When you first experience an outbreak of painful blisters on your face, you may think of your friend with the herpes simplex virus. If you picked the virus up previously, you may suspect internal or external triggers like stress or sun exposure.
A weakened immune system is a well-known trigger. Research has associated illnesses such as the common cold or COVID-19 with HSV-1 reactivations.¹
A trigger you might not consider is a lack of vitamins. What connection does a vitamin deficiency have with those painful blisters? Let’s take a look.
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Cold sores (herpes labialis) are a result of the highly contagious herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1). The virus can infect people from an early age, and it remains in your body for life after you catch it. More than half of Americans 14 –49 years have HSV-1.
If so many people have this virus, why don’t they all have cold sores?
While the virus is incurable, your immune system normally keeps it in check. Physicians can also administer anti-viral medications like acyclovir, valacyclovir, and famciclovir in specific cases.
Furthermore, if you are susceptible to HSV-1 reactivation due to certain triggers such as UV light, you can take preventative measures to avoid outbreaks.
Part of avoiding reactivation is keeping your immune system healthy as it keeps HSV-1 at bay. This is where vitamin deficiencies may come in.
Vitamin deficiency is the lack of a micronutrient that your body needs to function and develop properly. Your body cannot synthesize these chemicals, so you need to get them from your diet.
A primary deficiency is when you don’t get enough vitamins from your diet. Conversely, a secondary deficiency stems from an underlying disorder, like malabsorption.
Vitamin deficiency has a direct negative effect on your immune functions, which can cause increased susceptibility to infections.
When your body can't effectively fight against viruses like HSV-1, the virus is free to grow and you then may have an outbreak of cold sores.
Here are a few insights into how certain vitamins are crucial in keeping cold sores at bay.
B vitamins (the vitamin B complex) are a group of eight nutrients that your body needs. They aid metabolism and the development and function of blood, brain, and skin cells, among other tissues.
These nutrients include:
Pantothenic acid (B5)
B12 deficiency damages the nervous system termed subacute combined degeneration.
Vitamin D is a group of fat-soluble vitamins that helps the human body retain calcium and phosphorus. These important vitamins ensure the strength and growth of your bones.
Nearly all the cells in your body have vitamin D receptors, meaning you need plenty of the vitamin for optimal health.
As vitamin D is responsible for proper functioning of the immune system, research has associated a deficiency with cancer, autoimmune disease, and cardiovascular disease risk.²
According to data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), vitamin D deficiencies were found in over 41% of the sample size. ³
Studies have demonstrated that lower levels of Vitamin D are associated with recurrence and HSV-1 infection.⁴
The connection between the outbreak of cold sores and vitamin deficiencies may extend to any deficiency that affects the immune system.
A recurrence of cold sores is more commonly associated with stress, fever, and exposure to UV rays. A more invisible, lesser-known trigger is vitamin deficiency, which can weaken your immune system.
Although maintaining a balanced diet doesn't prevent you from contracting the HSV-1 virus, it’s key to keeping your immune system working well.
Vitamin B12 deficiency | MSD Manual
Subacute combined degeneration | Merck Manual