Herpes Simplex: Simple Solutions for A Troublesome Virus
Juliet Dennis BSc, Nutritional therapist and general health and nutrition feature writer
The herpes simplex virus (HSV) is like an uninvited guest. Settling in for an indefinite stay, the virus strikes its host with a sense of low selfesteem, shame, and in some cases, depression. The loaded connotations of promiscuity and the fact there is yet no cure, mean that HSV can leave one with a sense of utter helplessness. But once the facts about HSV are uncovered and its myths busted, its human host can start to claw back his or her life from its clutches. Important questions begin this journey; what are its weaknesses, what triggers it to reactivate and most importantly, how can it be outsmarted?
Understanding the opponent
There are two types of herpes simplex virus, HSV-1, more typically known as cold sores and HSV-2, known as genital herpes. Both are spread by contact with a sore or blister, via the exchange of infected body fluid or, what is known as “asymptomatic shedding” during viral replication. Once the virus has successfully entered its new host, it makes its way to the nerve cells (ganglions) where it sets up a permanent home. The symptoms experienced after initial infection are similar to those experienced during a severe bout of ‘flu, with the addition of painful blisters or cold sores around the infected area. The virus then retreats to the nerve cells where it waits, dormant. It remains quiet until triggers such as stress, sunlight, ultraviolet light, wind and changes to the immune function trigger it to reactivate. “Recurrences” or “outbreaks” occur when the virus comes out of hiding, replicates, and travels along nerve fibres back to the site on the skin of initial infection, presenting as cold sores or blisters. The recurring symptoms are usually shorter and less severe than the initial episode and may decrease in severity and frequency over time. Warning signs known as “prodomal” symptoms usually precede these recurrences and can include itching and tingling, nerve pain in the buttocks and backs of legs, fatigue, swelling of lymph nodes or painful urination.
The ‘hide-and-seek’ nature of this virus, coupled with its ability to mutate and reappear under different guises, makes it difficult to outsmart. Antiviral drugs such as acyclovir are now proving ineffective against new strains. High hope is given to vaccines, some of which are in phase III trials. Though in the words of Dr Lawrence, Head of Infectious Diseases and Virology, University of Washington in Seattle, “vaccines such as Herpevac will only affect the uninfected”. D15-29, a vaccine developed by David Knipe, Harvard Medical School’s Professor of Microbiology, could provide a breakthrough with its ability to prevent HSV-1 and 2 infections, and its ability to combat the virus in already infected hosts. Trials are under way but while developments such as these show promise, they offer no relief for current HSV sufferers.
The Lysine/Arginine theory
Controlling HSV recurrences through diet is based on a person’s ability to regulate their lysine/arginine balance. Arginine encourages the virus to replicate, while according to studies, the immune-enhancing and tissue-healing properties of lysine have earned a place in the management of HSV. The theory’s downside is that accomplishing the correct arginine/lysine balance through diet alone is difficult and restrictive. Also, while supplementing lysine has valid research to back it, there is also research to suggest that upsetting the delicate balance of these two amino acids may decrease natural immunity. Arginine, previously thought of as non-essential, has been shown to be important for enhancing immune response. In other words, increasing lysine can be helpful, but may prove to be a doubleedged sword if taken long-term and to the exclusion of arginine.
Nutrients - The anti-herpes superheroes
Vitamin C and bioflavonoids, the dynamic duo known for their anti-inflammatory and antiviral power, can help to speed up the healing time of blisters and cold sores. Zinc, known for its ability to support the immune system, is also effective in tissue repair. B vitamins help to counteract stress, a potent trigger for HSV. Vitamin E is a neuro-protective nutrient, helpful in relieving nerve pain during recurrences. Clinical studies have shown indole-3- carbinol, found in broccoli, cabbage and Brussels sprouts, to have the potential to interfere with viral replication. Good evidence exists to suggest that adequate levels of these key nutrients, obtained through diet and supplementation, potentially provide the foundation to successfully keeping HSV at bay.
With the emergence of drug-resistant strains of the herpes simplex virus, new antiviral agents, with different modes of action, are needed. The usage of potent anti-viral herbaceous plants is fast becoming a popular approach. Red marine algae is a case in point. Its antiviral properties and its ability to stimulate lymphocyte production to enhance the immune system have given this sea-dwelling plant high potential for helping herpes sufferers. Both lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) and St John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) contain polyphenols which can significantly help in the management of HSV. Studies have shown a tremendous reduction in the frequency of recurrence when creams or ointments containing these botanicals have been applied to cold sores or genital sores. Prunella vulgaris, commonly known as selfheal, has been shown to have a different type of anti-herpes action than currently available treatments, such as Zovirax (acyclovir) and is showing promise for stopping HSV-1 and HSV-2 viral growth in cells, even in acyclovirresistant strains. Aloe vera is best known for its healing properties and anti-viral effects and contains L-Lysine. Aloe vera therefore has the ability to soothe, heal and protect against the symptoms of HSV. Living with this uninvited guest need not ruin one’s life. Indeed, the recurrences could be a reminder that it’s time to look after yourself. If the virus reactivates then there are plenty of natural, simple, nutritional solutions to help you manage your symptoms and send the virus back into dormancy.
A holistic proactive approach
• Overcome negative connotations associated with the virus. Negative
feelings can only add to stress which can trigger a recurrence.
• Use adequate protection against extreme sunlight and UV light.
• Ensure you get adequate rest and find ways to reduce stress.
• Support the immune system by ensuring the diet is rich in natural
foods, wholegrains, colourful and seasonal fruit and vegetables whilst
avoiding processed foods and excesses of caffeine, alcohol and
• Keep a symptom diary to help discover what triggers your outbreaks.
• Ensure adequate levels of the key nutrients are obtained through diet
• Supplement with plant extracts and give them time to work.
• Drink at least 6 to 8 glasses of water per day to hydrate and flush
• Keep a diary, this will enable you to track what works best.
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