Zoltan P. Rona, MD, MSc
Two of the most painful and annoying skin problems that otherwise healthy people encounter in times of stress are canker sores and cold sore.
Two of the most painful and annoying skin problems that otherwise healthy people encounter in times of stress are canker sores and cold sores. They are frequently treated with harsh chemical antiseptics, rinses and creams by conventional doctors, but none of these treatments actually prevents or cures the condition for any significant period of time. Natural approaches are considerably more desirable, safe and effective.
Canker sores (aphthous ulcers) are tiny ulcerations that occur in the oral cavity on or near the tongue and on the inner mucous membrane of the lip. They can be very painful to the point of interfering with speech and eating. They also tend to heal slowly. The source of the problem is usually an acid condition in the body caused by food or chemical allergies. Holistic dentists have also implicated sodium lauryl sulfate, an ingredient of most toothpastes, as another cause.
Some people are more prone to cankers, especially if they have a history of heavy antibiotic drug use or follow diets very high in sugar and white flour products. Poor dental hygiene, stress and diseases such as Crohn's disease may also lead to chronic canker sores.
Natural treatments for canker sores are usually quite effective. First, eliminate high acidity foods such as citrus fruits, tomatoes, coffee, tea, alcohol, chocolate, red meats and fried and processed foods. It's best to avoid all fruits with the possible exception of bananas. Highly allergenic foods such as wheat, rye, nuts, milk and dairy products should also be eliminated on a three-month trial basis. Ideally, get food allergy testing done through a natural health-care provider.
If one is taking vitamin C as a regular supplement, switch over to a buffered form such as sodium or calcium ascorbate. Supplementation with calcium will also help buffer the acid condition, as will Lactobacillus acidophilus powder or capsules. Acidophilus not only helps normalize the bacterial flora in the large bowel, but also helps make the body more alkaline.
Sodium bicarbonate powder mixed with water is a very effective first aid remedy. This can be used as a mouth rinse as well as swallowed to help make the body more alkaline. Bicarbonate is a natural buffering compound manufactured by the body. A variety of commercial toothpastes containing sodium bicarbonate can be used instead of standard toothpastes high in fluoride and other chemicals. Avoid any toothpastes that contain sodium lauryl sulfate.
Another very effective emergency remedy for canker sores is deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL) lozenges, which can be dissolved slowly in the mouth several times daily for both pain relief and speeding the healing process.
Many people have reported excellent relief with tea tree oil mouth rinses and mild silver protein. Others claim that topically applied colostrum or oregano oil is highly effective. These all have natural antimicrobial effects and boost immunity. Using any of these after brushing the teeth helps prevent most types of oral infections, including parasites and candida overgrowth. Clove oil applied topically can reduce the severe pain of canker sores.
Other nutrient supplements that are helpful are beta-carotene, vitamin B12, folic acid, iron, zinc, evening primrose oil, L-lysine and vitamin E. Zinc is therapeutic for ulcers anywhere in the body. Long-term use (over two weeks) should be balanced by copper (about two mg per 15 mg of zinc) to prevent a relative copper deficiency. Aloe vera juice and herbal remedies such as echinacea, goldenseal, taheebo, burdock, red clover, red raspberry and calendula are also frequently effective.
Cold sores are a type of painful mouth lesion that usually appear on the lip and are caused by a herpes virus. Herpes is usually kept dormant by our immune systems but can become reactivated during times of stress, illness, food allergy, excessive alcohol, drug abuse, too much sunlight exposure, severe cold and contact with noxious chemicals.
Cold sores, unlike canker sores, can be passed from one person to another, but only if the immune system is somehow weakened (compromised) by candida overgrowth or other fungi. There are several causation theories about viruses and various bacteria, especially group A strep, but these organisms would not be an issue if one's immune system were healthy.
Ultraviolet light can stimulate the reactivation of the herpes simplex virus under the skin. Beta-carotene supplementation (100,000 IU or more daily) can help block free radical sun damage that leads to herpes activation. The mineral lithium may be of help to those who cannot tolerate acyclovir or other antiviral drugs commonly prescribed for both oral and genital herpes. Lithium interferes with the replication of the virus without affecting the host cells. It can be used in a topical ointment (eight per cent lithium succinate) or combined with zinc (zinc sulfate solution 0.025 per cent).
Another potent, natural antiviral agent is mild silver protein, which can be taken both internally or used topically without significant side-effects. For most adults, the usual dose is one teaspoon three times daily until the infection is well controlled, then one teaspoon daily for one month after the infection has cleared.
Oil of oregano is antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal and antiparasitic. It also has strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects and is an ideal product to use for people that suffer from any viral or immune system disorder. For most infections, I recommend two to four drops under the tongue three times daily. Oil of oregano can be used topically for itches, infections of the skin, gums, teeth and just about any body orifice. Exercise care if you use it on the lips or genital region, where it is best mixed with olive oil or coconut oil before application (one drop per teaspoon of olive oil or coconut oil/butter).
Colostrum, derived from bovine sources, is another powerful immune system modulator that stimulates a sluggish immune system or dampens an overactive immune response as occurs with autoimmune diseases. Colostrum is a nutrient-rich milk precursor that contains immunoglobulins, growth factors, antimicrobial proteins and carbohydrates that transfer immunity from the mother cow to the calf's gastrointestinal system immediately following birth. For about 48 hours after birth, the mother produces colostrum, which is free of milk, lactose, lactalbumin and other allergy-inducing products. Studies show that colostrum supplementation is a safe, effective, natural method of diarrhea control in humans, an alternative to over-the-counter and prescription antibiotics and bismuth. It has been documented to be helpful in the treatment of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, AIDS, herpes and autoimmune disease.
Some authors, notably those in the "life extension" field, have advocated the oral intake of large doses of BHT, a chemical food preservative as both prevention and treatment of severe herpes. Although very effective, the long-term safety of this treatment is highly questionable. Some sensitive individuals may react adversely to BHT and other chemical preservatives.
Nutritional excesses and deficiencies may be important in preventing outbreaks. Avoid refined carbohydrates (sugar, white flour products) and alcohol, which have a depressant effect on the immune system as early as an hour after consumption. Stay away from tobacco smoke, both the first- and second-hand types. Zinc, vitamin C, bioflavonoids, vitamin E, vitamin A, beta-carotene, iron, copper, folic acid, vitamin B12 and essential amino acids are all important for optimum immune system health.
The amino acid lysine, when taken as a food supplement together with vitamin C, reduces the length and severity of the outbreaks with no significant side-effects. Supplementation of the amino acid arginine makes herpes worse. Arginine is found in almonds, cashews, peanuts, most grains, chicken, chocolate, corn, dairy products and meats. These foods should be avoided as much as possible, especially during a herpes attack.
Other natural remedies that enhance immunity are Lactobacillus acidophilus, echinacea, goldenseal (hydrastis), burdock, sheep sorrel, Turkish rhubarb, slippery elm, myrrh, red clover, capsicum, calendula, aloe vera, lomatium, hypericum, propolis, garlic, olive oil, castor bean oil, thymus extract and astragalus.
Topical calendula (marigold) cream and aloe vera gel may both be effective as antiseptics and relieve the pain of herpes blisters. Some victims find baking soda compresses, ice packs or cool compresses wet with hydrastis tea soothing. Alternate direct application of vitamin A cream and vitamin E cream speeds healing. For individualized regimens and dosages, see a naturopath or doctor familiar with these safe, natural remedies.