You're tired, overworked and bummed -- and suddenly a tiny blob of oozing red manifests on your kisser. The dreaded cold sore. It's a shocking fact that 75 per cent of us have been infected by the herpes virus, which can be transmitted either lip-to-lip or via the joys of oral or genital sex.
This strange life form snoozes in the nerves of your spine. When you're whacked out it wakes up and makes the journey along your nerves from your back to your lips, where it creates a lesion. In other words, a cold sore is your early warning that it's time to get relaxed, eat well and deal with whatever's bugging you.
The last thing you want is for your immune system to be so low that it lets some of those viruses take the wrong turn and end up in your eyes, where they can cause vision-blotting scarring.
Try not to spread your worries either -- remember that a cold sore is contagious even when it's just starting to tingle and hurt and you can't see a lesion yet. Herpes can also be spread by sharing eating utensils. And the critters involved are almost as happy to take up residence on a new set of genitals as on a new set of lips. Some people are viral "shedders," meaning they can be infectious even when no symptoms are present. You can't protect yourself one hundred percent but try to avoid kissing if there are any cuts, cracks or breaks in the skin on your lips and cheeks. And don't have sexual contact if your partner has any symptoms.
Pretty much all treatments -- the three major antiviral pharmaceuticals, herbs or supplements -- work way better at prevention than at treating an outbreak. So if you're prone to cold sores, it's a good idea to know your early warning signs and have your remedy of choice in the medicine cabinet for the day an outbreak threatens.
Taking zinc, 15 to 30 milligrams daily, helps prevent viral replication. Some people soak garlic in oil overnight and apply the oil to areas where lesions threaten. Take it internally to boost immunity. For more, read on.
WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY
"Lysine is effective at preventing, not treating, cold sores. Generally we shift the diet from warm foods to more cooling foods. From a Chinese perspective, internal heat manifests on the skin. Cucumbers, watermelon, dill and mint are cooling. Vitamin C, up to 4 grams a day, stimulates immunity. Licorice is a very potent antiviral. Aloe vera is an immune stimulant. Take the juice or the gel."
ARVIN JENAB, naturopath
"In 90 per cent of people who have this problem (cold sores), it comes from the liver. The yin and yang lose their balance, and cold and heat lose balance. If the liver heat is too high (yang) we have to use cold things to bring it down. Good foods are honeydew melon and green vegetables. If the kidney energy is getting lower, that's another reason for (cold sores). Working long hours makes liver energy go down. Too much sex is not good -- two or three times a week is all right.'
ALICE FAN, traditional Chinese medicine practitioner
"Topical lysine or zinc oxide purportedly work, but in clinical studies they haven't held up. People took high doses of lysine orally. The group on placebo did better. The evidence for homeopathy is anecdotal. If these homeopathic things do keep your immunity up, then, yes, they may have an effect. Herpes lives in the dorsal ganglia of the spine, so it's hard to believe homeopathy or a special diet can eradicate it. Keeping immunity high is difficult to do. Some research suggests vitamin C decreases the chance of getting a cold." CHARLES LYNDE, dermatologist, assistant professor, University of Toronto department of medicine
"Avoid intimate contact if somebody has a tingling, tickly or itchy sensation (on the lips or genitals). Usually within 24 hours a blister comes up in that spot. Once you have any sensation you're contagious until it's totally healed over. The jury's out as to whether or not condoms can prevent herpes. The important thing is to prevent contact when someone is symptomatic. There's not a lot of studies on use of dental dams (to prevent infection during oral sex).'
NATALIE FAWCETT, Toronto Public Health Nurse
"The assumption is that you've got herpes for life. In homeopathy we see a way out. There's the potential for successful treatment, which means basically no recurrence. Because it's chronic, you don't want to suppress it with the wrong homeopathic remedy. A trained homeopath treats the patient's mental, emotional and physical states. Mentally, people with herpes are trying to cover up -- they would rather not show their weakness."
DANIELLE MOLCAR, homeopath