What’s the best-known diet change to reduce symptoms of HSV viruses? Whether you’re dealing with cold sores, shingles, or genital herpes outbreaks, that change is simply getting more L-Lysine in your diet than Arginine. Read on for a quick, simple chart-based guide to lysine-arginine ratios in the foods we eat every day.
✔️ Medically reviewed by Kim Langdon, MD on May 9, 2019
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About Lysine and Arginine
Lysine and arginine are amino acids, plentiful in high-protein foods like meats and dairy. Your body can’t make its own lysine, and must get it from food sources or supplements. And while your body can make arginine from other amino acids, not everyone’s is good at doing so.
However, the two amino acids compete with one another for absorption. So if you need to get more lysine, you should eat lower arginine foods as well.
The idea isn’t to simply eliminate arginine from the diet, nor is it to eat only high-Lysine foods.
In fact, if you want to try Lysine to manage a condition like a herpes virus, it’s generally fine to have higher arginine foods if you balance them out with foods with more lysine.
The trick is to keep the overall lysine count higher.
Be sure to speak to your doctor to see if making any such change is suitable to your situation.
Here’s a list of foods that have significantly more lysine than arginine:
High-Lysine Foods with Less Arginine
Check out these high-lysine foods, with helpful examples for each kind.
Yogurt, cheese, and milk have up to three times as much lysine as arginine. Parmesan, ricotta, cottage cheese, and plain yogurt are all rich in this amino acid.
Most fishes are abundant in lysine. Salmon, catfish, white fish, mackerel, trout, and sardines are just a few choices.
Chicken and turkey are good sources of lysine, with usually around 30% to 40% more lysine than arginine. (Beef and pork are almost as abundant as poultry.)
Fruits have less lysine than dairy and meat, but some outweigh their arginine with much higher lysine. The best are papaya, mango, apricot, apple, pear, fig, and avocado.
Beets, turnips, tomato, soybean sprouts, potato, celery, baking potato, squash, and green beans have more lysine than arginine. (Greens like spinach and kale have just about equal amounts of both.)
Lysine-Arginine Ratios in Foods Chart
Want more details about lysine-arginine ratios in foods? That’s easy when you use the following chart.
The data is based on information from the Agricultural Handbook from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
You can compare the milligrams of lysine to the milligrams of arginine in the same amount of a food. The number on the right (in the orange column) is the ratio, from 0 to 3. Three is the highest lysine count; one is equal lysine and arginine; and zero is higher arginine than lysine.
In other words, the lysine is higher at the top of the list and lower at the bottom.
Why Lysine for Herpes?
Lysine is so often recommended for herpes viruses that it’s practically a common sense remedy today. But it’s not news. In fact, studies on lysine and arginine ratios and their effect on herpes outbreaks began decades ago.
A study published as early as 1968 showed that arginine is necessary for the herpes simplex-1 virus to replicate. (1) So how would someone combat that arginine? The rules of nutrition would suggest it’s by getting more lysine.
Lysine competes with arginine for absorption, so getting additional lysine has the potential to inhibit herpes virus replication and reduce HSV-1 symptoms.
Since the 1968 study focused on HSV-1 for oral herpes, multiple other studies have followed.
Studies are inconclusive as to whether Lysine has any effect on the frequency or number of herpes outbreaks a person has.
However, the 1968 study into arginine enabling the virus to replicate has been compelling to new researchers studying Lysine for HSV-1 (usually associated with cold sores). But many believe lysine isn’t only for oral herpes.
Oral herpes is caused by HSV-1, but HSV-1 outbreaks can also be located on the genitals and cause genital herpes. However, HSV-2 is the strain more commonly associated with genital herpes.
So even though the arginine research deals with oral herpes, many people reason that the same logic likely applies to both HSV-1 and HSV-2 genital herpes. In fact, lysine is sometimes suggested as a home remedy to reduce the symptoms of shingles, another common herpes simplex virus.
Does it Work?
Whether Lysine reduces the number of herpes outbreaks, reduces the severity of the outbreaks, or both, is sometimes disputed.
- One interesting year-long study found that volunteers who received 1000 mg of lysine per day had fewer cold sores than the control group. And when they were taken off lysine, the volunteers’ cold sores increased in number. However, their sample size was limited to 24 individuals. (2)
- Users on WebMD rate Lysine as effective for the treatment of their cold sores.
- Lysine is sometimes even suggested for topical use. One study published in Alternative Medicine Review showed that using Lysine as a topical ointment shortened herpes outbreaks. The ointment was a combination of L-lysine and zinc with several other ingredients known for their usefulness for HSV. However, the study was preliminary in its scope and also paid for by the product’s creators. (3)
Other Lysine Benefits
- L-lysine may help your body absorb more calcium and increase bone strength. (4)
- It also aids in collagen production, which helps bones and connective tissue. That’s because it helps form the fibrils of collagen. (5)
- Athletes use it to recover from workouts.
- It helps reduce anxiety by boosting serotonin. (6)
- A specific type of lysine, called poly-L-Lysine, has been shown to reduce inflammation in the gut. (7)
- Taking L-lysine may also diminish other herpes viruses like shingles.
Topical Lysine Creams
Topical treatments for herpes can include lysine, too. A small study in Alternative Medicine Review showed that a lysine and zinc oxide cream was effective at clearing up cold sores within six days for most participants. The authors noted that oral herpes outbreaks can take 21 days to clear up.
Because the study was small, the results were not definitive, but certainly interesting. It’s worth noting that the study was funded by Quantum, Inc., who make the SuperLysine Plus+ supplement.
The ingredients were chosen for their use in the treatment of facial herpes and cold sores. The study lists the ingredients of the ointment as follows:
L-lysine, zinc oxide, lithium carbonate 3X, propolis extract, calendula flower extract, echinacea flower extract, goldenseal extract, vitamins A, D, and E in a natural olive oil base, yellow beeswax, cajuput oil, tea tree oil, gum benzoin tincture, honey. (8)
There are plenty of lysine supplements on the market today. Some are pure l-lysine supplements, while others are formulations marketed specifically for herpes viruses.
Solgar 1000 mg Lysine Supplements:
Pure Encapsulations 250 mg Hypoallergenic Lysine Supplements:
Reviewers of the supplements cite taking them for cold sores, canker sores, Epstein Bar Virus, shingles, and acne.
For more information about supplements and whether they are effective, check out the article about oral supplements for HSV.
The usual amount of Lysine recommended is just 1,000 mg (or one gram) per day. But for treating cold sores, up to one gram three times per day can be used for up to six months, according to WebMD.
The FDA suggests a daily dose of 100 mg per kg of body weight when using lysine therapeutically.
Of course, check with your doctor for proper dosage for your situation, and to check for any contraindications before embarking upon this treatment.
Lysine Side Effects, Safety, and Warnings
Check with your doctor before adding lysine or any supplement to your routine to check for contraindications. Especially note these warnings:
- Lysine can block GI drugs like prucalopride and tegaserod from working.
- If you have had gallstones or high cholesterol be careful, since too much lysine can increase cholesterol levels and cause gallstones.
- If you have a history of kidney or liver disease, talk to your physician. Kidneys are necessary to excrete excess lysine, so if they are not doing so, an excess of lysine can occur and cause health problems.
- If you have gastrointestinal issues such as stomach cramps and diarrhea, reconsider dosing high lysine for herpes outbreaks.
- If you have hyperlysinemia or hyperlysinuria, which are syndromes caused by too much lysine in the blood and urine, respectively, then you should not supplement lysine.
Lysine-Arginine Ratios for Treating Herpes: Summary
Getting more lysine by way of either diet or supplements is so often cited for treatment of herpes that it’s practically considered common sense. Here’s a quick overview of this article’s main takeaways:
- Lysine is an amino acid that the body can’t produce and must get from food.
- There are eight other essential amino acids.
- Lysine is plentiful in protein foods. Therefore, vegetarians may struggle with lower lysine levels.
- All amino acids have a left-sided form and a right-sided form. Hence, the difference between D-Lysine and L-lysine.
- L-Lysine is the form used to treat herpes simplex viruses.
- Avoiding too much arginine and eating more foods with lysine may reduce symptoms of herpes.
- Good food sources of lysine include cheese, fish, poultry, and other high-protein foods. See our charts above to check which ones are also lower in arginine.
- A good L-lysine supplement may also be an easy and effective way to balance lysine-arginine ratios in the diet.