Whether you suffer from genital herpes, caused by the herpes simplex 2 virus, or HSV-2, or facial cold sores caused by HSV-1, your doctor has probably told you that there is no cure. Pharmaceutical antiviral medications can help suppress herpes outbreaks and lessen their severity. Similarly, Chinese herbal treatments work to strengthen the body’s defenses against outbreaks. If you suspect you have herpes, talk to your doctor about treatment options.
The herpes virus stays in your body indefinitely and becomes active periodically. When the virus is in an active phase, it expresses itself as blisters that typically appear on the face, in the case of HSV-1, or on the genitals or around the anus in HSV-2. In the first year after infection, people tend to experience four or five outbreaks. Over time, outbreaks become less frequent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention online. At this time there are pharmaceutical treatments that can prevent outbreaks, but there is no known way to eliminate the virus from your body.
Traditional Chinese Theory
Traditional Chinese medicine, or TCM, views herpes outbreaks as a product of imbalance in your qi, or vital life energy. Qi flows through subtle energy channels in your body that correspond to your internal organs. With herpes, the liver channel becomes blocked with stagnant qi, producing what TCM practitioners call “phlegm”—a TCM term for the thickened, sluggish body fluids that result from stagnant qi. A herpes outbreak occurs when phlegm accumulates and breaks through the surface of the skin, according to Bronwyn Whitlocke, a TCM practitioner working in Carrum Downs, Australia, and author of “Chinese Medicine for Women.”
Chinese herbal treatments work by combining different herbs together, rather than focusing on the effect of an individual herb. The herbs in a TCM formula work synergistically to create a healing effect, according to the website Yin Yang House. Because of their complexity, Chinese herbal formulas require many years of training to prescribe and use safely. Never attempt to self-treat using Chinese herbal formulas. Always consult a TCM doctor who has training in the use of herbs.
One formula that a TCM doctor might recommend for herpes is a kudzu decoction, a popular formula that includes licorice, peony, ginger, jujube and cinnamon. The kudzu helps release any tightness in the body, while the other herbs increase circulation. In TCM terms, this formula is ideal for releasing infection, according to the late Phyllis A. Balch, certified nutrition consultant and author of “Perscription for Herbal Healing.” Balch notes that in one Japanese clinical trial, the kudzu decoction seemed to protect the body tissues from damage that the herpes virus causes when it reactivates.
TCM, Indian Ayurvedic and Bangladeshi Chakma herbal formulas contain bioactive compounds that could be the basis for future anti-HSV drugs, according to a 2005 review published in the journal “Antiviral Research” by Mahmud Tareq Hassan Khan and colleagues of the Pharmacology Research Laboratory at the University of Science and Technology in Chittagong, Bangladesh. The review found that a large number of molecules and compounds in traditional herbalism showed bioactivity against HSV. The team recommended that natural medicinal plant extracts deserve further investigation as researchers pursue new ways to fight herpes.