Although we don’t normally associate cold sores with any particular season, as we do colds and flu with winter, these annoying and unsightly lesions often appear in late spring and early summer. The culprit, strangely enough, is the sun.
The majority of cold sores are caused by the Type 1 herpes virus. Most of the time, it lies dormant in the nervous system, and many people never realize they have it. But introduce physical or emotional stress, plus a weakened immune system, and herpes becomes active.
Over-exposure to strong sunlight, especially early in the season when our skin – in this case the lower lip – has not yet become used to it, and we subject ourselves to a kind of stress. Out come the cold sores – but not for all. Many people are immune, while others – often whole families – are highly vulnerable, likely due to some genetic susceptibility.
Unfortunately, no such selective immunity exists to Type 2 herpes, the cause of genital lesions. (There are about 70 herpes strains, though only four are medically significant.) More than 500,000 North Americans suffer from this condition every year, and the number is growing, especially among young teens.
Genital herpes can be severe and painful, occurring not just in single lesions but also in clusters. It is also likely to reoccur again and again, though subsequent attacks are usually less severe than the first outbreak.
Herpes is transmitted by contact between lesions and mucous membranes, either through kissing or sexual activity. (Skin-to-skin transmission may also be possible, though the evidence is unclear.) Obviously, intimacies with infected partners are not on. But that won’t protect you with someone who doesn’t even know they are carrying the virus.
Which at least partly explains why 50-80% of North Americans are infected with herpes. Statistically, there’s a pretty good chance you’ve already got one strain or another. So the issue for a majority of the population is less a matter of prevention than controlling the disease.
A healthy immune system is the best defense and the surest way to that is general good health – a balanced diet, exercise and peace of mind. Basic hygiene is also important, as the virus is easily killed with soap and water.
Don’t be taken in by advertisements offering a cure for herpes. There is none. But there are botanical remedies that will at least alleviate symptoms, such as lemon balm or licorice root, taken internally or as a salve. Resveratrol, a natural constituent in grapes and other foods, has also been shown to have anti-herpes qualities. As well, zinc and Vitamin C are important to increase the defenses of your immune system.
Diet is important in preventing reoccurrence. The amino acid lysine, present in meat, eggs, yeast, beans, dairy and fish, combats herpes. Another amino acid, arginine, to be found in chocolate, nuts, seeds, coconut and grains, tends to support outbreaks of the virus.
And remember, stress is a huge factor in herpes episodes. Exercise, yoga, pilates, meditation, qi gong, deep breathing exercises and counseling – any or all can help to lower tension.
If you suspect you have herpes, you’d be well advised to seek professional advice regarding treatment. ©Dr. Ashely Gordon, 2008.