You've probably heard that taking lysine for herpes can help stop the outbreaks.
But is this true? Is it something you should continue indefinitely?
And if so, what sort of lysine supplement should you take?
Read on to find out more...
What is lysine? and how can it help herpes?
Lysine is an essential amino acid that you normally get in your food. It's present in protein foods such as meat, poultry, fish, and dairy products, and most people get enough of it through natural sources, though athletes and burns victims sometimes need to take lysine supplements because of deficiency.
By the way, l-lysine is just lysine – it's a more scientific way of referring to the exact form of this amino acid. But just about all amino acids in natural form (in the food we eat and in our bodies) are in the “l” form. (The other one is “d” - as in d-lysine – but you don't need to worry about that.)
Lysine is a natural competitor with another amino acid, arginine – which your body also needs but is able to synthesise. Arginine is found in many foods too, but the key is to look at the ratio of lysine to arginine. The foods that have a higher ratio of arginine to lysine are nuts and seeds, with other foods such as chocolate, eggs, oats, bananas, spinach, corn and tofu providing more or less equal amounts of both lysine and arginine.
It's been found in laboratory studies that lysine works as a treatment for herpes by blocking uptake of arginine, which is needed in large amounts for the herpes virus to replicate.
So in theory, you could help to reduce the likelihood of a herpes outbreak by changing your diet to avoid these arginine rich foods, and eating more high lysine foods.
Just remember that the most important thing is to boost your overall health and immune system, so don't try eating lots of dairy, for example, if you are allergic to dairy or lactose intolerant.
You should also definitely avoid taking any extra arginine, for example in a sports supplement drink.
Is the lysine herpes treatment effective?
Although scientific studies are not conclusive, some have found that taking a lysine supplement can help reduce herpes outbreaks. A warning though: most of the studies that show good results for this have looked at the HSV-1 virus, i.e. oral herpes.
None of the studies that used lower doses of lysine (eg 625 mg per day) showed any benefit, but higher doses of lysine have been found in many studies to reduce the number of outbreaks of oral herpes and cold sores. If you are trying to manage HSV-1 infection, lysine is definitely worth adding to your arsenal.
Fewer studies have looked specifically at taking lysine for genital herpes (HSV-2) – though anecdotal reports suggest it might be helpful.
Should I take a lysine supplement?
If you want to try a lysine supplement, you need to be prepared to use fairly high doses, starting at 1000 mg per day, and up to 3000 mg per day (in divided doses). It is not recommended that you take any more than 3000 mg per day – though lysine is generally safe, your body does need arginine as well for proper immune function as well as other purposes.
Pregnant women, and anyone who suffers from kidney or liver disease, should consult their medical practitioner before taking a lysine supplement at these high doses.
Although some people take a lysine supplement or increase the dose at the first sign of an outbreak, there is no evidence that lysine helps reduce the severity or duration of an outbreak. The studies that showed that lysine was effective used lysine continuously, and found that it did lead to fewer outbreaks in almost every case.
As well as choosing the proper dose, make sure your lysine supplement does not contain gelatine, since gelatine is high in arginine. You might also want to choose a lysine supplement that contains Vitamin C, bioflavinoids, and zinc, since these are all important immune system boosters – and zinc has been found to be directly effective against HSV in its own right.
Lysine on its own won't cure herpes, though it can help prevent attacks – and it's probably worth using just for this reason. But if you want to use lysine to get rid of herpes, it's best to use it as part of an ongoing strategy.