Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is important in maintaining immune status. Vitamin C can strengthen white blood cell function and boost interferon levels. It is a free radical scavenger (Li W et al 2001) and protects tissues from oxidative stress and enhances the actions of vitamin E (De Souza MC et al 2000).
In one clinical trial, a water-soluble bioflavonoid/ascorbic acid complex (600 to 1000 milligrams [mg] of bioflavonoids and 600 to 1000 mg of ascorbic acid taken three to five times daily) was shown to be effective in the reduction of recurrent HSV1, reducing blisters and preventing disruption of vesicular membranes. Remission of symptoms was observed in 4 days (Terezhalmy GT et al 1978).
In another randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study on the topical treatment of recurrent mucocutaneous herpes, a pharmaceutical ascorbic acid formulation with antimicrobial properties (Ascoxal®) demonstrated the antiviral effects of vitamin C. A cotton pad soaked in the Ascoxal® solution was firmly pressed on the lesion for 2 minutes three times (with 30-minute intervals in between) for one day only. The treatment resulted in markedly reduced symptoms and fewer days of scab formation (Hovi T et al 1995).
High levels of vitamin C can protect levels of vitamin E in tissue and may contribute to the immune-enhancement of vitamin E (Chan AC 1993).
Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant and free radical scavenger. A highly publicized study of vitamin E to boost immune function appeared in 1997 (Meydani M et al 1997). The double-blind, placebo-controlled study looked at healthy humans older than 65 years. Supplementation with vitamin E for 4 months improved clinically relevant indices of cell-mediated immunity.
Zinc plays many roles in basic cellular function, including DNA replication, RNA transcription, cell division, and cell activation. Zinc is a specific activator of T-cells, T-cell division, and other immune cells. Zinc also functions as an antioxidant and stabilizes membranes against the oxidative effect of other minerals, such as iron and copper, by increasing the levels of catalase, superoxide dismutase, and glutathione-S-transferase. Zinc-deficient patients display reduced resistance to infection (Cuevas LE et al. 2005).
In a double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized clinical trial that evaluated the effect of a zinc oxide/glycine cream on facial herpes in 46 patients, treatment reduced or shortened the duration of cold sore lesions (5 days) compared to placebo (6.5 days) when applied within 24 hours of onset of symptoms. The cream also reduced the severity of symptoms, particularly blistering, soreness, itching, and tingling (Godfrey HR et al 2001).
Selenium (an antioxidant with immune system–boosting properties) may help suppress the reactivation of herpesviruses by increasing immunity. A number of studies have shown that the combination of zinc and selenium enhances immunity in the elderly. A pioneering study published in Lancet (Chandra RK 1992) found that seniors taking modest doses of a multivitamin/multimineral supplement containing zinc and selenium showed a general reduction in infection and required antibiotics for significantly fewer days annually.
A more recent study brings the effect of zinc and selenium into sharper focus. This well-designed, randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind study found that seniors taking these two minerals had significantly fewer infections over a 2-year period, but that vitamin supplementation alone did not have a major effect (Girodon F et al 1997). The zinc and selenium supplement cut the number of infections by nearly two-thirds, compared to placebo.
Cimetidine (Tagamet®), an over-the-counter drug, helps reduce the severity of herpes outbreaks (especially in patients with shingles), as well as reduces the amount of time of active infection. It works by temporarily inhibiting T-suppressor cells. T-suppressor cells down-regulate the immune system after the pathogen has been destroyed. Because of the inhibitory effect on T-suppressor function, cimetidine therapy is contraindicated in patients who have had organ transplants or who have autoimmune disorders (Kumar A 1990).
The following studies appear to demonstrate the effectiveness of cimetidine against herpes:
Cimetidine is sold over the counter. Refer to the package insert for possible drug interactions.
L-lysine, an essential amino acid, has been studied for its ability to reduce the reactivation rate of herpes (Flodin NW 1997; Marcason W 2003). It works by inhibiting the action of L-arginine during viral replication. Proteins within herpes are rich in L-arginine. An altered ratio of L-lysine to L-arginine, in favor of L-lysine, has been studied for its ability to inhibit the virus. While the results of some studies have been mixed, the following studies have shown L-lysine’s ability to inhibit herpes:
Foods rich in L-lysine include legumes, eggs, yogurt, fish, and chicken (Balch PA et al 2000; Jamison JR 2004). Taking L-lysine with vitamin C and bioflavonoids together has been shown to reduce the risk of herpetic outbreaks (Balch PA et al 2000).
Propolis, a natural product from bees, is comprised of a complex of antiviral chemicals (especially flavonoids).
In one study, extract of propolis was tested against the herpesvirus both in vitro and in experimental animals. In the in vitro study, propolis caused a 50 percent reduction in herpes infection. Administration of propolis before or at the time of infection yielded the most significant results. However, even when the propolis was added 2 hours after infection, it still yielded 80 percent to 85 percent protection. In the animal portion of the study, a weak propolis solution prevented the appearance of herpes symptoms in rats and corneal herpes in rabbits (Huleihel M et al 2002).
In a multi-centered randomized study, 90 men and women with recurrent genital HSV2 were divided into two groups to compare the healing ability of propolis ointment with natural flavonoids versus acyclovir ointment and placebo. Ointments were applied four times a day for 10 days. At day 10, 80 percent of patients in the propolis group had healed. Forty-seven percent had healed in the acyclovir group, and 40 percent had healed in the placebo group. Investigators concluded that an ointment containing flavonoids was more effective in healing genital herpetic lesions and in reducing local symptoms than ointments containing either acyclovir or placebo (Vynograd N et al 2000).
Extracts of thymus have immune system–enhancing and restorative properties (Corey L 2000). In a randomized, placebo-controlled study, immunodeficient patients with recurrent HSV1 cold sores who were given bovine thymus extract (Thymostimulin) for 6 months had only 17 recurrences versus 62 in the control group. A significant increase in total white blood cells, lymphocyte count, and T-cell numbers was detected. Thymus extract may be useful in reducing the risk of viral reactivation in people who have weakened immune systems (Aiuti F et al 1984).
Numerous studies have shown that lactoferrin, a whey protein found in human milk, and an antimicrobial, has powerful antiherpetic properties. Lactoferrin works by reducing the ability of HSV1 and HSV2 to penetrate cell walls (Andersen JH et al 2004). Studies have shown that:
Reactivation of herpes and shingles has been associated with a weakened immune system. Among older people, who are more likely to get shingles, a reduced immune response might be caused by age-related changes in steroid hormones (Valenti G 2004a,b).
DHEA, a steroid hormone, is known to decline as people age. In a 1997 study (Khorram O et al 1997), scientists proposed that the oral administration of DHEA among elderly men would result in activation of their immune systems. Nine healthy men with an average age of 63 years were treated with a placebo for 2 weeks, followed by 20 weeks of DHEA (50 mg a day). After 2 weeks on oral DHEA, serum DHEA levels increased 3- to 4-fold. These levels were sustained throughout the study. Compared to placebo, DHEA administration resulted in:
DHEA has been shown in numerous human and animal studies to boost immune function via several different mechanisms (Danenberg HD et al 1995; Loria RM et al 1996; Solerte SB et al 1999). A study in the Proceedings of the Society for Experimental Biology and Medicine demonstrated that, when older female mice were treated with DHEA, several markers of immune function improved (Inserra P et al 1998).
Garlic (Allium sativum) has substantial antiviral activity. Fresh garlic extract, in which thiosulfinates are the active components, was virucidal against every virus tested, including HSV1 and HSV2. The predominant thiosulfinate in fresh garlic extract is allicin (Weber ND et al 1992).
Once herpes is contracted (the primary infection), the infected person (host) will carry the virus for life. The goal of herpes management is to support a healthy immune system with nutrients that have been shown to reduce the severity and possibly even frequency of reactivation episodes. In addition, patients with herpes should avoid excessive consumption of foods that are rich in L-arginine, such as chocolate and nuts. This will enhance the effectiveness of L-lysine by altering the balance in favor of L-lysine.
The Life Extension Foundation offers specially compounded nutrient mixes, such as Life Extension Mix, which supply everything you need to support healthy immune function. Alternatively, you may choose to take individual supplements to help treat herpes and improve immune function. As always, it’s best to launch a program of dietary supplementation under the supervision of a qualified physician. The Life Extension Foundation suggests:
Herpes and Shingles Safety Caveats
An aggressive program of dietary supplementation should not be launched without the supervision of a qualified physician. Several of the nutrients suggested in this protocol may have adverse effects. These include:
For more information see the Safety Appendix