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The Anti-Cold Sore Diet: Tips for Preventing Outbreaks

diet for cold sores

The link between cold sores and diet has been the subject of much research in recent years. Today, we know that certain dietary habits – such as following a diet rich in lysine and low in arginine, or eating plenty of foods that contain quercetin – can help prevent cold sore outbreaks caused by the herpes simplex virus. In this section of's Anti-Cold Sore Guide, you will learn six excellent dietary tips that can help you prevent cold sores, those painful blisters that tend to appear at the worst possible time.

#1:  Consume Foods That Contain Quercetin

Flavonoids (also referred to as bioflavonoids), a group of compounds that occur naturally in plants, give fruits and vegetables their vibrant colors and protect them from microbes and insects. Some of these compounds have potent anti-viral properties. Quercetin, one of the most abundant flavonoids in the nature, appears to be particularly effective at inhibiting the replication of viruses, including the herpes simplex virus type 1. Good dietary sources of quercetin include capers, apples, lovage, broccoli, red grapes, cherries, and many berries.

#2:  Follow a Diet High in Lysine and Low in Arginine

A diet rich in the amino acid lysine and low in the amino acid arginine may help control herpes outbreaks. A large body of scientific evidence suggests that lycine is able to suppress the herpes virus, and consequently, nutritionists often recommend it to people who carry the herpes virus and who are prone to getting cold sores. In contrast, arginine is believed to promote the occurrence of herpes outbreaks by facilitating the growth and replication of the herpes virus. While most foods containing protein are a source of both lysine and arginine, some foods have a higher lysine to arginine ratio. Such foods include yoghurt and cheese. Foods that have a high arginine content in relation to lysine include most nuts and seeds.

Vitamin C, abundant in potatoes, has herpes fighting properties.

#3:  Push Up Your Vitamin C and Vitamin E Levels

Another very good tip for preventing cold sore outbreaks is to add more vitamin C rich foods to your anti cold sore diet. Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) has been shown to inactivate a wide range of viruses, including herpes viruses, in test tubes. There is also some evidence based on human studies indicating that vitamin C might be of value in the treatment of herpex simplex. In one small, double-blind trial, patients with herpes simplex outbreaks were given either ascorbic acid (in combination with water-soluble flavonoids) or a placebo. Those in the vitamin C group experienced a significantly shorter time until the remission of symptoms than those in the placebo group.

To get the most out vitamin C's health benefits, combine foods rich in vitamin C with foods that provide significant amounts of vitamin E. Vitamin C and vitamin E protect each other and are more effective when consumed together. Vitamin E might also have beneficial effects on its own due to its antioxidant and immune-boosting properties. However, little scientific research has been conducted to specifically address a possible link between an increased intake of vitamin E and a reduced occurence of cold sores.

#4:  Step Up Your Zinc Intake

Zinc has been known for long for its ability to inhibit certain viruses, including herpes simplex, in test tubes. Many experts recommend topical application of zinc to prevent recurrent herpes simplex outbreaks. However, the quantity and quality of studies investigating the connection between dietary intake of zinc and herpes simplex is limited. Nevertheless, considering the important role zinc plays in maintaining the immune system (there's a strong association between a weakened immune system and cold sore outbreaks), ensuring an adequate zinc intake is certainly not a bad idea. Zinc, which requires vitamin B6 for proper absorption in the intestines, is found in a variety of foods, the best dietary sources being oysters, red meat, and poultry. Zinc from plant sources such as nuts, legumes, and grains is of a different type than that found in animal sources and is not readily used by the body, although oats are a good source of zinc that the body can easily use.

#5:  Avoid Acidic and Spicy Foods

If you are prone to getting cold sores, you might benefit from avoiding acidic and spicy foods. There is anecdotal evidence suggesting that limiting the consumption of such foods helps control cold sore outbreaks in some people.

Related to Cold Sores & Diet:

For more information on cold sores and nutrition, be sure to check out the list of foods that help prevent and heal cold sores and our collection of cold sore fighting recipes.