ALCOHOL while you have a cold sore. This one I’ve seen myself time and time again. If you don’t stop it takes forever to heal and this even applies to just one beer! You should also avoid salty and acidic foods as they aggravate the lesion.
If you are still looking for more
While researching this article, it became really apparent how much you can try with relation to cold sores. Modifying your diet for increased lysine, trying a variety of herbs for antiviral benefits and if you are really struggling with either kind of herpes virus, Stephen Fowkes has written a book about BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) and how supplementing with this can in effect almost cure you from any outbreaks. However I should state that it is actually banned in the UK and much of Europe. It is used as a synthetic food preservative in the US and does also have some links to causing cancer in rats. I haven’t dived much further into it, but he is very well respected on a number of topics and there is a lot of people online backing him up on this. More reading needed.
Personally I don’t get outbreaks enough to warrant a daily supplement. If you can safely say you have good immunity, have low stress and are eating well, you should be able to avoid cold sores. If they are becoming a problem then you looking at your diet might be the best solution.
I hope you’ve found this post useful and it can sometimes be a taboo topic between friends. Please email me and let me know if any of these remedies helped.