Most studies show that lysine can reduce either the frequency, severity, or duration of cold sore outbreaks. It is no magic bullet, however, and it certainly cannot kill the herpes simplex virus that give rise to cold sores. There are currently still many caveats and unknowns.
Lysine for Cold Sores: What Is It?
Lysine is an amino acid that naturally occurs in protein-rich food. It normally occurs together with another amino acid called arginine, as these are two of the basic constituents of all proteins.
Lysine is especially abundant in red meat, poultry, fish, eggs, milk, cheese, butter, bean sprouts, lentils, and most fruit and vegetables (except grapes, berries, and citrus).
Arginine is plentiful in grains, nuts, and seeds.
In most sprouted grains and unsprouted beans, the two occur in approximately equal amounts.
While the typical North American diet contains a lot of animal proteins (lysine), it contains a lot more grains (arginine). This has balanced our diet in favor of arginine.
Lysine’s Effect On the Herpes Virus
Many studies have concluded that lysine works to suppress the virus. For example:
- In 1987, American researchers published a study in the journal Dermatologica that found that those who took daily lysine tablets experienced 2.4 times fewer herpes outbreaks than those who did not, and that the outbreaks were shorter and milder. They used 52 volunteers.
- In 1984, the journal Cutis printed a study that found that those who took 1248 mg per day of lysine experienced only 0.89 outbreaks in six months, while those who took placebo Paul suffered 1.56 outbreaks. In addition, 624 mg of lysine made no difference, and lysine overall failed to reduce the duration of each outbreak. They used 47 volunteers.
There are some major caveats, however.
- Up to now, all the studies that proved the effectiveness of lysine have been small with fewer than 100 subjects. Until large trials are carried out, the conclusion is preliminary.
- Interestingly, almost all the studies on the effectiveness of lysine were conducted in the 1970s and 1980s, and almost all of them omitted some crucial information from there reports, such as the details of their statistical methods. Up-to-date and complete verification of the results is required before any definite conclusion can be drawn.
- Most of the studies on people outside the laboratory (six of seven, to be precise) show that lysine reduces the number of herpes outbreaks. But only two of those seven prove that it can decrease the duration and severity of each episode. In other words, you will have fewer sores, but when you do get them, it is better to treat them with a cold sore cream or spray like Herpeset because lysine does not work well then.
- Researchers have not examined whether the constant, long-term use of lysine is safe. Yes, cold sores are annoying and embarrassing, but there are many other health problems that are miles worse. The above studies used high doses of lysine that you cannot obtain from your diet. Whether these unnaturally high doses become toxic over time is not known.
Should You Take Lysine for Cold Sores?
Given the cost of high dosage lysine tablets, the weakness of the scientific research, and the unknown safety of long-term high doses of lysine, I decided to give it a miss. But, if your outbreaks are especially regular and particularly severe, you may just as well give it a try. This is what you will have to do:
- Increase your intake of milk, cheese, yoghurt, butter, eggs, beef, lamb, poultry, fish, bean sprouts, lentils, potato, sweet potato, squash, tomato, cauliflower, Chinese cabbage, turnip, beets, spinach, lettuce, leeks, celery, bananas, peaches, apricots, plums, mangoes, watermelon, pears, apples, guavas, figs, papaya, pineapple, and avocado. To avoid cholesterol and heart disease, buy only low-fat animal products.
- The advice to cut grains is pointless, none of us can manage it. But if you want to eat grains, eat only whole grains and sprout them beforehand. Look for sprouting instructions online. If you buy special sprouting jars or bowls, it will take you no longer than two minutes per day. You can grind the sprouts to flour if you want to bake with them. Alternatively, you can buy bread and pasta made with grain sprouts.
- Cut down on nuts, seeds, grapes, berries, peas, chickpeas, onion, and garlic.
Take a lysine supplement that gives you at least 1000 mg per day. Since vegans get most of their milk and butter from nuts and seeds, they probably need a supplement.