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Can You Avoid Cold Sores by Taking L-Lysine?

Taking L-lysine at the first hint of a cold sore may disrupt the virus and keep the fever blister from developing further.
Can You Avoid Cold Sores by Taking L-Lysine?
Young man with a cold sore on his lip

Cold sores, which are sometimes called fever blisters, crop up on the lips or on the face near the mouth. In addition to being painful, they are unsightly. Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex 1 virus that can lie in wait for months or years before re-appearing. Many readers have told us that they can side-step a cold sore by taking L-lysine at the first hint of one developing.

Will Taking L-Lysine Avert a Cold Sore?

Q. I have been taking L-lysine for years and I can’t remember my last cold sore. I had shingles one time many years ago and took L-lysine daily. It took one day for the pain to end and about two days for the rash to disappear.

I explain the efficacy of lysine this way: Herpes viruses cause both cold sores and shingles. They require the amino acid arginine to replicate itself. Somehow, the viruses recognize lysine as if it were arginine. The lysine prevents viral replication.

A. Your explanation is plausible, as supported by research on the herpes simplex virus 1 (Journal of Virology, June, 2009).  Herpes virus is reactivated by an enzyme,  lysine-specific demethylase 1 (Science Translational Medicine, Dec. 3, 2014). We don’t know how L-lysine affects that enzyme, but presumably there is some interaction.

Studies Are Lacking on Taking L-Lysine:

Sadly, there have been very few well-controlled trials involving L-lysine for cold sores. That has led to the conclusion that there is inadequate data to support the use of L-lysine to prevent or treat herpes infections (Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, Aug. 7, 2015). The Cochrane Review of the research found that drugs such as acyclovir and valacyclovir do seem to help prevent cold sores modestly.

Readers Offer Their Testimonials:

Despite the lack of clinical research, many readers have found L-lysine as helpful as you have. Ana wrote:

“Lysine has keeps me free of my yearly herpes outbreak for more than 10 years. I used to have an upper lip outbreak every summer for as long as I can remember.

“Around 1991 I found an article in a magazine about the effectiveness of lysine for herpes. I tried it the next time I had lesions. They went away in less time than usual.

Years after I read about taking 2 500 mg tablets every few hours at the first symptoms 10 times a day. I kept taking them for several days. It worked by reducing the size of the lesions and the healing time.

“I do not take them regularly, only when I have the symptoms. I did that for years and then I noticed that I was only getting a pinpoint-size pustule that would go away in two or three days.

“I always start the tablets if I feel the characteristic itching or tingling in my chin. I have told others about it and they have reported to me the same success. I always keep lysine on hand, just in case.”

LBP in Dallas reported:

“I, too, found that taking L-lysine the second I felt a tingling in my lip either greatly reduced the cold sore severity or, on rare occasions, stopped it in its tracks. But there seemed to be no way to absolutely prevent cold sores from trying to form. Over the course of my life (I’m 59), I just grew accustomed to watching for tell-tale signs and then ingesting mega-doses of lysine.

“A little over three years ago, I began taking 4,000 mg of vitamin D3 on a daily basis because of all I had read about vitamin D deficiency. A year and a half later, I noticed I had not had any cold sore symptoms AT ALL during that time and I connected it to the D3 I was taking. Today, more than three years later, I continue to be completely free of any outbreaks. I am convinced that the 4,000 mg of D3 daily is responsible and I’m curious as to whether others have experienced similar results.”

We don’t know whether vitamin D could have an effect on cold sores. Sun exposure can often trigger an outbreak.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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