Herpes is a common condition caused by an infection with the herpes simplex virus (HSV). About one in seven Canadians have herpes; however, most of them are not aware due to a lack of symptoms. If present, common symptoms of herpes include genital sores, oral or cold sores, eye infection, or even inflammation of the brain if left untreated.

The HSV virus mainly enters your body through a crack or break in your skin or mucus membrane. Once the virus enters your body, it multiplies in your cells. The symptoms may occur within 2-20 days after exposure to the virus. After this initial infection, the virus travels the pelvic nerves and stays dormant.

Various factors, including stress, can trigger viral reactivation. This means if you have had a herpes infection, stress may trigger an outbreak. Stress management techniques can help manage stress and lower the risk of a recurrent herpes outbreak.

This article will detail more about the effect of stress on herpes and how you can manage it.

Short Term Stress and Herpes Outbreaks

Most of us will feel stress at some point in time. Certain events such as loss of job or death of a spouse can significantly increase stress levels. High-stress levels can negatively affect your physical and mental health and immune system.

Some experts also believe that a weak immune system can reactivate the herpes virus. As stress influences the immune system, it may trigger a herpes outbreak.

Various studies have also shown that daily stress or stressful events are risk factors for herpes. Stress may act as a triggering cause if other risk factors, such as mood disorders, advancing age, and poor diet, are present. 

However, a few studies could not find any co-relation between stress and herpes.

Long Term Stress and Herpes Outbreaks

According to a study published in the Cell Host and Microbe cortisol, a stress hormone, activates the c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK) nerve pathway to trigger nerve death. The team conducted a new study at the University of North Carolina (UNC) School of Medicine by forcing the virus to make the mouse nerve cells latent and later reactivate it using chemicals.

Here the researchers used cortisol and added it to the dish of mouse cells. It showed that high cortisol levels triggered the JNK pathway. They also observed that the virus began to leave the nerve cells when the JNK protein activated.

On the other hand, when the JNK pathway was blocked, the virus could not leave the cells and reactivate. 

The study also showed that the virus could reactivate even if the viral DNA in the nerve cells is repressed. Researchers believe that the viral DNA does not undergo a process that opens them up (demethylation), which helps the virus reactivate.

All in all, chemical changes taking place in the body during stress may activate the herpes virus. However, this may not be true for everyone.

Preventing Future Herpes 

You can try the following to prevent herpes infection

  • Avoiding oral sex or kissing if oral sores are present
  • Avoiding sex if symptoms are present
  • Washing hands thoroughly with soap and water, especially after touching the infected area during an outbreak
  • Using barrier method of protection during sex, such as condoms

Eliminating or reducing stress may not guarantee protection against herpes infection, but it prevents the risk of reactivation and outbreak. 

Identify your stressors and taking measures to avoid them can help you. Here are some tips to help you get started:

  • Spend time with a pet if you love them
  • Try yoga and meditation
  • Practice deep breathing exercises
  • Join a support group
  • Journal keeping
  • Turn off your phone and get some time for your self
  • Wind down before sleep
  • Spend time in nature
  • Get enough sleep
  • Exercise regularly 
  • Consume a healthy and a balanced diet
  • Cut on caffeine and sugar
  • Avoid excess consumption of alcohol
  • Pursue your hobbies such as playing a sport or coloring

It is also essential that you should reach out for help when you feel stressed and sad, even though you may not feel like doing it. Hanging with your favorite people can help you forget your troubles. It is also a great idea to share your problems with people who care about you.

Treatment

The current treatment approach involves managing the symptoms and limiting the number of outbreaks. In many cases, the sores and other symptoms may subside without treatment. But your physician will determine if you need medicine. If required, you may be prescribed one of the following medications:

  • Famciclovir
  • Acyclovir
  • Valacyclovir

These medicines lower the risk of you transmitting the infection to others. They also reduce the frequency and intensity of symptoms and outbreaks.

Supplements and Remedies

Certain supplements and food items can help manage stress and prevent an outbreak, including:

  • L-lysine: It is an amino acid, building blocks of your body. Studies have shown that L-lysine can prevent or reduce the number of outbreaks and can be taken in conjunction with antivirals. The usual dose ranges from 1-3 milligrams. It may cause side-effects such as diarrhea and abdominal pain.
  • Long dan xie gan tan: It is a Chinese herbal supplement used to manage herpes symptoms and reduce outbreaks. Studies have also shown that the supplement can inhibit both HSV-1 and HSV-2.
  • Mushrooms: They boost your immune system and thus help prevent a herpes outbreak. You can add mushroom to your diet or take it in the form of a supplement. Studies have shown that taking shiitake mushrooms daily boosts the health of your immune system.
  • Lemon balm: This herb is traditionally used to boost your brain’s functioning. It also has antiviral properties and is used for the same for more than 2,000 years. You can use the herb as a tea or apply it to the skin. Both ways are effective in reducing herpes symptoms and prevent outbreaks. Lemon balm oil is also seen to combat the herpes virus.
  • Ashwagandha: It is well-known medicine for stress and plays an essential role in maintaining your general health. It also lowers the effect of stress and relieves herpes symptoms.

However, some of these supplements and remedies may have side-effects and cannot be used by everyone. So, it is best to consult your doctor before planning to take one.

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