By SUSAN CALLAHAN, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist
As a veteran of cold sore wars, I probably have tried every known medical and natural remedy for these ugly outbreaks. I started getting cold sores in college, just after a long-term boyfriend confessed to/was caught cheating on me. The little gift I got through him from his other amour was a lifelong battle with herpes simplex virus 1, the virus that causes cold cores.
The interesting thing is, even though he infected me, my boyfriend never had any outbreaks. This is another of those unfair biological disadvantages --- women get cold cores more than men for reasons not entirely clear to scientists.
Herpes Simplex Has Always Been and Will Always Be
Scientists believe that the herpes simplex virus --- simplex 1 causes cold sores on the lips and simplex 2 causes genital sores --- is one of the oldest viruses on our planet. Humans have been infected with herpes for millions of years.
In fact, herpes infected us even before we became humans. Over 1.6 million years ago, even before our species had diverged from chimpanzees, our common ancestor was infected with herpes simplex virus 1, according to a 2014 study from the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine.
We modern humans have only walked the Earth about 200,000 years, so this means that herpes is in a sense older than we are. We are the newcomers who moved into their neighborhood and not the other way around.
By the time we are adults, over 90% of us have become infected with herpes simplex 1.
A Missing Protein Is the Reason Some of Us Keep Getting Cold Sores
In 2013, scientists from Edinburgh University in the UK discovered the answer to an age old question --- why do some of us keep getting cold sores? Think about it. If 90 of us are infected, why don't 90% of us have to fight off these little blisters?
The answer is a protein called interferon lambda. Interferon lambda, as the name suggests, "interferes" with the ability of the herpes simplex virus to cause a cold sore. Most of us have interferon lambda.
The cold sore virus lies dormant in our systems until it is awakened by exposure to sun or stress or lowered immune system resistance. Once triggered, it travels along the nerves around our mouth, producing at the end of the nerve, a blister or sore.
Interferon lambda keeps the virus from being triggered by the stressors of sunlight or emotional upset or lowered immune system resistance.
About 25 of us have defective copies of the genes that code for interferon lamba, and as a result, we're the lucky ones who get recurrent cold sores.
Prevent Cold Sores By Eating Foods Rich in Lysine
The amino acid lysine helps to prevent cold sores. Which foods are rich in lysine? Eggs for one. Parmesan cheese is another.
The recommended daily value of lysine for adults is 12 milligrams per each kilogram of your body weight. This means that if you weigh 100 kilograms, you should take in 1200 mg per day of lysine, according to the National Research Council in the US.
Some studies have estimated that official recommendations for lysine are too low and that a person weighing 100 kilos should be aiming for 3200 mg, almost 3 times the daily amount. This was the conclusion of a 1986 study led by Dr. Carol N. Meredith of University California at Davis.
You can increase your lysine intake by taking supplements of course. But you can also boost lysine through your diet. If you eat one egg a day or every other day, and add some shavings of about an ounce of parmesan cheese, you will consume about 986 mg of lysine from the egg and 980 mg from the parmesan.
When I stopped eating my daily egg, in an effort to reduce my cholesterol levels, all was well fro about a month. Then, I started to feel the once-familiar tingling in the corner of my mouth. I quickly applied acyclovir cream, took 500 mg of Vitamin C in a half glass of orange juice and, importantly, added back my daily soft scrambled egg.
Tired of parmesan? Blue cheese also is super rich in lysine.
Bottom line? The tingling never developed into a full blown cold sore. In fact, the corner of my lip only felt a little dry for half a day, then even that stopped. The cold sore's normal development pathway had been interrupted, stopped in its tracks.
The mystery of how to stop a cold sore had been solved.