There are several interesting research studies showing that using zinc for herpes can be a highly effective treatment.
Zinc can be used topically – directly on the skin to soothe and treat a lesion – or internally, as a supplement. Read on to find out more about using zinc for herpes...
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Zinc – essential to your health
Zinc is an essential trace mineral in your body, a key component of over 3000 proteins and more than 200 enzymes that keep your body functioning in all sorts of different ways. It's especially important in the production of white blood cells and general immune function, and for wound healing and tissue repair.
Zinc deficiency in general can cause a whole range of symptoms, from hair loss, infertility, eye problems and immune dysfunction, to retarded growth in children.
The recommended daily dietary allowance of zinc is 11 mg for men, and 8 mg for women. It's estimated that the American diet provides about 10 mg daily, which seems like it should be sufficient. But in fact zinc that you take orally in food or supplements is often poorly absorbed, and you can generally count on only about one third of your dietary zinc getting into your body where it's needed.
Why zinc for herpes?
Apart from its role in your general health, zinc has some very specific applications for herpes.
As well as boosting your general immune function, we know that zinc can directly attack many viruses, including those of viral gastroenteritis and the common cold... and now it looks as though it has a very specific ability to kill the HSV virus.
It's been known for some time that zinc ointment applied to the skin can help with wound healing, whether or not there is a diagnosed zinc deficiency. (If you want to get tested for zinc deficiency, keep in mind that blood tests for zinc deficiency can be misleading, as most zinc in your body is inside your cells and quite independent of your blood zinc level.)
As with most treatments for HSV more studies have been done looking at HSV-1 (i.e. cold sores) than HSV-2 (genital herpes), though the two viruses are closely related and in general the same treatments are applied to both.
Studies with zinc and oral herpes
One study with HSV-1 showed that a zinc ointment applied to the skin at the first sign of an outbreak led to significantly faster healing of the lesion.
Another study* gave a zinc supplement (22.5 mg zinc sulfate twice a day) to 20 patients with more than 6 outbreaks of oral herpes per year, and found a 50% reduction in the number of outbreaks.
So can zinc help with genital herpes as well?
There are no conclusive published clinical studies looking at zinc and genital herpes. But in the laboratory, zinc has been shown to deactivate HSV-2 as well as HSV-1 – and close to 100%, at a high enough dose. A warning though – the different forms of zinc had vastly different rates of effectiveness in this study. While zinc lactate at high concentration could deactivate HSV-2 at a rate of 92%, zinc gluconate (a common form of zinc supplement) was only 30% effective.
Read the full study here.
How to use zinc for herpes treatment
You can increase your intake of zinc naturally, with foods that are high in zinc.
Here are some you might like to add to your diet:
- Oysters come in at number one, with a whopping 78.6 mg zinc per 100 gms (or 33 mg in 6 oysters).
- Crab and lobster are also very high in zinc, if you are willing and able to add these to your diet on a daily basis.
- Beef and lamb are good, at 12.3 mg zinc per 100 gm (about 3 1/3 ounces).
If you want some good vegetarian sources of zinc, you can try these:
- Pumpkin seeds (2.9 mg per ounce, or 28 gm, of seeds)
- Sunflower seeds, chia seeds and flaxseeds are also high in zinc.
- Dark chocolate.
- Spinach and mushrooms are also high in zinc, although you might have difficulty eating enough of these to get a significant boost.
As always, getting nutrients through natural food sources has the benefit that the nutrients are more likely to be bio-available, and better absorbed.
However, a good quality supplement can also provide zinc in a form that is well-absorbed.
Zinc supplements for herpes
While it's possible to get too much zinc through overdoing the supplements, it's rare, and zinc is generally safe to use in suggested dosages.
It's recommended that if you take more than 25 mg zinc (elemental zinc) you should also supplement with copper, at 1/10 the dose of the zinc.
There are many different forms of zinc you can take as a supplement. The ones that are most recommended are the chelated forms of zinc, such as zinc orotate and zinc picolinate. Although these are more expensive and the amount of elemental zinc per dose is often lower, the zinc is more usable for your body.
Inorganic forms of zinc such as zinc oxide, zinc sulphate and zinc gluconate will give you more zinc per tablet but provide less to the tissues where it is needed – my advice is not to bother with these, as they can be more harsh on your body than helpful.
Dr Mercola recommends that you use a supplement that contains zinc in several different forms, and this would seem to be good advice.
Zinc supplements are best taken with food to improve absorption and prevent nausea.
Topical zinc treatment for herpes
The most commonly available zinc skin cream contains zinc as zinc oxide. However, this form of zinc is not much use in treating herpes lesions, as zinc oxide is not soluble, and does not release the zinc ions. Most of the studies showing the effectiveness of topical zinc for herpes used a zinc sulphate solution – as this form of zinc is soluble, the zinc is able to penetrate the skin or mucosal membrane and reach the herpes virus.
One study with promising results used a 4% solution of zinc sulphate:
Eighteen patients with recurrent Herpes simplex infections of the skin applied a topical solution of zinc sulfate (4%) in water four times daily for four days. The solution was administered as a wet dressing, and each application was left in place for at least one hour. Treatment was begun within 48 hours of symptom onset, after the vesicles had been lanced and unroofed with a needle. In all patients, pain, tingling, and burning stopped within the first 24 hours.
Mean time to complete healing was 41-percent less with this treatment than with other therapies used to treat previous attacks (9.5 days versus 16 days). No adverse effects were reported.
In another study a much lower concentration of zinc was used, in a similar method of direct application.
Two hundred patients with acute Herpes simplex lesions applied 0.25-percent zinc sulfate in a saturated solution of camphor water. When the solution was applied 8-10 times per day, beginning within 24 hours of an outbreak, lesions usually disappeared within 3-6 days. With topical applications every 30-60 minutes, the itching, burning, stinging, and pain usually ceased within 2-3 hours; with continued application, crusts dried and sloughed off within 3-5 days. The earlier the treatment was begun, the shorter the duration of infection.
Other studies showed effective treatment with lower concentrations of zinc sulphate, eg 0.025 – 0.05%, applied with a gauze compress for 10 minutes, or used as a mouth rinse, or a vaginal douche or applied with a tampon. Read more here...
The benefits of zinc for herpes
Perhaps the most promising result of these studies is the suggestion that zinc applied at the very first sign of infection might be able to completely inactivate the herpes virus and prevent it from getting into your nervous system in the first place. That's not much help if you already have recurrent herpes – but even reducing the misery of an outbreak, and the possibility of preventing one, would be worth a try. Especially as zinc supplementation can be of such general benefit to your health, and it has a great track record of safety.
Whether or not you want to take a zinc supplement on a regular basis, it would be a good idea to have some zinc sulphate on hand to apply topically at the first sign of a breakout… it's cheap, safe — and it usually works.
Most of the zinc creams and ointments that are available contain zinc oxide - which seems to be good for some skin conditions, including wound healing, but the studies seem to show that zinc sulphate might work best for herpes.
This one seems to tick all the boxes — Click here to get more info
Using zinc for herpes is one of the most effective treatments you can find, and well worth the effort of keeping it in your bathroom cabinet.
* Pubmed.gov, “Recurrent herpes labialis: a pilot study of the efficacy of zinc therapy.” F. Femiano, et al. Journal of Oral Pathology Medicine. August 2005; 34(7): 423-5.