Herpes is an incurable and contagious condition that creates sores on the body, generally around the mouth or genitals. Oral herpes stems from a virus called herpes simplex 1, or HSV1; genital herpes stems from a virus called herpes simplex 2, or HSV2. Herpes will never go away but usually goes into periods of dormancy, during which those infected are symptom-free. Dr. Andrew Weil suggests that avoiding arginine will result in longer dormancy periods and shorter outbreaks.
Amino acids are the components of protein; arginine is one type of amino acid. Essential amino acids are those that the body cannot make on its own and must therefore be supplied through diet. Nonessential amino acids are ones that the body can manufacture by itself. In their book "The Nutrition Desk Reference," authors Robert Garrison, Jr., and Elizabeth Somer, refer to arginine as a semi-essential amino acid. Most of the time the body can make sufficient quantities of arginine, but under certain circumstances, such as during periods of high growth in childhood, the body is unable to make enough arginine to keep up with the demand.
The Arginine Debate
Dr. Andrew Weil recommends that people infected with the herpes virus decrease the amount of arginine in their diet because consuming arginine may make outbreaks more likely. Weil also recommends those with herpes eat more foods containing the amino acid lysine. The University of Michigan Health System's Healthwise Knowledgebase notes that the strategy of increasing lysine and decreasing arginine is a common alternative treatment approach to herpes, but states that studies demonstrating its effectiveness are yet to be done. The American Social Health Association's Herpes Resource Center does not advocate eliminating foods with arginine, and reports that there is no objective proof showing that consuming arginine will increase a person's number of outbreaks.
Terri Warren, author of the book "The Good News About the Bad News Herpes: Everything You Need to Know," specializes in the subject of herpes and has been principally involved in more than 80 research projects. Warren holds several degrees, including a master's degree in nursing. She explains that in some older studies arginine was shown to encourage the growth of herpes in a laboratory setting, but that there have been no such studies showing the same in human subjects.
Lisa Marr, author of "Sexually Transmitted Diseases: A Physician Tells You What You Need to Know," Terri Warren, and the American Social Health Association's Herpes Resource Center all encourage herpes patients to note any patterns in relation to outbreaks and food choices. A person infected with herpes who notices she typically has outbreaks after consuming food high in arginine should consider eliminating the food from her diet.
Sources of Arginine
Weil advises that chocolate, peas, nuts and seeds are all high in arginine. Phyllis A. Balch, CNC, author of "Prescription for Nutritional Healing: A Practical A-to-Z Reference to Drug-Free Remedies Using Vitamins, Minerals, Herbs and Food Supplements," states that carob, coconut, dairy products, gelatin, meat, oats, soybeans, white flour, wheat and wheat germ are all arginine-rich foods.
- “The Good News about the Bad News Herpes: Everything You Need to Know”; Terri Warren, RN, MP; 2009
- “Sexually Transmitted Diseases: A Physician Tells You What You Need to Know”; Lisa Marr, MD; 2007
- “Sexually Transmitted Diseases Sourcebook”; ed. Laura Larsen; 2009
- American Social Health Association’s Herpes Resource Center Learn About Herpes: Treatment
- The Mayo Clinic: Herpes Treatment Options
- “Genital Herpes: The Facts”; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; 2008