What causes cold sores? An excellent question with a not-so-simple answer.
You see - what causes cold sores for one person may not be what causes cold sores for another. But, hopefully, by the time you're done reading this article you should know exactly what causes cold sores for you.
First, there is one thing ALL cold sore victims do have in common. The one basic answer as to what causes cold sores in everyone is the infection of a herpes virus.
There are 8 known human herpes viruses, only two of which causes cold sores. Herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) or type 2 (HSV-2). Type 1 causes about 80% of cold sores and is considered the main cold sore virus. Type 2 is primarily responsible for genital herpes outbreaks but causes about 20% of the cold sores.
Most of the time, the cold sores virus is latent (asleep) far back in the nerve "ganglia" - the area near the back of the jaw where the facial nerves connect with each other and the secondary nervous system.
When emotional or physical stress causes the virus to wake up and become active, they travel to the surface through the nerves. At the surface they enter the cells, force the cells to create copies of themselves, and then destroy the cells to release the newly created viruses. This replication process "explodes" many thousands of cells in a close area that merge and causes your unsightly monster cold sores.
This is the root of what causes cold sores in everyone.
But not everyone infected with the cold sore virus gets cold sores.
According to the World Health Organization between 85% and 91% of the people on this planet are infected with this highly contagious virus. Of those, 33% will never get a single cold sore in their lifetime. The other 67% will get at least one, and most often 2 or more cold sores per year.
What causes cold sores to occur in some of us and not others - assuming we're all carrying the same virus? What actually activates these sleeping viruses?
Your level of health, how you handle stress, and the foods you eat all come into play here. What causes cold sores for you? Let's take a look.
1. YOUR HEALTH. Simply put, the stronger your health, the stronger your immune system. The stronger your body's defense system the less likely your herpes virus will wake up and produce another cold sore. If you get cold sores frequently, then you really need to upgrade your health level.
Vibrant health is a huge topic about which many books have been written. But you know the basics. Quality nutrient-dense foods such as fresh organic vegetables, low impact exercise, no smoking, limited alcohol consumption, and sleep. Also, today, it's very wise - no matter how good your diet - to take a GOOD vitamin supplement - one that contains a large quantity of B vitamins (considered the anti-stress vitamins) and anti-oxidants to supercharge your immune system.
2. YOUR STRESS. This includes both physical and mental stress. Keep in mind that mental stress always affects us physically too. Stress is blamed as the No. 1 cause of cold sore outbreaks. Because the herpes virus lives in the nervous system cells, it's very sensitive to stress changes. You can't avoid all stress in your life, but keeping a high level of health will help you cope with the physical aspects of stress.
Some of the main stress events that studies show wake up the cold sore virus are illnesses such as colds (thus the term "cold sores") and fevers (thus the term "fever blisters"). Also physical injuries, dental work, pregnancy, allergies, environmental toxins, medications, or an upcoming event like a wedding or funeral causes cold sores. Weddings are particularly bad for cold sores - if the ton of mail I get are any indication.
3. YOUR DIET. Besides a good diet to improve your general health, take a look at these two amino acids (protein fractions) - lysine and arginine.
Studies have shown that lysine is very much anti-herpes. Lysine not only helps keep the virus latent, but also, if already active, will encourage the virus to go back into hibernation. Foods rich in lysine include eggs, most vegetables, legumes, avocado, chicken, fish, turkey, and ricotta cheese. Additionally, many folks take a lysine supplement. These normally come in a 500 mg. tablet or capsule. During a cold sore event, taking 4-6 pills a day seems to help a lot of people.
Studies have been done on taking a long term "maintenance dosage" to keep the herpes virus latent. After a year or so, the lysine effect wears off - and increased dosages are necessary to keep the herpes virus asleep. My personal experience has been the same. I now just save the lysine pills for times of stress or when I actually feel a cold sore coming on.
Arginine, on the other hand, seems to wake up the virus and encourage it to reproduce. This isn't surprising. Arginine is a little known but very powerful sexual enhancer. Foods that are high in arginine are chocolate, nuts (almonds, cashews, peanuts, and walnuts), sunflower and sesame seeds, grains (oat and wheat), peas, most cheeses except ricotta, milk and pork. Don't avoid these foods - just balance them better with the lysine foods. Really - who can avoid chocolate for very long?
There is so much more I'd love to tell you about what causes cold sores, but it's not possible in the space available for this article.
Hopefully I have been able to give you enough information that you will better understand - at least for yourself - what causes cold sores.
By Denny Bodoh
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Biography: Denny Bodoh is a 33 year newspaper veteran and a health and nutrition research writer.
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