Cold Sore Prevention
Nutritional Balance Can Make the Difference

By Shelley Burns, N.D.

Originally published in ASCP's Skin Deep, April/May 2006. Copyright 2006. Associated Skin Care Professionals. All rights reserved.

Stress, fatigue, and exposure to colds and flus can deplete the body and result in a weakened immune system. This may be of special concern for those who experience cold sores, also known as herpes simplex 1 virus (HSV1): The weaker the immune system, the greater the incidence of cold sores. Two amino acids, L-lysine and L-arginine, also play a role in outbreaks and, when balanced correctly, can help ward off cold sores.

L-lysine is an essential amino acid vital for proper growth, absorption, and conservation of calcium, as well as collagen production, which is fundamental for skin health. It is called an essential amino acid, as it is essential to human health but must be obtained from the diet since the body can't make it on its own.

L-arginine is a semi-essential amino acid. Under normal circumstances the body can synthesize sufficient L-arginine to meet physiological demands, but it is also available in foods we eat. L-arginine is responsible for facilitating wound healing and promoting the secretion of key hormones, such as insulin and glucagons. While L-arginine is necessary for health, it must be kept in careful balance with L-lysine; otherwise, an abundance can contribute to cold sores. Here's why.

HSV1 uses L-arginine to replicate itself. L-lysine, on the other hand, blocks the bioavailability of L-arginine, preventing the replication of HSV1. For individuals who experience cold sores, a diet high in L-lysine and lower in L-arginine will help prevent the replication of HSV1. L-lysine-rich foods include dairy products, fish, eggs, turkey, brewer's yeast, and soybeans (specifically tofu). On the other hand, foods high in L-arginine include chocolate, nuts, peanut butter, and gelatin. For example, low-fat, plain yogurt contains 1,060 mg of L-lysine and 359 mg of L-arginine. Conversely, walnuts have only 459 mg of L-lysine but a hefty 2,520 mg of L-arginine.

The recommended dose of L-lysine for prevention of cold sores is 500-1,500 mg daily and for treatment is 3,000-9,000 mg daily in divided doses. Topical applications of L-lysine, including lysine-based creams, ointments, and lip balms, can also be used during a flare-up.

L-lysine is not only a powerful prevention strategy for cold sores but also helps prevent bone loss, improve athletic performance, and treat canker sores.

Shelley Burns, a doctor of naturopathic medicine, completed studies at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine and has certification in Complementary and Integrative Medicine from Harvard University. She can be reached at the Scienta Health Centre at or 905/270-8318.

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