On Nutrition by Ed Blonz

COLD SORES: THE DIETARY CONNECTION

DEAR DR. BLONZ: I have always wanted to know if there was any connection between getting a cold and having a cold sore. What can be done with the diet to help prevent cold sores? -- J.B., Davis, Calif.

DEAR J.B.: Although it is referred to as a cold sore (or fever blister), the connection with an actual cold or fever is minimal. About the only thing they have in common is that a virus is responsible, but it's not even the same virus. The cold sore is brought on by the activities of a specific virus -- herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1) -- while the common cold is caused by a different family of viral organisms. Most of us get over a cold in about a week and the cold virus is history. A cold sore may disappear in the same amount of time, but HSV-1 tends to hang around, lying dormant in our nerve cells while it awaits the next opportunity to attack. It is quite a common infection; in fact, the National Institutes of Health report that most adults are infected with HSV-1 by age 20 (tinyurl.com/pxeqa).

A possible correlation between having a cold and developing an outbreak of cold sores could be the fact that our immune system gets taxed by an ongoing cold, and this would provide an opportunity for the herpes virus to come out and play. Other factors that can provoke a cold sore outbreak include stress, fever, an injury to the lips or mouth or excessive exposure to cold, sun or wind.

There are antiviral medications that can help fight an infection, so you can check with your physician if this is a recurrent problem. As for your diet question, there does appear to be a dietary connection. The HSV-1 virus may have an appetite for the amino acid arginine -- found in chocolate, grains, nuts and nut butters -- while having a distaste for the amino acid lysine, which is found in eggs, potatoes and dairy products. If you tend to suffer from cold sores, you might consider increasing the ratio of lysine to arginine in your diet, particularly if you feel an outbreak coming on. A more convenient approach would be to take a lysine supplement.

DEAR DR. BLONZ: Are there any nutrients that could contribute to the tendency to develop dark circles under the eyes? -- S.Q., Sonoma, Ariz.

DEAR S.Q.: Darkness under the eyes can be brought about by a number of factors. Perhaps the most common cause is a natural thinness in the skin under the eyes. The skin isn't dark, but at that location it is easier to see the vascular bed underneath. This trait can run in families and it doesn't necessarily reflect any health problem. If one is fatigued or under stress, the skin can become pale and this could accentuate the darkness. Then there is the fact that facial skin, and the subdermal fat layer, can thin a bit as we age. Unfortunately, aside from the general nutrients needed for normal health, there are no vitamins, minerals or herbal supplements that have demonstrated an ability to help eliminate this problem.

Send questions to: "On Nutrition," Ed Blonz, c/o Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO, 64106. Send email inquiries to questions@blonz.com. Due to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.