Ask Marilyn: How can I prevent cold sores?

Q: I’ve recently had a bad cold sore, accompanied by a fever, swollen glands and general fatigue. It cleared up after about a week but it was horrible and I want to know what I can do to prevent it happening again?

A: Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus, which is often caught in childhood. After the first attack many people never have another or are only affected occasionally, but some do have recurring bouts of cold sores. Attacks typically become less severe with time as the immune system builds up resistance, but the virus can be reactivated when you feel stressed or run down. Over exercising, sun burn, lack of sleep or extreme temperatures can also contribute.

To avoid another attack you need to suppress the virus as much as possible. Foods high in the amino acid arginine encourage herpes to reoccur, while those high in lysine help limit the virus. So reduce your intake of arginine rich foods, such as chocolate, nuts and gluten grains like wheat. Sadly, berries also have a high ratio of arginine to lysine so eat these in moderation too. Don’t cut them out altogether as, like nuts and grains, they are nutritional superstars – just don’t go overboard when you eat them. Oily fish, soya, live yogurt, goat’s milk, papaya, mango, apricots and cheese are all good choices as they have a high ratio of lysine to argine. You can also take lysine to help prevent cold sores recurring. Use 500mg twice a day and overtime you may be able to decrease it to just once a day to keep attacks at bay (if you can’t find lysine locally then go to the Resources Page).

It’s also important to build up your immunity. Avoid refined sugar, which lowers immunity. Caffeine and alcohol undermine liver function by limiting its ability to deal with the by-products of this virus, so cut down or cut these out. A daily vitamin B complex will help boost immunity, as will additional 15mg zinc supplements and 1000mg vitamin C with bioflavonoid supplements. The herb echinacea can help bolster your immune system too. Available in tincture and capsule form and as a tea, echinacea has been found to possess powerful antiviral and immune-boosting properties.

Take steps to reduce stress. After an infection, the virus can remain dormant and be reactivated when your immune system is sluggish, or when you are under physical or emotional stress. Yoga is an incredibly powerful way of helping your body learn how to relax and rid your mind of anxious thoughts.

And finally, too much exposure to the sun increases your risk of developing a cold sore. Don’t worry, that doesn’t mean you need to hide indoors during the summer months, instead simply apply sun block to your lips and face before prolonged exposure to the sun to help prevent an outbreak.

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