Herpes and the Vegan Diet
I was diagnosed with herpes a few months ago and every herpes web site I go to says to eat foods high in lysine and low in arginine, both amino acids. I take lysine supplements but you would not believe what foods are high in lysine which discourages outbreaks (meats, cheese, milk, fish) and high in arginine which encourages outbreaks (nuts, sesame seeds, oatmeal, whole wheat, coconut, bran, grits, fruits, and many vegetables). It seems that most everything a vegan survives on is taboo when you are trying to avoid an outbreak or minimize the healing time. I don’t want to compromise my beliefs but I am slowly dwindling away.
I don’t know that I told this person anything he/she didn’t know, but I thought maybe some readers would have some experience with herpes and a vegan diet. Here was my answer:
I do not have any experience working with people who have herpes, and there wasn’t much nutrition information from websites that I consider particularly reliable.
You can look up the lysine and arginine content of any foods at the USDA website. You can also download an Excel sheet of the entire USDA database, from Dr. Bill Harris’ website, which makes things a lot faster. With it, you can sort the information to see what foods are highest and lowest in lysine and arginine .
When I sorted foods by the lysine:arginine ratio I found that mangoes, pears, peaches, figs, cherries, corn, apricots, turnips, tomatoes, pineapples, papaya, and dried apples all had ratios of 2.00 or higher. Unfortunately, there is not a lot of protein in these foods.
Here is a website that compiled some of the USDA data into a chart showing the lysine to arginine ratio.
It might not be a bad idea to supplement with L-lysine at about 1,000 to 3,000 mg per day, but I would suggest talking to a physician before doing so. Below, I list four studies that showed mixed results in lysine supplementation. Two studies showed a benefit, one study showed a benefit among some people, and one study did not show a benefit. I could not find any clinical trials using a diet low in arginine.
Here is a discussion of a vegan diet and herpes simplex on the website Vegans Represent which might be of some interest, though I cannot vouch for any of the information there:
I hope to eventually find time to try to put together a vegan meal plan low in arginine and high in lysine. I would make that available on VeganHealth.org.
Abstracts of Studies using L-lysine to Prevent or Treat Herpes.
1. Milman N, Scheibel J, Jessen O. Lysine prophylaxis in recurrent herpes simplex labialis: a double-blind, controlled crossover study. Acta Derm Venereol. 1980;60(1):85-7.
Some patients had less recurrence on 1,000 mg per day of L-lysine.
2. McCune MA, Perry HO, Muller SA, O’Fallon WM. Treatment of recurrent herpes simplex infections with L-lysine monohydrochloride. Cutis. 1984 Oct;34(4):366-73.
1,2489 mg of L-lysine per day decreased recurrence rates. 624 mg per day was not effective.
3. DiGiovanna JJ, Blank H. Failure of lysine in frequently recurrent herpes simplex infection. Treatment and prophylaxis. Arch Dermatol. 1984 Jan;120(1):48-51.
400 mg of lysine, three times a day (1200 mg/day total) didn’t reduce frequency of recurrent infections. Abstract didn’t say for how long.
4. Griffith RS, Walsh DE, Myrmel KH, Thompson RW, Behforooz A. Success of L-lysine therapy in frequently recurrent herpes simplex infection. Treatment and prophylaxis. Dermatologica. 1987;175(4):183-90.
1,000 mg of L-lyisine three times a day (3,000 mg per day) for six months resulted in less infections and symptoms.