21 Functional Medicine Tips To Prevent Cold Sores Once And For All

Cold Sore

In the United States alone, there are over 3 million occurrences of cold sores each year, and 90% of us have at least one cold sore in our lifetimes, with 40% of us having recurring chronic cold sore infections. So, what precisely are they, and, more importantly, what can be done about them?

Cold sores, also known as fever blisters, are painful diseases caused by the herpes simplex virus that appear on the lips (as opposed to canker sores, which only appear on the inside of the mouth) (HSV-1). Cold sores are very contagious and can spread to other areas of the body, including the lips, cheeks, eyes, and, yes, the genitals. So it's a no-contact zone if you have a cold sore (or your lover does).

So what do you do when you feel that terrible tingle – the one that means a cold sore is imminent and how do you heal it fast? The great news is that you can kick cold sores to the curb by following these 21 top tips of remedies for cold sores to heal them fast and naturally.


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Prevention and Remedies For Cold Sores

     1. De-Stress STAT

To combat cold sores, your immune system must be in peak condition, which stress does not provide. When you feel yourself becoming anxious, recall the meaningful practices of stillness in your life. Seriously, by fostering a sense of calm, you can reverse the stress reaction and strengthen your immune system. Some solutions you can try are Yoga, tai chi, trekking in nature, float tanks, and/or mindfulness meditation are some of my favorite methods to decompress. Even simply pausing during the day for a few minutes to take some steady, deep breaths can greatly reduce your stress.

     2. Shield your lips

Direct sunlight can cause existing cold sores to become irritated. To prevent this and help with the healing process; choose a non-toxic SPF lip balm. An awesome resource to find a safe SPF lip balm is through the Environmental Working Group (EWG).

     3. Boost your immunity

T-regulatory cells are immune-system-regulating powerhouses and you can pump them up by sipping on jasmine green tea and shaking cinnamon into your smoothie. Doing so will decrease the time it takes to heal a cold sore.

     4. Increase your L-lysine

This amino acid is a proverbial atomic bomb against viruses. Try taking 1,000 milligrams of lysine two to three times a day and eat lots of L-lysine-rich foods like wild-caught fish and organic poultry.

     5. Decrease your L-arginine

While you are upping the L-lysine, suppress another amino acid;, L-arginine, which the herpes simplex virus specifically requires for replication. The best way to reduce the infection period of a cold sore is to avoid L-arginine-rich foods–especially during cold sore season–like beer, chocolate, cola, chicken soup, grains, nuts, and seeds.

     6. Get adaptogenic

Adaptogens are botanical super heroes in the fight against cold sores and modulating the brain adrenal (HPA) axis. Some of my favorite adaptogens: holy basil (tulsi), maca, and schisandra.

     7. Lemon balm your lips

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), a lemon-scented member of the mint family, is a cold-sore killer. In a randomized, double-blind trial of 116 patients with cold sores who used a 1% lemon balm extract cream on their cold sores five times per day, 96 percent showed complete clearing in eight days. Another study (2) demonstrated a similar effect, but with lemon balm essential oil. Patients put the oil on their cold sores and within 72 hours, most cold sores were significantly smaller and healed faster than sores of people in the control group.

     8. Slay 'em with 'shrooms

Medicinal mushrooms, especially chaga and Lion’s mane, are two of my favorite immune-boosting, cold-sore-slaughtering mushroom varieties.

     9. Lay off the sugar

It’s oh so sweet, but sugar also dulls your immune response and has been linked to cold sore flare-ups, so when you think you feel one coming on, lay off the sweet stuff. For a full guide to what sugars are the best and the worst, check out my guide to decoding sweeteners. The information might surprise you.

     10. Raise your vitamin C

Vitamin C sounds so been-there done-that, but don’t overlook this powerful antioxidant, potent immune-booster, and antiviral superstar. I like lypo-spheric vitamin C for best absorption, and/or eat more C-rich foods like kale, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, kiwi, and citrus fruits.

     11. Enjoy a berry delicious treat

Organic blueberries are a yummy way to take your antiviral medicine. Eat them like candy, or add them to smoothies or even salads. Why not double up, with some fresh fennel in your salad? It contains high-powered antiviral compounds, too.

     12. Sip on skullcap tea

Skullcap manages to fight viruses with vigor while making you feel perfectly calm. Multitasking! I like this herb in tea form. Look for a brand that isn’t made in China, so it is less likely to be contaminated by industrial pollution.

     13. Try some astragalus

This powerful herb is one of my favorites for fighting off viral infections, including cold sores. It has been shown (3) to inhibit the herpes simplex virus – and good riddance!

     14. Think about zinc

Zinc-oxide-based cream is an effective tool for cold sores, according to a randomized clinical trial (4) showing that those who began treatment with zinc oxide within 24 hours after a cold sore appeared dramatically cut the duration of their cold sores. Increase the power of zinc by adding zinc-rich foods like wild-caught fish, mushrooms, grass-fed beef, organ meats like liver, turkey, and pasture-raised eggs.

     15. Munch on some sprouts

Sprouts, especially from broccoli, are all-around superfoods but their sulforaphane content boosts your immunity by helping optimize methylation pathways. Add sprouts to your salads, smoothies, or just much by themselves.

     16. Sip pau d'arco tea

Anybody who knows me knows I am a tea fanatic, and this is one of my favorites, not just for its great taste but because it is a potent antiviral. Try mixing it with the skullcap tea and pouring it over ice for a refreshing iced herbal tea option for the summer while killing any cold sore inducing virus.

     17. Choose coconut oil

Coconut may have been vilified by the American Heart Association (and redeemed by functional medicine doctors everywhere), but there is no doubt that this home remedy for cold soresit has awesome antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties. Mix a tablespoon in smoothies or use it directly on your lips.

     18. Enjoy some peppermint

A study (5) published in the medical journal Phytomedicine demonstrated that peppermint essential oil could wallop the herpes virus. After a few hours in the presence of peppermint, 99 percent of cold sore viruses were history!

     19. Apply tea tree oil

Tea tree oil, or melaleuca, is a powerful antiseptic. Look for a nontoxic lip balm containing cold-sore killing tea tree oil. Or, make your own by mixing a few drops of tea tree essential oil into a little coconut oil. Heck, while you’re at it, you might as well add a little lemon balm and peppermint, for a DIY lip balm containing holy trinity of cold sore destruction.

     20. Get enough sleep

Just one lousy night of sleep can spike your inflammation levels and suppress your immune system. So quit thinking of sleep as a luxury and consider it a health necessity. Put down the smartphone, TV remote, or any other electronic device, and get yourself to bed, in the name of no more cold sores!

     21. Heal your gut

As a functional medicine practitioner, my job is to get to the root cause of health problems like cold sores. Why do you get them? Because chronic immune stress leaves your body open to viral infections, and that vulnerability can start in your gut, where 80 percent of your immune system resides. Heal your gut with lots of healthy food choices and quit feeding the bad bacteria. This may be the very best way to thwart cold sores before they can start.

If you want to help prevent those unrelenting cold sores, as one of the first functional medicine telehealth clinics in the world, we provide webcam health consultations for people around the globe.

Photo: unsplash.com

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  1. Opstelten W, Neven AK, Eekhof J. Treatment and prevention of herpes labialis. Can Fam Physician. 2008;54(12):1683‐1687.
  2. Shenefelt PD. Herbal Treatment for Dermatologic Disorders. In: Benzie IFF, Wachtel-Galor S, editors. Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects. 2nd edition. Boca Raton (FL): CRC Press/Taylor & Francis; 2011. Chapter 18. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK92761/
  3. Sun Y, Yang J. Di Yi Jun Yi Da Xue Xue Bao. 2004;24(1):57‐58.
  4. Godfrey HR, Godfrey NJ, Godfrey JC, Riley D. A randomized clinical trial on the treatment of oral herpes with topical zinc oxide/glycine. Altern Ther Health Med. 2001;7(3):49‐56.
  5. Schuhmacher A, Reichling J, Schnitzler P. Virucidal effect of peppermint oil on the enveloped viruses herpes simplex virus type 1 and type 2 in vitro. Phytomedicine. 2003;10(6-7):504‐510. doi:10.1078/094471103322331467

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Dr. Will Cole, DNM, IFMCP, DC is a leading functional medicine expert who consults people around the globe, starting one of the first functional medicine telehealth centers in the world. Named one of the top 50 functional and integrative doctors in the nation, Dr. Will Cole provides a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. He is the host of the popular The Art Of Being Well podcast and the New York Times bestselling author of Intuitive Fasting, Ketotarian, The Inflammation Spectrum, and Gut Feelings: Healing the Shame-Fueled Relationship Between What You Eat and How You Feel.

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