Is stress causing your cold sores?

Stress is a common trigger

Immune System Expert
Ask Dr. Jen Tan

18 August 2017

Cold sore triggers

The annoying thing about cold sores is that the virus that causes them never really goes away – it just lies dormant in your nerves cells, and as soon as it is activated it travels along your nerves to your skin, where it causes nasty sores.

There are a few triggers that can cause this activation, and one of the most common ones is stress. So why can stress cause cold sores, and what can you do about it?

What happens to the body when you get stressed?

Stress actually causes a lot more damage to your body than you might think! When we’re stressed, our primal ‘fight or flight’ response is triggered, which causes our bodies to divert all their attention away from long-term survival and towards short term survival – so towards things like the muscles, heart and brain. In the past, this would help us run away from predators or fight off attackers, but these days this response is often triggered when no such danger is present.

As a result, long-term survival mechanisms like the immune system, digestive system and reproductive system get abandoned. As a one off this doesn’t cause too much damage, but if you lead a busy, stressful life where this fight or flight response kicks in regularly throughout the day, this can have a negative impact on these systems.

In addition to this, hormones like adrenaline and cortisol are released when you’re stressed, which can strip various vitamins and minerals from the body, which then has knock-on effects on your overall nutrition.

Stress is also notorious for affecting sleep – both for physical and mental reasons. Adrenaline and cortisol will keep the body awake, while worries will stop the mind from relaxing and drifting off into sleep. During sleep our bodies are busy recovering from the day and repairing damage, so if you’re not getting enough you’ll see lots of negative effects on everything from skin to liver function.

So how does stress cause cold sores?

This weakened immune system, poor digestion, nutrient deficiencies and lack of sleep all contribute towards a body that is generally run down and vulnerable.

Since cold sores are caused by a virus, a weakened immune system is an open door for the virus to activate and produce sores. The lack of immune cells, or simply their inactivity, will mean that your immune system will find it harder to get the virus under control again.

One of the minerals that stress will strip from the body is zinc, which is vital both for the immune system as a whole, but also specifically for wound healing. This means that low zinc levels will cause your cold sore to take much longer to heal.

As I mentioned, stress also affects the digestive system, which has a knock on effect on the immune system too. Did you know that 70% of your immune cells are located in the gut? Poor digestive health therefore not only causes poor absorption of nutrients, but it can also damage your immune cells.

What can you do about stress?

If you’re getting recurring cold sores this is probably an indication that you are a bit run down, stressed and working too hard. It can be a good reminder to look after yourself!

Tackle stress at the root 

You firstly need to figure out what’s causing you so much stress – is it young children, a stressful job, an unpleasant commute, exams, or financial problems? 

Find some ways to reduce whatever problem is causing you stress. Ask friends or family for some help with children, speak to your managers/team about your workload, or consider moving jobs altogether! Taking some time to fill out planners and to-do lists can be a great way to get your mind organised and keep on top of things.

Some people find that they are just generally stressful people, who find it difficult to relax and cope with minor stressors. This can make finding one source quite difficult.

Helpful herbs

Stress-relieving herbs help to provide extra support as you work through your stress. They are particularly useful when there isn’t much you can do to reduce stressors – such as during exam time – or if you are a generally on-edge person who is easily stressed out by even minor things.

Try our own AvenaCalm which contains avena sativa or the slightly stronger Stress Relief Daytime which contains both valerian and hops. 

Look after yourself!

You should take some steps to support your body through stressful times! Eating well, getting some exercise and taking plenty of time to rest are good places to start.

Diet: Make sure to eat well – lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as lean protein, fibre and complex carbohydrates like brown rice, quinoa, and starchy vegetables like potatoes. A probiotic and prebiotic combination can help to support gut health, helping you to break down your food and absorb all those vital nutrients. Remember that some foods can trigger cold sore outbreaks, even healthy ones! Avoid arginine-rich foods like grain cereals, seeds, nuts, peas, chocolate, fizzy drinks and beer.

Exercise: Getting some form of exercise each day will help to burn off excess adrenaline and cortisol, and will help to release happy hormones! It also boost circulation and heart function, helping to circulate immune cells around the body.

Relaxation: It can be difficult to squeeze into a busy lifestyle, but try to set aside some time for quiet relaxation. Watching TV doesn’t really count as this can actually be incredibly stimulating and can even trigger very low-level stress. Try taking a bath, doing something creative like painting, or practising mindfulness or meditation. Eating dinner at the table instead of in front of your TV is not only good for digestion, but being able to talk to your partner, flatmate or family with no distractions can also be very calming.

Immune boosters: Brightly coloured fruits and vegetables contain vital vitamins and minerals that your immune system needs. You can also try taking Echinacea, which supports the immune system,helping it to fight off invaders.

What to do if a cold sore does strike

If a cold sore has already appeared, then treat it as quickly as possible! Our Bio-Propolis helps to soothe the cold sore and keep it protected from bacteria so it can heal as quickly as possible.

For some more tips, find out how to get rid of cold sores fast!

Bio Propolis - Lip Care Ointment

Lip care ointment containing propolis.
More info

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