What's a sore more painful than a scrape or bruise, uglier and more embarrassing than a big pimple, and caused by a virus so contagious that it’s spread simply through kissing? A cold sore. This disgusting malady, seemingly put here just to ruin tonight’s party or this weekend’s big date, is in fact a viral disease. Fortunately, there are natural cold sore remedies that can help to get rid of these unsightly sores.
Polyphenols are chemicals that form a large group of very active compounds in herbal medicines. They are distinguished by having two or more phenol rings in their structure. These active ingredients, common in a broad spectrum of herbs we use for medicine, have been getting a lot of attention recently, and for good reason. They have just the qualities we want in a medicine to fight herpes infections. They are anti-inflammatory, antiviral, immune enhancing, and astringent.
In viral infections, polyphenol substances seem to latch onto the body’s cellular virus receptor sites, taking up the space, and prohibiting the virus from attaching to the cell, short circuiting the bug’s ability to cause infection.
Popular herbs that are high in polyphenol content are turmeric root, bilberry fruit, and ginkgo leaf.
Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)
Lemon balm, also known as melissa, is probably the most well respected herbal treatment for cold sores in use in this country today. Melissa is a European herb, and most of the research on this effective plant comes from there.
Although the action of melissa is not completely explained, it appears that the antiviral effects are the result of the high content of polyphenols in the leaf. Lemon balm is a member of the mint family, so it is a pleasant herb to work with, with a delicious taste and smell.
One recent German study showed that melissa provided effective pain relief within eight hours, and performed as well as acyclovir cream, the leading drug for oral herpes. This study used the popular, highly concentrated (70:1) melissa extract. Traditionally, essential oil of melissa at a 1% concentration has been used in the cream.
Melissa ointments are widely available as commercial preparations from the herb store. Apply the salve directly to the blister.
Or, if you prefer the do it yourself approach, brew lemon balm tea, drink the tea for its antiviral effect, squeeze out the dregs, and apply the dregs directly to the sore, allowing the mass to remain for an hour or two. Alternatively, you may soak a cotton ball in the tea itself, and apply that right to the blister.
Other mints have general antiviral properties as well. While melissa is widely regarded as the foremost herb for cold sores, most other mints will work almost as well. Mints are all rich sources of antiviral components, including caffeic acid, quercitin, tannic acid, and thymol. James Duke, Ph.D., a widely respected herbal medicine authority, recommends using several strongly brewed cups of a tea made from an assortment of good tasting mints- hyssop, lemon balm, oregano, rosemary, sage, self-heal, and thyme.
Hot chile peppers (Capsicum annuum)
Capsaicin, the active ingredient in cayenne and other chiles, is a potent antiviral. This herb is my personal favorite for treating cold sores, and, in fact, genital herpes. It works fast, it’s potent, so the dose can be reasonable, it’s affordable, and it’s available. Dr. Duke recommends red chile pepper for its scientifically proven ability to prevent outbreaks of herpes. Cayenne can be taken internally to treat the virus. Sprinkle it in your food, if you dare, or take it comfortably in a capsule. Since this herb is very spicy, make sure to take it with a meal, and start with a very small dose, like a half capsule, to determine your comfort level. Work up to a dose that gives you relief of the pain of the blister. Typically this would be about 1,000 mg with each meal.
Hot red chiles can also be applied externally to blisters. Numerous studies have shown that the capsaicin is very effective in relieving herpes blister pain. This herb is available in many different ointment preparations, to be dabbed directly on the sore. Be very careful, however, if you try this with cold sores. The ointment is VERY HOT. It will bring down the tingly pain very well, but do not allow it to get anywhere else on your face or any other membrane (if you know what I mean), or in your eye. Apply the ointment with a swab, or wash your hands quite thoroughly after dipping your finger.
One note of caution. While cayenne (and other chiles) is an effective antiviral herb, and I rely on it above all others for fast results in herpes outbreaks, traditional systems of holistic healing (including Ayurveda from India) say that it will actually provoke inflammation in the long run- read that more blisters. So, short run- good for crisis control, long run- it can actually have the opposite effect in susceptible people.
Licorice Root (Glycyrrhyza glabra)
Licorice is an herb with a long history of benefit for the immune system. This powerful herb can be taken internally, or used in the form of an ointment.
Licorice is a strong anti-inflammatory medicine, with actions comparable to cortisone. Taken internally, the dose would be 3,000 mg per day in capsule form. This herb can be a little stool loosening, so work up gradually. Make sure the effective dose is comfortable. The ointment will contain the active ingredient glycyrretinic acid, or the related compound, glycyrrhizic acid. Topical glycyrretinic acid has been shown in clinical studies to reduce pain and healing time. Apply the cream directly to the blister as necessary.
St. Johnswort flowering tops (Hypericum perforatum)
This popular herb actually has many clinical uses beyond its success in treating depression. The active ingredient that benefits herpes appears to be hypericin, which researchers now conclude is not the antidepressant component.
This herb supports the immune system, reducing viral episodes. Use 3,000 mg per day of the whole herb in capsule form, or find a preparation standardized for hypericin. The daily dose of standardized product should contain 1.0 mg of hypericin per day.
Cold sores, the liquid-filled blisters that erupt around the lips and sometimes spread to the nose or chin, are caused primarily by herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1), a common relative of the virus that causes chicken pox. The virus is related to, but not the same as, the HSV-2 virus, which causes genital herpes. Though quite similar in effect, these two varieties of virus are distinct. Typically, oral infections are caused by type 1, while genital infections are a result of type 2. However, it is possible for either type to infect either tissue. Practically, they are treated with the same methods.
Cold sores are not necessarily the result of being cold or catching a cold, and can be just as persistent in winter or summer. A variety of stimuli can trigger cold sores, including just about anything that insults the immune system.
If left untreated, an outbreak typically lasts six to 10 days. The episode goes through a series of stages. Sometimes the cold sores are accompanied by fever, swollen neck glands and general body aches.
Stage 1: Tingle/Redness — A tingling sensation develops, followed by skin redness.
Stage 2: Blister — The sore transitions to small painful lumps, then to tiny, painful, fluid-filled blisters.
Stage 3: Ulcer — An ulcer forms, and the sore is usually very painful and shallow.
Stage 4: Scabbing Phase — A scab begins to form, and the sore begins to itch, often followed by painful cracking.
Stage 5: Healing Phase — The scab falls off, leaving dry, flaky skin.
More than 90 percent of all adult cold sore sufferers were infected with the virus as children, typically from an adult with a cold sore, when they were between the ages of 6 months and 4 years. In most cases, the virus invades the moist membrane cells of the lips, throat or mouth. Usually, the initial exposure causes no symptoms. Most cases are mild and go unrecognized in the infant, often mistaken for teething or a cold. However, about 15 percent of those affected, as adults or children, develop blisters inside and outside of the mouth. Though the child gets well in short order, the virus never leaves the body, leaving the sufferer at risk of a secondary flare up at any time in later life. People who contract oral herpes as adults usually have more severe symptoms with their initial breakout.
Cold sores can be spread to other people by contact, including kissing and the sharing of objects such as toothbrushes, towels, knives and forks. It is important not to kiss others, including your own children if you have a cold sore. The virus can also be spread to other areas of your own body, so be cautious about touching other membranes, and wash your hands well after touching your mouth and face.
More than 60 percent of Americans have suffered from a cold sore at some time, with almost 25 percent of them experiencing recurrent outbreaks.
Don’t confuse cold sores with canker sores, correctly called aphthous ulcers, which are small ulcers that form on mucous membranes of the digestive tract, including the oral cavity. They are not caused by virus.
One of the simplest, and seemingly most effective topical treatments for herpes blister outbreaks is simple vitamin E, applied directly to the blister. Just squeeze a vitamin E capsule onto a cotton ball, and place it on the lesion, leaving it in contact as long as possible. Studies have shown that this method often brings relief from pain within eight hours, and lesions appear to heal more rapidly. This should not be surprising, considering the antioxidant and skin healing values of vitamin E.
Lysine for Herpes
Several studies have shown that the amino acid lysine is effective in suppressing herpes outbreaks, while the amino acid arginine favors growth of the virus. Lysine is contained in the body in inverse relationship with arginine. To prevent outbreaks, we would like to increase the lysine/ arginine ratio, so we will supplement with lysine, and increase lysine foods in the diet, and decrease the amount of arginine containing foods we eat. Lysine does not cure cold sores, so it must be taken in a daily dose to maintain prevention.
Start with the dose that brings total cessation of outbreaks, which is often as high as 3,000 mg per day. This dose will often lessen the intensity of an outbreak, if taken immediately at the beginning of the prodrome (tingling phase). Gradually taper the dose down to the amount that will sustain the prevention. Often a dose of only 500 mg per day will provide complete relief.
High Arginine Containing Foods (Avoid These)
- Nuts, especially peanuts
- Cereal grains
High Lysine Containing Foods (Emphasize These)
- Brewer’s Yeast
- Most vegetables
Cold sores can be truly miserable. Fortunately, natural healing has a full toolkit of remedies that offer hope for the sufferers. I have seen many people completely conquer this nasty problem, never to be plagued again. Build your health, support your immune system, use the remedies we have discussed, and you will reap the results. You too can vanquish cold sores forever.