Fight Off Cold Sores With Natural Immune-Boosting Remedies

13 minute read

A number of health issues are associated with immune system health, including cold sores and fever blisters. Taking steps to boost the immune system can impact the entire body, from lips and mouth to skin and the entire body. Probiotics can play a key role in supporting the immune system. Home remedies can provide additional benefits.

Is It a Canker Sore or a Cold Sore?

Although canker sores and cold sores are similar in appearance, the two conditions differ in several ways, which impacts treatment methods. Cold sores typically last ten days, at most; canker sores take around two weeks to heal. Unlike canker sores, which are not contagious, cold sores are can be spread through contact.

Cold sores are viral, a symptom of the herpes simplex (HS-1) virus. For the most part, cold sores are limited to the edges and outermost sections of the lips. Cold sores become less contagious when they begin to crust over and are non-contagious during dormant periods when they are healed.

However, during a phase known as shedding, cold sores are extremely contagious through kissing, sharing lip gloss, or even eating from the same utensils.

In contrast, canker sores are located inside the lips or cheeks, under the tongue, or on the bottom of the gums. Canker sores are round with a red border with a beige or yellow center and are not caused by the herpes simplex virus. They may appear following a trigger, such as an injury to the mouth during dental work, or even a cheek bite.

Sensitivities to sodium lauryl sulfate in oral hygiene products or a particular food can cause canker sores, as well as lack of vitamin B-12, zinc, folate, or iron.

Heliobacter pylori, the bacteria that cause peptic ulcers, can also cause canker sores. In addition, people with Celiac disease, IBS, and weakened immune systems are more susceptible to canker sores.

Both cold sore outbreaks and canker sores can be shortened in duration or even prevented by strengthening the immune system.

The Lifecycle of Herpes Simplex 1 

The estimate of adults who have been exposed to the Herpes Simplex 1 virus ranges up to 90 percent. Not all of those people experience symptoms but most who are symptomatic experience a couple of outbreaks per year, sometimes accompanying a cold or flu.

When a person is exposed, the virus inserts itself into cells in the lower layers of skin and attempts to replicate in the cell nuclei; if the virus ends up destroying the host cells during multiplication, blisters erupt. The blisters are filled with fluid from inflammation, and, when that fluid is absorbed, the blisters scab over.

During the first time the virus multiplies, the virus is transported through nerve cells to clusters that are located at the end of nerve cells where the virus lives in its latent form, co-existing with the host cells. However, the virus randomly multiples during periods called shedding, which is when the virus is contagious through body fluids.

What You Can Expect During an Outbreak

Prior to an outbreak, there may be a period of symptoms known as prodrome in which the person experiences itching, pain, or tingling. Additional symptoms can include headaches, enlarged lymph nodes, and achiness. This period can last anywhere from a couple of hours to a couple of days and is usually followed by the appearance of blisters. Sometimes, there is no blistering.

When blistering does occur, the blisters usually erupt and heal within 6-10 days. The outbreaks may also appear as fissures or general inflammation. During the first year after exposure, outbreaks can occur more frequently as the immune system stages a response to the HSV. In people with healthy immune systems, the outbreaks become less frequent and less severe but the virus is always present in the system.

Outbreaks can be triggered by weather (sunlight and wind), injury, fever, menstruation, suppression of the immune system due to medication or other factors, and stress. In addition, dental work, such as a root canal or tooth extraction, can elicit an outbreak.

Reducing Outbreaks With Probiotics

The HSV virus remains in the system but is not always active. The only solution, then, is to boost immunity to lessen the chance of outbreaks. The immune system can be optimized through probiotics.

Because HSV-1 has developed drug resistance, there has been interesting in the scientific community in exploring the potential of probiotics. Research indicates that probiotic bacteria can effectively activate macrophage activity and may possess antiviral properties.

Macrophages, the largest white blood cells, play an important role in the immune system by engulfing and destroying viruses and bacteria. The macrophage cells break down viral cells, mix the components with enzymes to store in sacs called lysosomes, and push out leftover material as waste.

Adding a probiotic supplement as well as fermented foods and drinks to your diet, such as active yogurt, miso, tempeh, kimchi, and kombucha, help to maintain a healthy gut balance of beneficial flora.

Stress, poor eating habits, and antibiotic use can lead to an imbalance of gut bacteria. Restoring that balance can not only boost the immune system response but can empower the immune system to defend against an outbreak of HSV-1.

Look for a probiotic with:

♦ A minimum of 11 billion CPUs (colony producing units); more is better

♦ A variety of strains; Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli strains are shown to boost immune response and to reduce inflammation.

♦  Prebiotic fiber, which helps maintain the growth and vitality of Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli strains

Essential Oils as Natural Remedies

Essential oils can possibly shorten the duration of the outbreak or frequency of outbreaks by boosting immune health. The discomfort and appearance of cold sores are due to inflammation, so addressing inflammation with essential oils can be soothing.

Lemon Balm: This member of the mint family is known to reduce both the redness and swelling that come from inflammation, as well as for its ability to inhibit the ability of the virus to penetrate cells by up to 96 percent.

This oil has the ability to penetrate the skin to get to the site of the virus. Apply diluted oil or use a lip balm with a concentration of at least 1 percent directly to the cold sore up to four times each day.

Peppermint Oil: Apply diluted peppermint oil on a fresh outbreak; research has shown that peppermint oil may be able to destroy active viral cells. Peppermint oil also has cooling properties.

Tea Tree Oil: The antiviral, antiseptic, and anti-inflammatory properties of tea tree oil are beneficial to fight HSV. Dilute with coconut or jojoba oil and apply directly no more than twice a day to avoid irritation.

Oregano Oil: The oil’s antimicrobial properties promotes healing by killing the virus within the blister and also reduces swelling. Apply directly with sterile gauze.

Ginger Oil: Although this oil may feel warm, it actually has soothing properties. Apply in a diluted mixture with coconut or jojoba oil to promote healing.

Chamomile Oil: This oil has a strong antiviral agent that has been shown to be effective against HSV. Apply on freshly erupted cold sores using a diluted solution.

Rhubarb and Sage Cream: A topical ointment of rhubarb and sage may be almost as effective as acyclovir cream in reducing inflammation and duration of cold sores.

Other Topical Applications

Note: With any topical application, be careful not to break the blisters, which can spread the virus. Be sure to wash hands thoroughly after applications and dispose of gauze or cotton used to apply.

Ice: Applying ice to the area around a cold sore can reduce swelling and discomfort by addressing inflammation. Ice reduces the blood flow to the area. The lips are filled with nerve endings, so the icing can dull pain.

Be careful not to apply ice directly. Wrap ice in a thin towel; you can also apply a bag of frozen peas or a frozen wet compress. Limit exposure to no more than 15 minutes and no more than four to six times each day.

Propolis: This resin-like material extracted from beehives, may reduce pain and duration of cold sores. Bees use propolis to seal crevices in hives.

Witch Hazel: The leaf, bark, and twigs of the witch hazel shrub are utilized to make this solution. Tannins in the witch hazel possess antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. Witch hazel also dries out the skin. Look out for possible reactions from witch hazel, which can aggravate the cold sore.

Aloe Vera: The aloe vera plant has antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties. Aloe vera is also a good source of amino acids, B1, B2, B6, and vitamin C. Apply in a lip balm or gel three times a day until the blister has dried.

Sunscreen: Exposure to UV rays can trigger an outbreak, so it makes sense to apply a zinc oxide ointment or an SPF lip balm.

Supplements From A to Z

Vitamin A: The immunity-boosting vitamin A helps the body fight infection, allowing for faster healing.

Vitamin B6: B vitamins are essential for skin, hair, and liver health, as well as to assist in the metabolism of fats and proteins. A deficiency can increase vulnerability for infections and inhibit the healing process. Vitamin B6 also produces antiviral antibodies and strengthens the immune system.

Vitamin C With Bioflavonoids: Better known for its potential to fight the common cold, vitamin C supports white blood cells and packs an even more powerful punch when combined with bioflavonoids. The combination has antiviral properties that fight HSV-1, which causes cold sore outbreaks.

In addition, vitamin C with bioflavonoids boosts energy and can reduce stress, providing a vitamin supplement with preventative power.

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Vitamin E: This antioxidant protects white blood cells from free radical damage and also increases cell production. In addition, vitamin E shortens the healing duration of cold sores and can decrease the frequency of outbreaks. When taken during outbreaks, the vitamin may limit the severity of cold sores.

Lysine: Available as both an oral supplement and a topical ointment, lysine is an amino acid that actually blocks the ability of the virus to replicate during the shedding period.

Licorice Root: The active ingredient in licorice root, glycyrrhiza extract (GX) has anti-inflammatory properties and may provide a soothing effect in topical ointments for both cold sores and canker sores, as well as reducing pain and healing times.

In capsule form, licorice root may boost the immune system and may potentially fight the HSV-1 virus. However, high levels of GX may cause a drop in potassium levels, which may lead to muscle weakness, fluid retention, hypertension, swelling, and irregular heartbeat.

Zinc: This mineral provides immune support and can lessen the frequency of cold sore outbreaks. In addition, the supplement can shorten the healing process and make symptoms less severe. Zinc oxide, available by prescription, can be applied directly to a cold sore to soothe itching and irritation.

Tips To Remember

♦ Limit chocolate, gelatin, beer, grain cereals, soft drinks, certain seeds, nuts, and peas during outbreaks.

♦ Try not to touch the face during outbreaks.

♦ Avoid sharing towels, utensils, and glasses, especially during outbreaks.

♦ Change toothbrushes after an outbreak.

♦ Sanitize mouth guards and anything that has contact with the mouth.

♦ Don’t use lipstick during outbreaks.

♦ Keep toothpaste and dental hygiene products away from sores.

♦ Reduce stress by practicing yoga, meditating, or other techniques.

The Bottom Line

Cold sores are the manifestation of the Herpes Simplex 1 virus (HSV-1) during the shedding period as the virus cyclically replicates itself. These blisters, which are highly contagious, can be triggered by stress and a number of factors, including dental work, injury, sunlight, wind, and a compromised immune system.

To prevent or reduce the number of outbreaks, try to reduce stress and to optimize immune health. Adding an effective probiotic immunity supplement and immune-boosting foods can prevent and treat cold sores.

A number of essential oils and topical applications may inhibit the viral outbreaks, as well as shorten the duration of the active period when cold sores erupt. Many of these solutions can also reduce inflammation, pain, and discomfort.

Unlike cold sores, canker sores are not contagious or viral. Canker sores may also be prevented by optimizing the immune system and reducing stress.

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