Oral herpes, an infection caused by the herpes simplex virus, strikes the mouth and lips, while genital herpes involves the genitals, anus or buttocks. An infected mother may pass the disease onto her child during childbirth. Herpes is annoying, but MedlinePlus says that is usually not dangerous, except in infants and people with immune system problems. Most people with herpes experience several outbreaks each year, although the frequency typically decreases over time. A lysine-rich diet may benefit some people with herpes. Your doctor can help you decide whether lysine is right for you.
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In the 2007 edition of “Integrative Medicine,” University of Wisconsin professor David Rakel claims that lysine, an amino acid found in foods, may reduce the frequency of herpes outbreaks, although it less effective at reducing the severity or duration of an outbreak that is already underway. According to Rakel, lysine works by opposing the growth stimulating effect of another amino acid, called arginine, on the herpes simplex virus. Lysine also competes with arginine for absorption by infected cells, limiting how much arginine reaches the virus in the first place, and triggers the production of an enzyme, arginase, that degrades arginine.
Foods to Enjoy
Meat, poultry and fish are excellent sources of lysine, writes nutritional medicine specialist, Alan R. Gaby, in the December 2005 issue of “Alternative Medicine Reviews.” Among these foods, farm-raised versions typically contain more lysine than wild-caught versions. Low-fat dairy products such as milk, yogurt and cheese are also rich in lysine. For vegetarians and vegans or meat-eaters who seek variety, Gaby recommends Brewer’s yeast and legumes such as chick peas, kidney beans and lentils. Among fruits and vegetables, avocado is the only option that is rich in lysine. However, fruits and vegetables contain nutrients other than lysine that help fight herpes outbreaks, so you should enjoy them freely.
Foods to Limit
Liver, lunch meat, sausage, bacon and eggs contain less lysine than other kinds of animal foods. They also feature higher levels of undesirable nutrients such as cholesterol — for liver and eggs — and sodium and fat —for lunch meat, sausage and bacon. Dairy products composed of cream, including ice cream, sour cream, whipped cream, cream sauces and cream used for coffee, are neutral in terms of their effects on herpes. However, they are rich in fats that are detrimental to general health.
Foods to Avoid
Nuts, seeds, gelatin, chocolate and wheat germ contain high levels of arginine and relatively little lysine. Peanuts are technically a legume; however, in terms of lysine content they belong with nuts. Although wheat germ is a component of whole wheat, you should continue to eat foods made with whole wheat because they offer other health benefits. However, you should avoid consuming wheat germ as a dietary supplement.
Diet does not replace conventional medical treatment for herpes or any other condition. Unlike prescription medications, lysine does not influence your ability to transmit the infection to others. Although Rakel recommends starting with diet, he cautions that all of the studies on lysine and herpes involved people consuming lysine in the form of dietary supplements, typically in doses of 1 to 3 g per day. Aside from diet, other lifestyle changes that may help people with herpes include getting enough sleep, regular exercise and stress management.
- MedlinePlus: Herpes Simplex
- “Integrative Medicine”; David Rakel, M.D.; 2007
- “Alternative Medicine Reviews”; Natural Remedies for Herpes Simplex; Alan R. Gaby, M.D.; December 2005