By Dr John Spurge, N.D.
Director of Global Herbal Supplies
"Some of the foods which are said to be good for herpes are also bad for herpes because they contain lots of Arginine. What is the best approach to reduce outbreaks?"
Reducing foods that are rich in the amino acid Arginine can be helpful but it is not necessary to try and eliminate Arginine from the diet altogether.
Our bodies naturally manufacture Arginine, so it is actually impossible to avoid it completely and you wouldn't want to! Arginine has some excellent benefits, including helping with the function of muscles and the performance of the immune system.
Simply cutting back on foods which are very rich in Arginine and at the same time low in Lysine (such as chocolate and nuts) is sufficient. Even these foods can be eaten in moderation, especially when balanced with a Lysine supplement.
If a food has potential advantages against the herpes virus, such as with coconut oil, reishi mushrooms and broccoli, then it is likely to be much more beneficial to eat these foods in moderation than to avoid them based on whether they are high or low in Arginine.
The most important thing is to make sure that you DO NOT take any additional Arginine in supplement form. This is sneaky, as you may be taking a supplement that contains this amino acid without even realizing it! So check your labels carefully.
The bottom line -- yes, Arginine can aggravate outbreaks for some people, but it is most likely to only make a difference if you consume an excessive amount, such as a massive block of chocolate in one sitting. Or, if you happen to be taking it regularly or in supplement form, such as in a protein shake.
"If I take a protein or muscle building formula, is it bad for herpes?"
The amino acid Arginine is a really common ingredient in muscle building formulas, protein shakes and some health supplements, so first check your labels to see if anything you are taking, or considering taking, contains this.
In supplement form, Arginine is likely to trigger a breakout and should definitely be avoided. The concentration of Arginine when taken in a supplement is often much higher than you would naturally find in food and could influence the frequency and severity of outbreaks.
Even if the supplement also contains Lysine, it is not desirable to supplement the diet with additional Arginine where the herpes virus is concerned.
"Is L-Arginine the same as Arginine, and L-Lysine the same as Lysine?"
Yes, this is simply a different way of writing the amino acids. They relate to the same thing.
"What about soy, tofu, grains and legumes, are they good or bad for herpes?"
Even though these foods often contain high amounts of Arginine, they are typically counteracted by a near equal concentration of naturally occurring Lysine. This reduces the chance of these foods having any effect whatsoever on the herpes virus.
The exception to this rule is when Arginine is in a supplement form, such as in a muscle building formula or protein shake. Here the amino acid is typically in a concentrated dose that is greater than you would normally find naturally occurring in foods. It is recommended to avoid Arginine in supplements even if the supplement also contains Lysine.
"Is a vegetarian diet ok if I have herpes?"
Yes, absolutely. There are many health benefits to being a vegetarian if you follow a balanced and varied diet, including a reduction in the consumption of 'bad' cholesterol and saturated fat.
Studies show a vegetarian diet can lead to a reduced risk of several diseases including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, osteoporosis, Alzheimer's disease and other conditions. You may also experience benefits such as improved vitality, energy, more youthful skin and a healthy weight.
Most fruits and vegetables contain Lysine which is good for preventing herpes outbreaks. Many legumes, beans, pulses, tofu, soy products and most grains are also rich in Lysine.
Even though some of these foods contain a high amount of Arginine they usually contain a proportional amount of Lysine too which helps to balance the amino acids. These foods are unlikely to pose any problem with herpes and are normally fine to eat in moderate amounts.
The small chance of these foods affecting outbreaks is made even more unlikely by taking a daily Lysine supplement to help balance excess Arginine.
"Are fruits good or bad for herpes?"
Fruit in moderation is generally really good for herpes. Most fruits are alkaline-forming, rich in vitamins, antioxidants and the amino acid Lysine which is specifically beneficial against HSV. However, like all foods it will depend upon how each fruit agrees with you personally.
"Is coconut good or bad for herpes?"
Coconut, particularly the oil of the coconut, is recommended to help a range of viral conditions especially herpes. Coconut oil is made up of Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCTs) which have the ability to inactivate a range of microorganisms, including enveloped viruses like the Herpes simplex virus type 1 and 2.
One type of MCT is called lauric acid which can form into Monolaurin in the body. Monolaurin is an amazing compound which has powerful antiviral properties and has been shown in research studies to destroy lipid-coated viruses including HSV. It also stimulates essential immune functions which ward off herpes infections.
Once again, the Arginine content contained in coconut is of little significance in comparison to the benefits that this food can provide against herpes, especially if excess Arginine in the diet is balanced by a daily Lysine supplement. Further to this, like all oils coconut oil is practically 100% fat (lipid) and therefore contains virtually no Arginine anyway.
"What type of bread is best to eat where herpes is concerned?"
Wholegrain or brown bread is definitely the healthier, more beneficial option. Regardless of the Arginine and Lysine concentrations in different bread types, it is not significant enough a factor to base your choice of bread on.
Instead, base your choice on which bread is going to give your body the most nutrition and at the same time be tasty and appealing to you. Of course, if you have an allergy or intolerance, such as gluten intolerance, then this will also affect your choice.
White bread has limited nutritional value and requires more work from your body to process it. Even when the nutrients or 'multigrains' are added later, research suggests that it is not utilized by the body in the same way as it is when it occurs naturally. Try to avoid white bread products and instead opt for wholemeal, whole grain or brown bread whenever possible.
"Is there a difference in eating fresh food vs bottled, canned or packet food?"
Yes, definitely. Fresh food is always preferred over processed or packaged food. There are a number of reasons for this including:
Vitality of the food
Preserving the vitamins and delicate nutrients
Avoiding additives such as preservatives, sugar, artificial sweeteners, gelatin, salt, colorings
and flavorings - all of which are commonly found in processed and pre-packaged food
"Should I take my Lysine tablet on an empty stomach or with a meal?"
It is always best to follow the directions on the label of the particular Lysine supplement that you are taking. If your Lysine supplement contains other vitamins, minerals, herbs or nutrients then this might affect how it is recommended to be taken for best results.
Generally, if Lysine is combined in a tablet with other vitamins or minerals it is best to be taken along with food so that the nutrients are better metabolized by the body. If the tablet contains only Lysine it can usually be taken with or without food, depending on your preference.
"What should I consider when choosing a Lysine supplement?"
Some brands of Lysine supplements may produce varying results because of how they are manufactured and the different ingredients that they contain. Some things to consider when choosing a Lysine supplement are:
"Is the Lysine a naturally occurring source obtained from real food, or is it artificially cultured?"
It is a naturopathic philosophy that when nutrients are obtained from a source that is identical to that found in nature they are often more effectively accepted by the body and therefore likely to offer better long term results. This is why it is preferable to obtain Lysine naturally from foods in the diet or from a supplement which is made from real food.
When a label says 'Free Form Lysine' it does not mean that the Lysine is sourced naturally from food, it simply means that the Lysine is not attached to another amino acid. The only way to determine if the Lysine is obtained from a food source is to enquire with the manufacturer. This information is usually not indicated on the label.
"Does the Lysine supplement also contain Olive Leaf, Gelatin or Dicalcium phosphate?"
Olive Leaf – this herb is demonstrated to have powerful antiviral effects against the herpes virus BUT it should not be digested at the same time as the amino acid Lysine. This is because the extract of the Olive Leaf herb can interfere with Lysine metabolism. Therefore, taking a supplement that combines both of these ingredients together may cancel out the effect of the Lysine.
To remedy this, make sure to take Olive Leaf separately from Lysine and do not take a supplement that combines these two ingredients in one tablet. Allow at least 3 hours between taking a Lysine supplement and an Olive Leaf extract.
Gelatin – this is an animal by-product which is naturally high in Arginine and therefore could negatively influence herpes outbreaks. The very purpose of taking a Lysine supplement is to help reduce Arginine formulation, so it makes no sense to take a Lysine supplement that contains gelatin.
Dicalcium phosphate – this is commonly used as a binder in some Lysine tablets. Research suggests that Dicalcium phosphate may interfere with zinc absorption. Considering zinc is fundamental in helping the skin to recover from herpes breakouts, and with immunity, it is preferable to avoid supplements which contain this added ingredient.
Note that these ingredients may not be listed on the supplement label.
"Is the tablet in a convenient dose that is tolerable to take long term and effective?"
Some Lysine supplements contain too little Lysine (500 mg tablets) or too much Lysine (1000 mg) in a single dose. It is important not to take too much Lysine if supplementing long term or on a regular basis.
The daily required dose for Lysine to be effective is:
1250 mg daily for prevention Up to 2500 mg daily during active symptoms
625 mg tablets are ideal because it equates to 2 tablets per day for prevention (1250 mg) and up to 4 tablets per day during outbreaks (2500 mg) without having to halve tablets or overload the body with excess or unnecessary amounts of Lysine.
"Are you getting other nutrients in your herpes supplement, or just Lysine?"
Lysine is important when it comes to managing herpes but it is not the only nutrient that plays a critical role in stopping outbreaks. A preferred herpes supplement will include not only Lysine but also other specific diet nutrients to support the body's response against the HSV.
Other beneficial nutrients that are recommended are zinc, vitamin C and bioflavonoids which help to enhance wound repair, tissue regeneration, immunity and resistance to herpes viral infections. However be mindful in choosing a tablet that combines too many ingredients in the one tablet, as a general guide no more than four or five ingredients is recommended per tablet.
Every herb, vitamin, mineral or nutrient is metabolized in a unique way by the body and not all ingredients are suitable to be taken together. If too many ingredients are included in the one tablet it means that only a small amount of each can be included. This can compromise the concentration and quantity of each of the ingredients and may result in the supplement being ineffective.
"Is it safe to take a Lysine supplement long-term?"
Lysine is an essential amino acid that we obtain naturally in the food we eat everyday. Provided the Lysine supplement taken is manufactured to quality standards and is only taken according to the recommended dose, there is no evidence to suggest it will cause any problem whether taken short or long term. To the contrary, Lysine has been demonstrated to be helpful for the heart, skin tissue, wound repair, immunity and in lowering elevated cholesterol levels.
"Does Lysine affect cholesterol or triglyceride levels?"
In reasonable quantities, Lysine has been shown to help lower raised cholesterol and normalize high triglyceride levels. As with all amino acid supplements, it is important not to take too much. When taken in excess or above the recommended dose, Lysine can in rare instances have the opposite effect and cause a rise in cholesterol or triglyceride levels. Moderation and adherence to the recommended daily dose is always advised, especially if taking Lysine regularly or long term.
"Can Lysine help you lose weight?"
Not necessarily, Lysine is sometimes included in weight loss programs but is not generally prescribed or indicated for this purpose.
"Does Lysine have any effect on acne or pimples?"
Two of Lysine's main functions are to improve collagen in the skin and help with tissue repair, both of which are beneficial when dealing with acne and pimples. It is also likely to assist with scar healing and prevention.
There is no evidence to support that Lysine would provoke acne or pimples and theoretically it should help to do the opposite, but taking too much Lysine is not recommended and could be a factor if you are experiencing unexpected or unusual symptoms.
"Does taking Lysine cause an Arginine deficiency?"
No amino acid should be taken in excess, including Lysine, and if taken sensibly a Lysine supplement will not cause an Arginine deficiency. At the very best it will help to reduce an overload of Arginine which might help to stop a breakout in some instances.
Arginine is a "non-essential" amino acid in adults which means that the body naturally manufactures this amino acid and it is not essential to obtain it through our diet. Even so, Arginine is found naturally in many foods and eating moderate amounts of this nutrient is healthy and beneficial, even where herpes is concerned.
"What is the recommended dose for Lysine to be effective?"
The recommended daily dose for Lysine is 1250 mg per day to prevent a recurrence of symptoms. This is the amount of Lysine required to hinder the herpes virus in clinical studies. Taking a dose less than this may have little or no effect.
To manage herpes, Lysine should be supplemented daily and elevated to a higher dose during days when there are active symptoms. Increase the daily dose to 1875 mg of Lysine at the first sign of symptoms and continue at this level until the symptoms have completely cleared. It is recommended not to take amounts of Lysine greater than 2500 mg per day, and this quantity should be taken only for a short period of time when there are active or visible symptoms.
These doses provide ample enough Lysine to balance an excess of Arginine in the diet and to halt herpes virus activity, while also being safe and tolerable to all body systems. Too much of any amino acid, including Lysine, could cause an imbalance of other amino acids or affect organs and tissues. Always read the label of the specific supplement that you are taking and follow the directions with care.
"How much Zinc should I take, and how much is too much?"
Supplements contain several forms of zinc, including zinc gluconate, zinc sulfate, zinc acetate and zinc chelate. When trying to determine the total amount of zinc that you are supplementing it is the amount of the complete zinc element that needs to be considered.
For example, a supplement label may read: Zinc amino acid chelate (Equiv. Zinc 5 mg)........25 mg The equivalent measurement in brackets is the amount of the complete zinc element – this is the figure that you need to consider when tallying up your different zinc sources in milligrams (mg). The element amount will always be smaller.
The amount of zinc recommended will depend on whether a person is taking the supplement long term or short term, and whether they are taking the zinc for general health or a specific condition.
The generally accepted recommended daily intake for elemental zinc is between 11 to 15 mg per day. However, when you experience herpes symptoms (or have a specific condition that is benefited from a higher dose) the dose required maybe higher. Generally, 25 mg daily is a reasonable dose when managing herpes.
Zinc is toxic in amounts greater than 150 mg and according to MediHerb Australia, up to 50 mg daily for tissue regeneration is typically well tolerated.
"What is Zinc Chelate and is it better than other forms of Zinc?"
Chelating is a special process that bonds the essential zinc mineral to the amino acid glycine, making the mineral a more easily absorbed form for the body to process. Chelated zinc is preferred by some health care practitioners because it better allows for the zinc ion to be freely absorbed into the bloodstream and therefore has the potential to give faster acting results.
"Could a course of probiotics be helpful for herpes?"
Yes there are people who have found that taking a probiotic, or improving their diet to include more raw foods, has significantly helped to improve their herpes symptoms
Many health practitioners, including the renowned author Dr. Bernard Jensen, believe that the majority of illness and disharmony within the body originates from the Gastrointestinal Tract (GIT). When the intestines and stomach are cleansed and functioning at their best all other health issues can be improved in a domino effect.
Part of maintaining a healthy gut lies in having the right amount and variety of good bacteria inside the stomach and colon. Things like stress, poor eating habits and medications, particularly antibiotics, can negatively affect this beneficial bacteria. One way to help improve this is to eat foods that contain live cultures and enzymes, and to supplement the diet with a quality probiotic.
Yoghurt that contains beneficial bacterium and foods that are rich in live enzymes (such as all raw foods) can help to improve the function of the immune system and therefore enhance its ability to defend against a herpes viral attack.
"Can taking a Lysine supplement stop my herpes outbreaks?"
There are many factors that can affect the frequency and severity of herpes symptoms, one of them is the amount of Lysine and Arginine in a person's diet. A Lysine supplement can be very helpful but there are other factors that may need to be addressed too – not just the quantity of these two amino acids in the diet.
Any significant strain on the body could have the potential to activate the herpes virus. Factors such as stress, hormones, ] sleep quality, the immune system, general diet, past or present illnesses, medications, etc. should also be assessed when trying to reduce outbreaks and stop viral activity, such as shedding.
Shedding is when the herpes virus can be active on the skin's surface without necessarily showing any sign or symptom, and therefore may be contagious. In order to reduce the likelihood of shedding (and reduce the risk of spreading herpes to a non-infected partner) it is beneficial to minimize the activity of the virus in all ways possible.
A Lysine supplement can be helpful in achieving this, but generally it is best combined with other treatment approaches including a healthy diet and immune system support. Clinically tested antiviral therapies, including Acyclovir and Dynamiclear, can also be highly beneficial when managing herpes.
"What about the Acid vs. Alkaline food theory, some information I read contradicts this advice?"
Many experts agree that a primarily acidic diet can result in poor health, and likewise a diet rich in alkaline-forming foods can improve health. It must be noted that there is a key difference between foods which we might consider "acidic" compared to foods which are acid-forming once eaten.
The theory relates to the action of the food once it is metabolized inside the body, whether it is then acid or alkaline forming. For example, lime and lemon juice is acidic in nature but both become alkaline-forming once metabolized. Generally, acid-forming foods tend to be meat, bread, grains, nuts, seeds and dairy products, while most fruits and vegetables, with exceptions, are alkaline-forming.
It is important to understand that acid-forming foods are not necessarily bad and alkaline-forming foods good; instead an acid-alkaline balance is ideal. The problem however is that the majority of foods eaten in typical Western diets tend to be more acidic, lacking in alkaline-forming foods such as fruits and vegetables.
Here are some tips:
Aim to eat 80% alkaline-forming foods and 20% acid-forming foods
Drink water with freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice to counteract acid ash build-up
Drink water that is ionically charged (alkalized) this will help neutralize and flush excess acid
Chew food thoroughly - this will help stimulate saliva production which assists in alkalizing the food
Relax and take life less seriously - stress is one of the greatest contributors to acid ash formation