Herpes is a viral infection caused by one of two types of the herpes simplex virus. The second type usually causes genital herpes and is sometimes abbreviated as HSV 2. In the 2008 edition of "Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine," University of Washington virologist Lawrence Corey explains that HSV 2 hides out in the spinal nerves, emerging occasionally to produce the painful blisters and itchy sores commonly associated with genital herpes. Vitamins may decrease the frequency or severity of these outbreaks, but you should talk to your doctor before using them. In addition, no treatment -- including prescription drugs -- can completely eradicate HSV 2 within spinal nerves, so expect periodic recurrences regardless of what treatment you choose.
Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is a water-soluble vitamin that occurs naturally in foods such as citrus fruits, strawberries, tomatoes, broccoli, bell peppers and potatoes. In her 2007 book, the "Women's Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine," naturopathic doctor Tori Hudson claims that vitamin C also works well as a treatment for herpes. According to Hudson, herpes inactivates HSV 2 in test tubes and the human body. Hudson recommends 600mg by mouth three times per day for three days, starting at the first sign of symptoms. Hudson also suggests using vitamin C topically. To do this, Hudson says to hold a cotton pad soaked in a vitamin C solution to sores three times for about two minutes each on the first day only. Patients who do this typically experience less discomfort on subsequent days, as well as faster healing overall.
Vitamin E, also known as tocopherol, is a fat-soluble vitamin that occurs naturally in foods such as wheat germ, corn, nuts, seeds, olives and vegetable oils made from these foods. Holistic medicine specialist Alan R. Gaby says that when it's applied to the surface of skin affected by herpes lesions, it decreases discomfort and promotes healing. Vitamin E directly inhibits the growth of HSV 2 within the nerve endings, according to Gaby. Vitamin E provides other benefits, promoting healing by moisturizing and protecting the delicate skin over the sores. Gaby recommends applying a thin layer to all sores three times per day. To prevent herpes sores from becoming secondarily infected by bacteria on your hands, use a cotton swab or wash your hands before you apply vitamin E. To prevent vitamin E oil from seeping through and staining clothing, wear loose-fitting cotton underpants until your sores heal.
Vitamin A, also known as retinol, is a fat-soluble vitamin that occurs naturally in foods such as eggs, meat, milk and fish, including cod and halibut. In the March 1988 issue of "Archives of Dermatology," Australian dermatologist Mark H. Kanzler reported that isotretinoin, a prescription form of vitamin A used to treat acne, produced incidental benefits on the frequency and severity of herpes outbreaks. Kanzler confirms that in test tubes, vitamin A inhibited the growth of HSV 1 and HSV 2 within infected nerve cells. However, the significance of this finding for people who are not taking isotretinoin for acne remains uncertain. Vitamin A in oral and topical forms can produce toxicity. MedlinePlus says symptoms include headaches, blurred vision, bone pain, liver damage and birth defects. As a result, MedlinePlus says you should talk to your doctor before taking any supplement that contains vitamin A.
- "Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 23rd Edition"; Anthony S. Fauci, M.D. et al.; 2008
- "Women's Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine: Alternative Therapies and Integrative Medicine for Total Health and Wellness"; Tori Hudson, N.D.; 2007
- "Natural Pharmacy: Complete A to Z Reference to Alternative Treatments for Common Health Conditions"; Alan R. Gaby, M.D.; 2006
- "Archives of Dermatology"; Isotretinoin for Recurrent Herpes Simplex; Mark H. Kanzler, M.D. et al.; March 1988
- MedlinePlus: Hypervitaminosis A
- MedlinePlus: Vitamin A