Lysine & Zinc for Cold Sores: Do They Work?

If you suffer from cold sores, you’ve had everyone, their mam, aunties and grandads telling you their top secret tips for getting rid of them, from cold tea bags to popping them (bad, bad, bad advice) to baking soda (also bad, bad advice).

What about those clever ‘uns that suggest you start taking lysine and zinc? Colloquially, people swear by a daily lysine supplement to keep those fever blisters at bay but what about the science of it all?

We did a brief nerdie investigation to find out more… 

What are cold sores?

Cold sores are blisters that occur due to a virus called HSV1 or herpes simplex 1. Once you are infected with the virus, you have it forever unfortunately, and it will flare up and cause the signature cold sore blisters sporadically or frequently depending on the individual. Many say that stress, sun exposure, being ill, cold weather and even drinking alcohol can bring on a cold sore.

Some have the virus but may only get one cold sore in their lifetime, some have the virus and may never see a cold sore and some will get cold sores all the time. It’s at this point that we’d like to say that having cold sores is super normal and not “gross”, but the pain and irritation is definitely gross.

Lysine and cold sores:

What is lysine?
Lysine, or L-Lysine, is an amino acid that our body cannot create so it is integral that we get it in through our diet. Lysine is actually essential to the process of the crosslinking of collagen polypeptides so it has skin benefits too - woop woop!

You’ll see many medical and pharmaceutical professionals say that we don’t have conclusive evidence that lysine helps with cold sores at all. This is technically true. What we do have are studies that may be unreliable but pointed towards a few different things about lysine with regard to cold sores:

Lysine doesn’t shorten the length of cold sores, nor does it prevent them per se, but it seemed to create a longer time period between outbreaks (study from the 1970s).[1]

In a study in 1983 of multiple types of herpes and sores (including canker sores and gential herpes too), 83% of those studied claimed that healing time was less than 5 days compared to 90% claiming healing time of 5 days or more prior to taking lysine daily (936mg). [2]

Both of these studies are fairly old and in the respect of how they are carried out cannot be deemed as accurate and holy grail, but there were no adverse effects to taking lysine. A large amount of lysine is recommended but our diet is rich in lysine anyway, so our digestive system rarely sees trouble from this. However, some people do experience digestive discomfort due to taking too much lysine so if digestion is an issue for you, take this into consideration - is a dodgy tummy worth maybe more time between cold sores? That’s up to you.

The basis behind lysine perhaps being effective is because HSV requires another amino acid called arginine. Lysine can in a sense “disrupt” arginine, which may be the reason why some see a larger length of time between cold sores. Get ready to hear the foods rich in arginine because you may be a bit bummed out: turkey, peanuts, chicken, seeds, nuts, chickpeas and lentils. Should you cut these out because you get cold sores? Probably not, as they contain other vital nutrients such as protein and essential fatty acids, but just something to be aware of.

The “too long, didn’t read” version is that lysine just might help but we can’t guarantee that it will!

lysine zinc cold sores

Solgar L-Lysine 1000mg (50 tablets, €13.00)

Zinc and cold sores

So, topical zinc solutions have been shown to cut the duration of cold sores in some studies. However, zinc supplementation actually doesn’t directly do anything with regard to HSV. It’s more that zinc helps to support your immune system in general so that the virus is kept calm and in its box.

That’s certainly not a bad thing, in any way.

Solgar Zinc Picolinate 22mg (100 tablets, €12.00)

What not do to when it comes to cold sores

Cold sores are at their most infectious when the blisters have risen, but are infectious from the tingle through to when it is completely healed. If you pop them, you are allowing them to spread further which means your tiny mouth cold sore can stretch out into a chin cold sore. This is why you should leave your cold sore and the surrounding area makeup-free too.

Try not to touch them at all, because this will cause spreading, and be careful not to touch your cold sore and then put your fingers near your eyes as this can lead to blistering around your eyes. Not scaremongering, just making sure you’re aware!

When you have a cold sore, stick to the tried and tested medical route with topical aciclovir cream or internal medication, as recommended by your GP. Then, once a scab is formed, heap on Environ Focus Care Colostrum Gel as it is great for speeding up healing time.

Physical trauma is thought to bring on cold sores so microneedling or having injections around the lip area may bring on a cold sore!

If your cold sores are irritating you and happening once a month to three times a month, we would recommend speaking to your GP about your options - it is a virus after all!

[1] Griffith RS, Norins AL, Kagan C. A multicentered study of lysine therapy in Herpes simplex infection. Dermatologica 1978;156:257-267.

[2] Walsh DE, Griffith RS, Behforooz A. Subjective response to lysine in the therapy of herpes simplex. J. Antimicrob Chemother 1983; 12(5): 489-96.