Herpes Outbreak Prevention: Diet is Essential

You may have read my recent article about how to topically treat cold sores (oral/herpes simplex 1), which offers five helpful topical remedies for quick and effective healing. In that article, I promised to write a follow-up article about herpes/cold sore prevention, which is of equal if not more importance. While it is great to have remedies on hand when these outbreaks occur, how much better would it be to avoid them altogether?

Below are three crucial factors as related to diet when it comes to herpes outbreak prevention. Not only do these dietary recommendations help to prevent outbreaks—they include overall immune-strengthening health benefits.

1. The Lysine/Arginine Balance

You may or may not know this, but there are particular foods that can have a huge impact on how frequent or how severe herpes outbreaks are. The balance of lysine and arginine in your body are one of the most essential components to this.

Lysine is an essential amino acid (building block of protein), and arginine is classified as a semi-essential or conditionally essential amino acid. Both amino acids need to be obtained through diet, as your body cannot synthesize them independently.  Lysine is used to build muscles and collagen, and promotes absorption of calcium from the intestines. Arginine provides many benefits to the body such as wound healing, helping the kidneys to remove waste products from the body, maintaining immune and hormone function, and dilating and relaxing the arteries.

While both amino acids provide many essential benefits to bodily health, consuming high levels of lysine serves to combat the herpes virus, whereas high levels of arginine will significantly increase the likelihood and frequency of a herpes outbreak.

What does this mean for your diet? Peanuts, peanut butter, and chocolate are the worst—that is, the highest in arginine—avoid these as much as possible, or cut them out of your diet altogether.

Other nuts and seeds are also high in arginine, so it is best to reduce your regular intake of those, but if you love and eat these foods regularly or even in moderation, it can be helpful to take a lysine supplement on a regular basis, and/or eat a regular diet of foods high in lysine to balance this out. Additionally, gelatin, carob, coconut, oats, whole wheat and white flour, soybeans, and wheat germ have more arginine than lysine. Avoid these foods to prevent outbreaks, and especially do not eat them during an outbreak.

On the other hand, fish, chicken, beef, lamb, milk, cheese, beans, brewer's yeast, mung bean sprouts, and most fruits and vegetables (especially leafy greens) have more lysine than arginine, with the exception of peas. For a full list of the lysine/arginine balance of foods, look at this webpage.

At the end of the day, it all comes down to the balance of lysine and arginine in your diet—all foods have both, but if you can keep your overall lysine consumption level higher than arginine, this will make a big difference. I take a lysine supplement if I am feeling rundown, and when I am eating a lot of foods high in arginine, and also when I am premenstrual/menstrual—this is a time when the likelihood of an outbreak is highest.

2. Foods that Cause a Stress Response

There are particular foods that can cause a “stress response” in the body—sugar, caffeine, and alcohol are some of the most impactful stressors. Not only will these three culprits wear your immune system down, but sugar specifically feeds the herpes virus. Additionally, anything that taxes or negatively impacts your adrenals (such as all three of these) will reduce your immunity and ability to fight the virus. Additionally, all of these substances will likely negatively impact your sleep, another vital function of the body that serves the immune system and prevents outbreaks. So avoid sugar, alcohol, and caffeine as a method of herpes outbreak prevention, and definitely do not consume these during an active outbreak.

3. Vitamin C

Vitamin C (also known as ascorbic acid) has incredible benefits to herpes outbreak prevention, as well as a long list of other benefits, including prevention and treatment of scurvy, treatment of the common cold, boosting the immune system, lowering hypertension, treatment of lead toxicity, curing cataracts, treatment of cancer, combating stroke, maintaining elasticity of the skin, healing wounds, and controlling the symptoms of asthma.

Taking at least 1,000 mg a day of vitamin C as a supplement can go a long way to serve the immune system and prevent herpes outbreaks. Foods highest in vitamin C are oranges, red peppers, kale, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, strawberries, grapefruit, guava, kiwis, and green peppers.

And in addition to foods high in the vitamin, there is an easy way to consume high levels of vitamin C each day, through a berry called “camu camu,” found in the Amazon rainforests of Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, and Brazil. This supplement can be easily taken in powder form, and easily found online, and in some health food stores.

Best of luck and stay tuned for one more article coming soon on the subject of internal supplements to take during outbreaks.