Lysine is an amino acid that some researchers think might help cure or at least speed the recovery of people suffering from shingles, which is an illness related to chicken pox that leaves itchy red welts on the skin. The amino acid is widely used as a treatment for herpes simplex 1 and 2, two types of a virus that causes cold sores and genital warts. Shingles and herpes simplex are related, which has led some researchers to theorize that the amino acid might work for people suffering from this, too. Clinical trials conducted in many parts of the world have shown promise, but in most instances there is no clear or documented connection between lysine and shingles. Treatments might work for some people, but not always, and not dependably.
Shingles is a painful medical condition that is caused by reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus in the body. This virus also causes chicken pox. After a person has chicken pox, which normally happens during the childhood years, the varicella-zoster virus remains in the body in a dormant state. For reasons that are unclear, some people experience a reactivation of this virus later in life. Anyone who has had chicken pox might develop shingles, but the condition is more common in older adults and in people who have weakened immune systems. There may also be a connection between shingles and people who had very mild cases of chicken pox initially.
Shingles most often begins with pain along a nerve line on one side of the body. This pain is often severe. A rash of blisters along this nerve line usually develops as well, but some people who have shingles don't get a rash. Shingles also might involve itchiness, tingling sensations, fatigue, and a headache that’s accompanied by a fever and chills.
The condition will resolve on its own over time, but treatment with prescription antiviral medication can reduce its duration and decrease the risk of complications. In most cases treatment with lysine is considered experimental, and may not be a good choice for all patients.
Basics of the Amino Acid
Lysine is an essential amino acid, and is an essential building block for proteins in both humans and animals. The body requires this nutrient, and it must be obtained by eating protein-rich foods or taking supplements. In addition to having several important roles for general health, lysine has antiviral effects and has been clinically shown to prevent strains of the herpes simplex 1 and 2 viruses from replicating.
Why it Might Work for Shingles
Research indicates that outbreaks of genital herpes and cold sores might be reduced or prevented by regularly taking lysine supplements. These sorts of supplements are often available in health foods stores or in pharmacies, and they can also sometimes be acquired in higher concentrations with a prescription. Most medical professionals are quick to warn that lysine is just a supplement and can’t actually cure or prevent any diseases in and of itself. Lab trials have shown promising results, though, particularly among people with mild to moderate outbreaks.
The benefits of lysine for people who have herpes simplex has led some doctors to theorize that the amino acid might also be helpful for treating shingles. Herpes zoster is not the same virus as herpes simplex, though they are related. Not much research has been done on the specific connection between lysine and shingles, though, and there isn’t much scientific evidence that supports the treatment. Still, many people are willing to try, and in most cases there isn’t any harm in this sort of short-term experimentation.
Dosing and Risks
Lysine generally is considered a safe supplement when used on a short-term basis. Standard doses during a herpes simplex flare-up range from 3,000 to 9,000 milligrams per day. To prevent recurrences, people might take 1,000 to 3,000 milligrams per day as something of a precaution. Research has not found any relationship between lysine and shingles, so there isn’t usually standardized dosing information available; patients can usually follow the guidelines for herpes simplex, though.
In most cases it’s a good idea for people to talk with a medical professional before self-treating shingles, even with something as natural as an amino acid. Even if lysine and shingles do have a connection, the condition still calls for medical treatment, and an expert can give personalized advice based on individual circumstances and cases. Left untreated, shingles can lead to complications like bacterial skin infection. Early treatment with antiviral drugs might prevent a complication known as postherpetic neuralgia, which involves pain that persists long after a case of shingles has been resolved.