Q. I suffer with cold sores and would like to take steps to avoid them. Are there any natural ways of preventing them or dealing with them at the first signs?

A. You are not alone as cold sores affect roughly one in five people in the UK. They are more common in winter when stress, fatigue, colds, flu and harsh winter weather can all act as triggers.

Usually appearing as small blisters, particularly around the mouth and lips, cold sores may be accompanied by fatigue, swollen lymph nodes and pain. The blisters become yellow, crusted sores, typically disappearing after a couple of weeks. The herpes virus is highly contagious, so if you do succumb or know anyone with a cold sore, avoid sharing cups, towels and close physical contact!

Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV1). After the initial infection, the virus settles in a nearby nerve sheath and remains there throughout your life. Although there can be long periods of dormancy, the virus can be reactivated by a variety of triggers including hormonal changes, nutritional deficiencies and poor immune function.

To give yourself a chance in the fight against cold sores, reduce stress and have regular, restorative sleep. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables combined with healthy protein such as chicken, low-fat cheese, oily fish, and eggs. Avoid sugars, refined foods, trans-fats, additives and preservatives. Drink plenty of water and herbal teas and reduce caffeinated drinks and alcohol.

Whilst the amino acid, lysine, appears to inhibit the herpes virus, arginine, another amino acid, encourages its growth. So to minimize the duration of an outbreak, increase lysine-rich foods such as chicken, turkey, salmon and beans and reduce arginine-rich grains, nuts, seeds and chocolate. As ever, balance is key and wholegrains, nuts and seeds may be tolerated in moderation and reintroduced once an infection is over.

Additionally, take preventative steps by supplementing vitamin C and zinc which all assist the immune system and maintain our natural barriers to infection. Finally, if a cold sore does rear its ugly head, dab with a little aloe vera gel on a cotton swab to promote healing.

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