Herpes is one of the most common diseases in the world. While many people think of it as a sexually transmitted disease – and it is – herpes is also responsible for those annoying cold sores on your mouth.
But what is herpes, exactly, and why is it dangerous?
Understanding the Dangers of Herpes
Herpes is a viral infection caused by the herpes simplex virus. There are two basic forms of the virus: herpes simplex one (HSV1) and herpes simplex two (HSV2.) Until relatively recently, many people believed that all oral herpes (mouth sores) was caused by HSV1 and all genital herpes was caused by HSV2. Recent studies, though, have shown that is not the case. Either form of herpes may be transmitted through oral or genital contact.
Another common myth about herpes is that people who have it are only contagious when they are symptomatic. The primary symptom of herpes is the appearance of painful lesions in the affected areas. However, many people who have herpes never get a single outbreak, and an infected person may “shed” virus – thus spreading it to others – at any time. It is for that reason that some estimates indicate 60% of all adults in the United States have herpes.
For some people, herpes is more an irritation than a serious problem. If you have it, you have to tell your sexual partners about it and avoid sexual contact during an outbreak. However, for people with compromised immune systems, and for expectant mothers and their babies, herpes can be very dangerous indeed. Babies can catch it from their mother during childbirth, and it can lead to a life-threatening version of encephalitis as well as bacterial meningitis and other problems.
The good news is that, if you have herpes, there are some very simple things you can do to prevent outbreaks.
How to Prevent Herpes Outbreaks
For most people, the only time having herpes really affects their lives is during an outbreak. It can be easy to feel helpless when that happens – but what if there were an easy way to decrease the likelihood of having an outbreak? The good news is, there is!
Many people with herpes notice that when they get outbreaks, it is at a time when their immune system is weakened in some way. For example, oral herpes is much more likely to appear when the infected person has a cold, hence the term “cold sore.” The single best thing you can do to prevent outbreaks is to eat foods that help to boost the strength of your immune system.
Chances are, you have heard of antioxidants. These are important micronutrients that help protect your body against something called oxidative stress. If you’ve ever cut open a piece of fruit, such as an apple, and watched it turned brown when the flesh is exposed to the air, you have seen oxidative stress in action. Simply put, oxidative stress occurs when cells in your body are damaged and lose an electron. The process turns them into free radicals, and they can do additional damage by stealing electrons from other cells. Antioxidants protect against that process by donating electrons to the free radicals.
So what kinds of foods should you be eating? Some of the most powerful antioxidant vitamins are vitamins A, C and E. While all of these vitamins are available as nutritional supplements, you are far better off getting them from the foods you eat. Foods rich in Vitamin A tend to be orange, so things like sweet potatoes, carrots, mangos and peaches are good choices. Most people think of citrus fruits when they think of Vitamin C, but you can also get a healthy does from dark leafy greens like spinach, and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli. Vitamin E is found in almonds and other nuts, raw seeds, and kale. Try to make these foods part of your daily diet. You should also try to eat some foods containing flavonoids. Examples include green tea, blueberries, and dark chocolate.
The other thing to keep in mind in terms of prevention is avoiding inflammation. The modern American diet is full of processed foods that can cause inflammation in the body. Try to avoid things like added sugar, trans fats and foods containing monosodium glutamate (MSG.) In terms of sugar, it is important to keep in mind that many different ingredients in processed foods are actually sugar in disguise. Some of the ingredients to watch out for are: dextrose, sucrose, maltose, fructose and corn syrup. In general, if you stick to eating whole, unprocessed foods your immune system will be stronger and better able to fight herpes.
One Simple Remedy for Herpes
Many people who have herpes rely on antiviral medications such as acyclovir when they have an outbreak. While you certainly can take prescription medication, it is important to keep in mind that there are risks associated with taking them. If you prefer a natural remedy, here is a very simple one using something you probably already have in your kitchen: garlic.
Garlic is a natural antibiotic. It contains sulfur, calcium, phosphorus, and iron, as well as an important essential oil called allicin. To make this remedy, simply chop one clove of garlic and apply it topically to the sore. Let it sit for ten minutes, and then rinse it with warm water. Repeat this remedy five times, and within one day the herpes sore will disappear. Some people get a bit of advance warning when an outbreak is about to appear because they feel itching or tingling on the spot where the sore will appear. If you get that feeling, try doing this treatment before the sore appears – you may be able to prevent it entirely.
Having herpes can be embarrassing and bothersome. However, it doesn’t have to be something that negatively impacts your life. Use the simple advice here to keep your body strong and able to fight the herpes virus, and remember to keep some garlic on hand.