Fighting herpes is easier when you’re proactive about your whole health. And if you know what to do when an outbreak strikes, you can beat it faster. Looking for the best herpes supplements? This quick but complete guide will cover the scientific studies behind herpes supplements and herbs.
✔️ Medically reviewed by Meagan Fleming, RN on May 17, 2019
Herpes Supplements Guide
This is a complete list of natural herpes supplements. Some are so well-known people consider them common sense. Others? They have promising studies behind them, but need more research.
Note: This is about herpes supplements for cold sores or genital herpes related to HSV-1, HSV-2, and other herpes viruses. As always, check with your doctor to see what’s right for you.
1. Coconut Oil
Coconut oil has been in the spotlight for a few years now. But not just a trend, this superfood really does have proven health benefits.
Virgin coconut oil has become popular in recent years for its virus-fighting, free-radical-stopping, and bacteria-busting properties. This is mostly due to its high lauric acid content. (1) Lauric acid is also found in mother’s milk (2), and boosts immunity. (3)
To treat HSV with coconut oil, people apply it topically as well as eat it, or take it as a supplement. As long as it’s labeled as unrefined or virgin coconut oil, it has many uses for healing. (4) It may help reduce or heal outbreaks.
Since virgin coconut oil is food, it is generally safe to use. If you’re careful about the lysine and arginine you consume, don’t worry. It doesn’t have a high arginine-to-lysine ratio like coconut meat. (5) It’s a fat, so it has no amino acids at all. (6)
Coconut oil should be taken in a small amount each day, working up to a maximum dosage for your weight. This is usually between one and three tablespoons. It doesn’t take much: even a little bit can be beneficial.
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2. Lemon Balm
Lemon balm is a healing herb in the mint family. Botanists also call it Melissa officinalis, or just Melissa. It’s available as a tea, supplement, and oil.
It’s a popular remedy that has antiviral properties, and may show promise both as a herpes supplement and topical treatment. (7)
- A 2004 study tested the antiviral properties of lemon balm against herpes viruses. The authors suggested that lemon balm oil might be useful for topical treatment of herpes. (8)
Some people use a cotton swab with lemon balm oil or lemon balm extract dabbed onto the affected area. Some people report boiling the lemon balm tea leaves and making a compress of it to apply to outbreaks. Lemon balm creams are also available.
As a herpes supplement, people also take capsules or drink lemon balm tea. Some say this helps to cut back on outbreak frequency. (9) Lemon balm is available as a tincture, oil, cream, a tea, or pill.
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Lysine is probably the most well-known supplement for managing herpes. Simply put, managing lysine levels in the diet is said to lead to fewer outbreaks (10). (Charts for lysine-arginine ratios in food)
Lysine is an amino acid you get from foods. You can also get it in supplement form.
- A study published as early as 1968 showed that arginine is necessary for the herpes simplex-1 virus to replicate. (11) Lysine competes with arginine for absorption in the body, which created the idea that taking Lysine might help.
- Studies examining the effectiveness of Lysine for controlling herpes are largely inconclusive, and very few are recent.
- One study showed that subjects with HSV-1 who take lysine are likely to have fewer outbreaks, however they did not see a change in those subjects when switching them to placebo. (12) The study used a small sample size.
- Animal studies have shown that lysine reduced anxiety in rats by increasing serotonin. (13) Since stress is a major outbreak trigger, any anxiety reduction could be helpful.
- Household studies showed that it reduced anxiety in human test subjects. (14)
- WebMD users rate Lysine as effective for cold sores.
People with several herpes viruses, including HSV-1, genital herpes, and even shingles, watch their lysine-arginine intake in case it helps. To idea is to keep a good balance all the time, not just when an outbreak happens.
Supplements are an easy way to increase your lysine intake, but you don’t need a lot as long as your lysine levels are higher than arginine. A dose of 1000 mg a day for up to 12 months is about right, according to WebMD. (15)
Lysine supplements that have minerals, such as bioflavonoids and zinc, as well as additional vitamins are also available.
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If you know that coconut oil is good for you, then you’ll easily understand the benefits of monolaurin.
Monolaurin is a concentrate of lauric acid, which is the compound that makes coconut oil so healthy. Lauric acid is even found in breast milk, and support babies’ immune systems. Otherwise, it is not common in nature. (3)
Monolaurin has remarkable antiviral properties. (17)
- In vitro, it can destroy the lipid coating of viruses. (18) For this reason, Monolaurin and coconut oil are both popular herpes supplements.
The lauric acid in monolaurin and coconut oil is also reported to boost immunity in general. (19) In fact, it may be a good supplement for pregnant or breastfeeding mothers. As always, consult your doctor first.
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Neem’s virus-fighting powers have earned it the nickname, “Nature’s Drugstore.” This herb has been used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine.
Fans of this plant take advantage of its health properties through use of the tree’s various products: neem oil, neem tea, or neem cream. Typically, neem oil is used topically to relieve skin conditions, including oral herpes from HSV-1. (20)
- Studies have not shown the effectiveness of neem oil clinically.
- An 2010 study suggested that neem bark extract could have potential, as it inhibited HSV-1 from entering target cells. (21)
- So far only anecdotes suggest that neem has worked for some people to reduce the severity of outbreaks, but not get rid of them completely. Some also say it relieves burning sensations when applied topically.
Neem leaf can be used in neem tea to potentially boost the immune system (22). The tea has a bitter taste people tolerate for its medicinal qualities. Neem can also be taken in a capsule form, or applied topically as a paste or an oil.
Precautions: Neem is not suitable for women who are pregnant, nursing, or trying to conceive. (23) Some people may have allergic reactions to neem, although rare, and it may cause itching in some people.
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6. Olive Leaf
You may have heard of the Mediterranean diet. It’s known to improve health outcomes associated with aging. A large part of that diet is olives and olive oil.
Olive leaf extract is said to offer some of those Mediterranean health benefits as well. It’s a popular and traditional remedy for many ailments, said to boost immunity, fights viruses, and possibly have anticancer properties.
The main antioxidant in olive leaf extract is oleuropein. This compound may protect the brain, as well as protect against cancers. (24) It has also been studied for its ability to inhibit viruses.
- As for olive leaf extract for herpes, a 2007 study showed that the extract fights HSV-1 in test tubes. (25)
- Animal studies have suggested olive leaf’s antiviral effects and anti-HIV activity. (26)
- There is no clinical data for olive leaf extract’s use as an antimicrobial, meaning it hasn’t been observed for patient care.
Typical dosage is 500mg tablets of olive leaf extract, one tablet every six hours, up to four per day. (27) Taking it between meals can lead to better absorption, though some sources say to take them with a meal. Ask your doctor what’s right for you.
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7. Resveratrol (Grapefruit Seed Extract)
Have you ever heard that red wine is good for you? Resveratrol is the good stuff you’re hearing about. It’s found in the skin of red grape seeds, berries, and even cocoa. It affects immune function, blood sugar levels, and improves cardiovascular health.
You commonly hear that it can extend lifespan and improve aging. But while it has improved lifespan in test subjects like insects, its effects for human lifespan appear to be unfounded, so far. Some fascinating animal and test tube benefits of resveratrol have been documented. But other alleged benefits, like anticancer, diabetes, or skin benefits, are also not proven in humans and need further study. (28)
So what about using resveratrol for herpes?
- Research in 2005 studied resveratrol in a cream applied to mice infected with HSV-1 and HSV-2. The authors found that a 19% resveratrol cream limited the reproduction of the virus vaginally in mice and reduced lesions. (29)
- A 2006 study detailed how resveratrol could suppress HSV’s viral replication in vitro. The authors also noted effects of the compound on acyclovir-resistant strains of HSV-1. (30)
It is not documented in medical literature that taking a resveratrol supplement will have an antiviral effect on HSV. Nonetheless, it’s popular among herpes supplements.
Precautions: A page on Oregon State’s website says pregnant women and women with a history of estrogenic cancers like breast cancer should avoid resveratrol supplements.
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8. Red Marine Algae
Red marine algae is an abundant sea algae, with more than 4,000 species in the sea. It has been used for years in traditional Chinese medicine.
Specific types of red marine algae show strong immunity-boosting and antiviral properties. It is especially known for being effective for virus sufferers.
The first study showing the antiviral potential of marine algae was done in 1958. Polysaccharides derived from marine algae were shown to reduce the reproduction of enveloped viruses. (31) The results were promising, and the potential continues to be researched today.
Today, the studies include herpes viruses:
- A 2004 study published in Phytotherapy Research studied the antiviral properties of 70 species of marine life. The researchers found compounds from red marine algae to be one of the most effective. Using extracts from a type of red marine algae, the compounds inhibited HSV-1 and HSV-2 reproduction in in vero cell cultures. (32)
- Research from 2011 focused on the possibilities of these marine compounds for pharmaceutical and nutraceutical uses. The cell walls of red algae are a rich source of carrageenans, the study says, which have antiviral potential. (33)
- A 2012 study showed that specific red algae glycolipids were potent against HSV-1 and HSV-2. The researchers studied the effects on cell cultures. The authors noted that acyclovir achieved more, but the red algae was efficient for inhibiting stages of viral infection without creating drug-resistant strains. (34)
- In addition to antiviral properties, carrageenans from red marine algae are also studied for antioxidant, anticoagulant, anti-tumor, and immune effects. (35)
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9. Turmeric Extract (Curcumin)
Turmeric is a common ingredient in curries with a long history of use in Ayurvedic medicine.
The active compound is curcumin, an anti-inflammatory substance. (36) For HSV, turmeric extract / curcumin makes your body cells less susceptible to viral infections.
- A 1999 study published in the journal Antiviral Res studied curcumin’s effect on HSV-2 in vitro as well as in vivo in mice. The compound made viral particles of HSV-2 less infectious before infection of cells and mice genitals. (37)
- In 2008, a study published in Virology reported that curcumin reduced infectiousness of HSV-1 in cellular cultures. The result suggested that curcumin has an effect on HSV’s immediate-early gene expression. However, it did not affect entry of the viral DNA into host cells. The researchers noted that curcumin slowed down replication of the HSV-1 virus. (38)
People use turmeric supplements, powdered turmeric, and turmeric extract. When selecting a supplement, note that nanoparticulate curcumin is more bio-available. To increase its availability, cook or dissolve it in oil. (39, 40)
Precautions: Turmeric and other natural remedies are not without side effects and need care. Always consult your doctor before altering your diet or course of treatment. Turmeric should be avoided by the following individuals unless a doctor recommends its use: Those who are pregnant; Breastfeeding women; Those with gallbladder problems, Those with excess stomach acid; Those who will be undergoing any surgery; Those on anti-platelet or anti-coagulants. (41)
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10. Vitamin A
Vitamin A is good for your immune health. Taken alongside Vitamin C and zinc, it can be effective for reducing outbreaks.
A University of Washington Study in 2000 suggested that a vitamin A deficiency can put women at an increased risk of contracting genital herpes. The results suggest that vitamin A improves immune health. (42)
Sources of Vitamin A:
Excellent sources of vitamin A include foods such as beef liver, spinach, sweet potatoes, carrots and pumpkin. Cooked carrots are perhaps the best way to get this vitamin. (43)
Adult needs of vitamin A is 900 mcg for men and 700 mcg for women (44). If one prefers to use vitamin A supplements rather than through the diet, the recommended daily intake for men is 6000 IU, and for women it’s 4000 IU.
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11. Vitamin B12
If you have herpes, what does stress do? It leads to outbreaks! Luckily, B vitamins are known for helping with stress and anxiety. (45)
In fact, B12 and all B group vitamins are essential for wellness.
You can get your B group vitamins by taking a “Balanced B Complex” like this one. Foods high in Vitamin B12 are shellfish, skim milk, Swiss cheese, and fortified cereals and soy products. (46)
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12. Vitamin C
You already know that Vitamin C is famous for treating colds. But did you know it could help fight off herpes outbreaks, too?
According to Alan Gaby, a holistic medicine specialist, high Vitamin C can switch off the virus. (47)
- In the paper, Dr Gaby recommends the intake of 10,000 mg of supplements daily for five days to manage an active herpes outbreak.
- He claims 500-3,000 mg can be taken daily to prevent future herpes outbreaks.
- However, there have been no studies to evaluate the preventative effect of Vitamin C on HSV.
Note: Taking vitamin A, vitamin C and zinc in combination may enhance immune response. (48)
Sources of Vitamin C:
Citrus fruits and juices are probably the first thing you think of. That’s true, but keep in mind the higher arginine content of orange juice. (49) It’s important to get more lysine in your overall diet, so balance it out. Other sources are bell peppers, tomatoes, strawberries, leafy greens, broccoli, white and sweet potatoes, papaya, cantaloupe, watermelon, mango, winter squash, cauliflower, cabbage, blueberries, raspberries, cranberries, and pineapples. (50)
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13. Vitamin D
When you soak up some rays, your body makes Vitamin D. That’s good, because it’s an essential immunity booster. But with a herpes diagnosis, sunlight can sometimes be an outbreak trigger.
It’s not just people with HSV. Not getting enough vitamin D is a common problem. In fact, more than half of the population is deficient in Vitamin D.
- A Japanese study showed that Vitamin D was effective at preventing the flu in schoolchildren. Vitamin D stimulates your immune system and rallies T cells to fight off infections. (51, 52)
To make sure you’re getting enough Vitamin D, get 10-15 minutes of sun exposure to day. If you’re sensitive to sunlight, or it’s still not enough, talk to your doctor about taking a Vitamin D supplement. You can also eat foods rich in Vitamin D, like mushrooms.
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Zinc is an essential trace mineral. It strengthens the immune system and has medicinal uses for wound healing (53). It can heal sores, and is often recommended as a herpes supplement.
Low zinc levels can make a person more vulnerable to infection. However, zinc deficiencies are uncommon. People who may be deficient include elderly patients, people with highly restricted food intake, or those with Crohn’s disease or other absorption issues. (54)
- Zinc is shown to fight both HSV-1 and HSV-2 in in-vitro studies. (55) Small studies of human subjects have also shown promise for the topical use of zinc ointments and creams.
- In the first study, cold sores treated with zinc oxide cream healed faster than those treated with a placebo. (56)
- In a different study, subjects who used a formula of zinc oxide, l-lysine, and several other ingredients experienced fewer symptoms and shorter outbreaks. (47)
- A journal called “Alternative Medicine Review” published a 2005 finding that lysine and zinc together relieved oral herpes within six days. (57)
Zinc is highly available in seafood like oysters, crab, and lobster. Beef and lamb are next. Seeds like sunflower, chia, and flax are also good sources.
You can get zinc in a multivitamin or take a zinc supplement. Since using it with lysine can make it more effective, some herpes supplements like l-lysine include zinc.
Precautions: Zinc should be taken in safe doses. Adults need 8 to 11 mg of zinc per day. Zinc may react with some antibiotics, and with cisplatin, a chemotherapy drug. Zinc can cause stomach upset and is not for an empty stomach, unless you buy a specialty formula. (58) Make sure you get enough copper when taking zinc. (59)
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There are plenty of herpes supplements and remedies out there, and small studies that can give you an idea of what they’re all about. Nonetheless, they are not a substitute for medical treatment, so talk to your doctor.