Ask The Doctor: Herpes

Question: What advice can you give me about herpes infection? According to conventional websites, “there is no treatment that can cure herpes, but antiviral medications can shorten and prevent outbreaks during the period of time the person takes the medication.” Since it can be sexually transmitted, abstinence or “safe sex” practices are recommended. I don’t like the idea of taking antiviral medications on a permanent basis and the abstinence part doesn’t appeal to me either. Is there a natural therapy that can get rid of herpes for good?

Answer: “Herpes” is among the ten medical conditions most frequently searched for on the Internet. You would think that with so much interest in the condition, the medical “experts” would have more to offer than antiviral medicatons with their side effects of nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headaches, dizziness, rash and decreased kidney function.

The virus herpes simplex that is so common today manifests in two forms, herpes simplex type 1, which is associated with mouth sores, and herpes simplex type 2, which is associated with sores or lesions in the genital area. This distinction is not absolute as it seems that in some cases herpes simplex type 1 can also be associated with sores in the genital area. There are many other types of herpes viruses that cause disease in humans, including the variety that causes chicken pox and its associated condition shingles.

Herpes viruses tend to be contagious, especially the varieties that cause chicken pox and genital lesions. They are encapsulated viruses, meaning they have a lipid or fatty capsule around their DNA, and they tend to have a chronic form that affects the nervous system. In chicken pox, this means that after the original illness of chicken pox is resolved, the herpes virus is still present and dormant in the nerve roots. At some point, possibly due to stress or other factors, the virus becomes active and “erupts” as the painful lesions of shingles in the distribution of the affected nerve. Similarly with genital or oral herpes, after the initial, painful infection has cleared, the virus remains in the roots of the nerves to erupt again on the skin under certain conditions.

The symptoms of genital herpes are painful sores in the genital region, which at times can become crusty and infected. Some people experience only one episode; in others episodes manifest several times over a lifespan; some, however, experience painful eruptions every few weeks. It is for these people that this article is mainly directed, those for whom longterm use of conventional anti-viral treatments can result in very unpleasant side effects.

The only other point I would like to mention before discussing some possible treatments is the fact that genital and oral herpes are both transmissible illnesses. In fact, they both can be transferred even if the virus is completely dormant in the person carrying the virus. This is truly an inconvenient truth, in that it means that sexual contact can pass the virus on even if the infected partner has no outward signs of illness. Transmission is less common when the condition is dormant than if there are clear sores present, but we have well documented cases showing that it can occur. This is why herpes can be so troubling for people, as it has a disruptive effect on their sexuality, even in the absence of outward illness.

Regarding the natural treatment of herpes infection, we can take advantage of the characteristics of the virus to impact its tendency to erupt. Since the virus is essentially a piece of DNA surrounded by a fatty layer, if we target this aspect we can largely “disable” the virus. Luckily, we have two substances which are known to target this tendency of the virus.

First, the herb  Hypericum perforatum, commonly known as St. John’s wort, contains a chemical called hypericin. It is hypericin that gives the red color to the oil glands in the leaves, and it is hypericin that selectively targets the lipid capsule of viruses.

For centuries, physicians have valued St. John’s wort as a nervine, meaning a medicine that targets the nervous system. Thus practitioners have traditionally used St. John’s wort to treat depression and tooth ache. Remember that the nervous system consists largely of cells with fatty coatings, similar to the encapsulated viruses. The plant in its wisdom contains the active chemical hypericin in an oily base, and because oil only dissolves in oil, it penetrates the oily tissues of the body, that is, the nerve cells, where hypericin then dissolves the lipid coating of the virus. I generally prefer Mediherb herbal products because of their potency. The dose is two tablets twice per day, even for the very long term.

The second characteristic takes advantage of the virus-disabling effect of lauric acid, the 12-carbon fatty acid found in breast milk fat and in coconut oil. Thanks to the work of Mary Enig, readers of this journal are familiar with the anti-microbial benefits of lauric acid and other short- and medium-chain fatty acids found in coconut oil. During digestion, the body breaks triglycerides (three fatty acids joined to a glycerol molecule) into di-glycerides (two fatty acids joined to a glycerol molecule), monoglycerides (one fatty acid joined to a glycerol molecule) and free fatty acids. It is the monoglycerol of lauric acid, called monolaurin, that has the strongest anti-microbial effects.

For years, I counseled my herpes patients to eat as much coconut oil, as they could stomach. However, in the past year, I discovered a product called Lauricidin, which is a concentrate or pure form of monolaurin. One dose of Lauricidin is the equivalent of taking many tablespoons of coconut oil per day, a practice most people find intolerable. I have been consistently impressed with the ability of Lauricidin to suppress herpes outbreaks, not to mention yeast problems like candida (monolaurin is also a potent anti-fungal agent), and allow people to get off their antiviral drugs. It is a safe extract, which can be taken long term. The usual dose to suppress the herpes is about 1/2 to 1 scoop, one to three times per day. It should be swallowed, not chewed, and always taken with some food. The dose should be increased slowly as tolerated and as gauged by its effectiveness.

In addition, we must pay attention to the overall microbial content of our bodies, as we know that good bacteria actually synthesize antiviral substances. For most, this will mean following a nourishing traditional diet containing a variety of lacto-fermented foods; for others a temporary GAPS (Gut and Psychology Syndrome) diet may be needed. The fermented cod liver oil is important at the dose of at least one-half teasoon per day.

With this regimen most of my patients have been able to avoid both the conventional antiviral drugs and the painful symptoms of genital herpes.

This article appeared in  Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly journal of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Summer 2009.