Search the mainstream medical journals, even search the Internet, and you won’t find this undeniably simple answer.
Everywhere you look, conventional medicine is singing the same tune: the Mayo Clinic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Institutes of Health all say that even though there is no cure for herpes, the best way to prevent or treat the symptoms is with antiviral medications like acyclovir (sold under the trade name Zovirax), famciclovir (Famvir), or valacyclovir (Valtrex); the NIH is looking into an investigational vaccine for genital herpes.
They recommend one of two basic approaches: episodic therapy (that is, taking the medicine whenever you experience an outbreak) or suppressive therapy (taking the medicine daily to minimize the chances of recurrent or future outbreaks). Suppressive therapy for herpes means huge profits for drug companies, particularly since these medicines are expensive—there is no generic version for Acyclovir as yet, and a one-month supply of Valtrex costs around $200. There is also the small problem that these drugs do not work very well—and antiviral drugs tend to lead to drug-resistant superbugs.
But conventional medicine ignores the obvious natural prescription: get a vitamin D test!
Vitamin D is a powerful natural antiviral, which is why we bang the drum about vitamin D therapy for colds and especially flu every chance we get. Research from the University of Copenhagen shows that vitamin D activates the immune system by arming T-cells to fight off infections. Without vitamin D, the immune system’s T-cells remain dormant, offering little or no protection against invading microorganisms and viruses. But with vitamin D in the bloodstream, T-cells begin seeking out invaders, which are then destroyed and carried out of the body. You may recall the Japanese study we told you about in June which found that vitamin D was more effective than a vaccine in preventing flu, including pandemic flu. The report, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that school children taking vitamin D were 58 percent less likely to catch influenza A. By contrast, antiviral drugs such as oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and zanamivir (Relenza) reduced rates of infection by only 8 percent. Even vaccines had success rates significantly lower than the 58 percent achieved by vitamin D.
Our vitamin D–mediated immune response has been with us through more than 60 million years of pre-human and human evolutionary selection, as research from Ohio State demonstrates. Vitamin D is critical to our survival.
The problem is that a whopping 59 percent of the population is deficient in vitamin D, according to research published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. Moreover, nearly 25 percent of the study subjects were found to have critically low levels of vitamin D.
According to John Cannell, MD, founder of the non-profit Vitamin D Council, “Current research has implicated vitamin D deficiency as a major factor in the pathology of at least seventeen varieties of cancer as well as heart disease, stroke, hypertension, autoimmune diseases, diabetes, depression, chronic pain, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, muscle weakness, muscle wasting, birth defects, periodontal disease, and more.” All of this is in addition to viral and bacterial infections.
Type 1 herpes (cold sores) is thought to afflict a majority of the US population, genital herpes perhaps a quarter. For anyone plagued by herpes, and for everyone as we head into flu season, it’s essential that you are getting enough vitamin D. So please get your vitamin D level checked! If it is less than optimal—levels should be between 40-60 ng/ml, year-round—take a vitamin D supplement (be sure it’s D3—cholecalciferol), get your blood retested to verify that you’re taking the proper dosage, and get sufficient exposure to the sun. (Such exposure may not produce vitamin D in the winter, depending on where you live, or if you sunbathe too early or too late in the day.)
Besides vitamin D, there are a number of other natural ways to increase the odds of avoiding herpes outbreaks:
- Eliminate sugar and white flour from your diet. They interfere with your immune system’s ability to fight outbreaks and new infections.
- Identify any food allergies or sensitivities, and adopt an allergy-free diet.
- Avoid foods (like cashews) that contain L-arginine, because this amino acid may facilitate outbreaks. (This is too bad, because L-arginine may also increase sexual arousal!)
- Take natural vitamins and minerals: lysine (another amino acid, and a longtime favorite to control herpes), vitamin C, selenium (inhibits the ability of all “herpes-family” viruses to reproduce), lithium (slows down formation of the viral capsid), zinc (boosts the infection-fighting capability of immune system), and vitamin A.
Among natural treatments for active herpes lesions are vitamin C powder and propolis, a natural product found in beehives. The two can be combined. This is somewhat more realistic than the often-mentioned peppermint oil and tea tree oil, because their pungent odor announces their presence—not something you want during a herpes eruption. Lemon balm oil also has some research behind it.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in 2010. Since that time, more research has connected vitamin D status to herpes. A 2019 study found a “significant association between low serum vitamin D levels and the presence of recurrent herpes labialis.” A 2015 paper drew connections between vitamin D’s central role in immune function and the fact that herpes zoster has a higher incidence in immune-suppressed patients. This theory was echoed in a 2020 case report.