Living with Herpes
by Belle McCaleb
Herpes simplex virus (HSV) is a very common recurrent viral infection that lays dormant for various periods in the nervous system with no symptoms. When it reactivates blisters (medically termed vesicles) appear in the affected area – the classic “cold sore”. There are two main types – HSV 1 is most common with blisters usually appearing around the mouth, and HSV 2 that most commonly affects the genital region. Both types are spread by contact with someone who is shedding the virus at the time even though no lesions may be apparent. This virus is commonly passed from people who are unaware they are carriers as they have never had any symptoms. It is estimated that 1 in 8 Australians have it and that around 85% of people carry HSV type 1 and 20% carry HSV type 2. It is twice as common in adult women as it is in adult men and is most prevalent in women aged 35-44 years (www.sexualhealthaustralia.com.au).
There is no cure for HSV however natural medicine can offer several strategies to minimise outbreaks. Firstly, these generally occur when people are run down – stress, fatigue, poor diet and poor general health all compromise the immune function increasing the risk of an outbreak. So the first port of call is healthy immune function through a healthy diet, good sleep hygiene, adequate exercise and stress management strategies. Secondly HSV replication can be influenced by very specific dietary approaches. Thirdly, specific anti-viral, immune and adrenal boosting herbal and nutritional medicines can reduce the incidence, severity and duration of out breaks. Several herbs used topically can speed healing and reduce the discomfort associated with active lesions.
General dietary approaches include increasing the intake of antioxidants with antiviral / immune boosting activity – particularly Vitamin C, bioflavonoids and Zinc. High vitamin C/bioflavenoid foods include the citrus family, kiwi and ripe tomatoes. Supplementation with a buffered Vitamin C formula can also help – the usual dose recommended for adults is about 3,000 mg a day. High zinc foods include whole grains, beans, and poultry. Zinc supplementation can also help although it is possible to overdose on zinc so professional advice is recommended – generally around 25 mg of zinc daily is considered safe.
It is important to assess your diet for foods that may be stressful to your gut, liver and immunity. These may include specific food intolerances, such as dairy or gluten, or general stressors such as high sugars, processed foods and bad fats. Specific food intolerance testing is available though qualified naturopathic practitioners in Australia.
It may be useful to undergo a gut and liver “Detox” program that can help rebalance gut flora and reduce liver and immune stress. Professional advice is recommended for optimal outcomes but even a good multi-strain probiotic or high probiotic foods such as Kefir or Kombuchu is a start.
A very specific dietary approach to HSV management involves something called the lysine/arginine ratio in foods. Lysine and arginine are amino acids (bits of proteins) found in all sorts of foods. Lysine inhibits while arginine promotes HSV activity. Choosing foods with a high lysine to arginine ratio and limiting those with the reverse helps to decrease outbreaks. As many “healthy” foods are relatively high in arginine it is reasonable to include them but be sure to include enough high lysine foods to balance out the arginine. So for example many grains including wheat, corn, rice are relatively high in arginine but fish and chicken are relatively high in lysine. Therefore combining grains with fish or chicken balances out the problem. This is just one example – it is best to obtain an arginine to lysine ratio chart (off the internet is fine) and become familiar with it. Of course you can also supplement L-Lysine in tablet form. The usual recommended adult dose is about 3000 mg daily.
Herbal medicines are another potent approach to minimising HSV outbreaks. There are a number of anti-viral/immune boosting herbs available from a qualified herbalist. My favourites include Andrographis, Echinacea, Astragalus, Cats Claw, Coriolus versicolor, Calendula and Ganoderma lucidum. Topical application antivirals, astringents and wound healers speeds recovery. My favourites include Aloe vera, Calendula, Licorice and Sage.
Paying attention to stress management through specific life style approaches such as yoga, Tai Chi or Meditation as well as specific herbals to support the adrenals can foster good general health, immunity and viral resistance. Many of the adrenal herbs (called Adaptogens) are also potent immune boosters with antiviral activity. Andrographis, Astragalus, Echinancea are three such multifunctional herbs. Others at the top of my adrenal/immune support list are Rhodiola, Withania, and Siberian Ginseng.
Unfortunately if you have HSV there is currently no medical cure. However, you can influence the incidence, severity and duration of HSV out breaks through natural medicine and lifestyle approaches. These approaches foster good health, resilience and resistant to viral out break.
Belle McCaleb ND, RN, MSS-C, BSN, RYT, AYT is an Accredited Naturopath, Herbalist, Yoga Instructor & Yoga Therapist as well as a Registered Clinical Counsellor & Registered Nurse. She has specialised in women’s health since 1986 and holds advanced nursing qualifications in obstetrics, gynaecology and reproductive endocrinology and infertility. Belle is also passionate about holistic cancer support and keeping cancer patients well during medical treatment and beyond. She has worked extensively with cancer patients since 2003 and is the founder of the Cancer Support Alliance (www.cancersupportalliance.com.au). Belle is a certified therapist in Yoga of Heart (for cancer & cardiovascular disease) and Critical Alignment Yoga Therapy (for musculoskeletal issues). Belle’s counselling practice “Innersight Counselling & Psychotherapy” is informed by Integral Yoga Psychology & other mindfulness based approaches and blends clinical counselling skills with age-old techniques of yoga including breath-work, deep relaxation & meditation. This therapeutic approach provides you with practical tools for health, happiness and well-being. Belle’s specific counselling interests include chronic health issues, infertility, pregnancy loss, coping with cancer, loss, grief, bereavement, anxiety & depression. Her practice is located in St. Georges (Burnside). For more info see www.mccalebhealth.com.au or ring (08) 8379 0220.