Genital herpes is a disease that is passed from one person to another through sexual contact when the herpes simplex virus (HSV) enters the body through breaks in the skin or mucosa. According to the Mayo Clinic, approximately 1 in 5 adults has genital herpes. However, more than 90 percent of them do not know it. Many people who have herpes have no symptoms and pass it onto others through asymptomatic “shedding” of the virus. But those who do experience symptoms suffer from outbreaks in the genital region that range from mildly irritating to extremely painful. Many natural and homeopathic remedies claim to treat herpes, and there are assertions that adjustments in diet and lifestyle also contribute to lessening the frequency of outbreaks. But is non-pharmaceutical treatment effective?
Herpes is traditionally treated, albeit not cured, with antiviral pharmaceuticals that are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). These medications go by the brand names of Zovirax, Famvir and Valtrex. These medications heal sores sooner after the first outbreak, reduce the frequency of subsequent outbreaks (including duration and symptoms) and minimize the chance of passing the virus to sexual partners through asymptomatic shedding. Some people use antivirals on an as-needed basis while others take them daily. Suppressive therapy is recommended for the herpes sufferer who experiences more than 5 outbreaks per year.
Diet and Lifestyle
According to the FDA, researchers do not know what causes herpes outbreaks to recur. There have been assertions that outbreaks are triggered by stress, illness, poor nutrition, menstruation and friction in the genital area caused by sex. The FDA states these claims have no scientific basis, particularly when it comes to the factor of stress. It’s not possible to know which came first–the herpes outbreak or the stress that accompanies it.
Herbal & Holistic Treatments
According to the Mayo Clinic, no herbal or holistic herpes treatments are proven effective in treating herpes. A popular over-the-counter treatment is L-lysine, but while anecdotal evidence suggests favorable results, studies on the use of L-lysine indicate it is not effective in preventing herpes outbreaks or shortening their duration. Similar claims have been made about the botanical red marine algae and herbal treatments that are applied topically, such as those containing lemon balm and camphor oil.
Alleviating Herpes Symptoms Naturally
Non-pharmaceutical treatment of herpes largely involves reducing discomfort associated with outbreaks. The Mayo Clinic offers several tips on alleviate symptoms non-pharmaceutically. Wear cotton underwear and loose clothing and urinate while taking a bath; alternately, pour warm water over the genital area after urinating. Twice-a-day soaks in the tub are helpful, as is sprinkling cornstarch over the affected area during the bath. Additionally, the tannic acid found in tea can help reduce pain and itching. Apply a cool, moist tea bag to the lesions. An ice pack can be used as well. The Mayo Clinic specifically warns against applying topical creams or ointments to lesions, because these frequently make the outbreak worse.
Are Non-Pharmaceutical Treatments the Best?
The FDA puts each drug it approves through rigorous research and testing–in other words, pharmaceutical treatment is effective in treating herpes. The Mayo Clinic specifically warns that herbal and botanical remedies and over-the-counter products, such as L-lysine–which do not carry FDA approval–are definitely not helpful to the uninfected partner of a herpes sufferer. Anyone with herpes who is sexually active should use suppressive medication prescribed by a physician.