The herpes simplex 1 virus (HSV 1)and the herpes simplex 2 virus (HSV 2) are also known as oral herpes and genital herpes respectively. Oral herpes is also referred to as a fever blister or cold sore. Genital herpes or HSV 2, is an STD - a sexually transmitted disease. Ultimately, where on the body the virus is found is reflective of the point of origin. Historically, herpes is a very old virus.
Herpes (HSV) is highly contagious and acquired through skin to skin contact. It “dies” quickly outside the body so the risk of acquiring it in other than skin to skin contact is very low. In spite of that fact herpes in general is spreading at epidemic levels.
You can’t kill herpes in your body by outside means. You can’t eliminate it in your body permanently. You can’t cure herpes. It remains with you forever with a good part of the control of it managed by your immune system. For some people herpes is an irritant. For others it’s devastating.
How Herpes Survives Annihilation by the Immune System
During the initial infection the herpes virus will replicate wildly in cell after cell in your body at the point of origin. Its purpose is to spread. The immune system will respond in kind if it’s healthy and a vicious battle will ensue. It may turn into what’s commonly referred to as an “outbreak”.
A virus can only function by occupying and taking over the machinery of a living cell. That cell then becomes a viral host. To deactivate the virus the whole cell is killed by the immune system, not just the virus. Under attack, the virus escapes total annihilation by traveling up the nerve fibers to an area known as nerve endings or ganglia. Then, it in effect hides there. Viral replication ceases. It becomes dormant. The immune system isn’t stimulated to act if no viral replication is occurring. Plus the virus itself has developed mechanisms to avoid discovery. The immune system can’t “see” it while it remains dormant. It could stay hiding that way literally for years.
Since herpes is a life-long infection, however, it’s logical that it could resurface at some point or from time to time. Herpes viruses in fact are distinctive in their ability to cycle back and forth between their active and dormant phases.
A weakened immune system is a big trigger for herpes viral reactivation. There are other triggers too. If you know about them the virus can be better controlled.
Immune System Warriors
There are many important parts in the immune system but these warriors figure prominently in destroying herpes infected cells.
Natural Killer cells (NK cells).
Cytotoxic T cells.
Antibodies are mobilized to identify the virally infected cell so other parts of the immune system can “see” it and destroy it. A deficiency in antibodies means that high tech immune cells can’t destroy what they can’t “see”.
Natural Killer cells can destroy without antibodies and as such are a great early attack force. A deficiency means that those persons with deficient NK cells may be more susceptible to the virus reactivating successfully.
Cytotoxic T cells are the “big guns” and high tech weaponry necessary for viral destruction. However, they can take up to 24 hours to mobilize (see NK cells above) as they need antibodies to point out the problem (see antibodies). A deficiency means those immune cells most responsible for protecting you will do a poor job.
Immune system components are interrelated and when weakened can allow for herpes viral reactivation.
Correcting Immune Deficiencies Relating to Herpes
Just like the rest of your body the immune system responds positively to good health practices. However, correcting some common and very specific nutritional deficiencies can be immune system supportive, even essential.
Antibodies and vitamin D3.
Natural Killer cells, thyroid hormone and iodine.
Cytotoxic T cells and zinc.
Antibodies and vitamin D3. Vitamin D is as much a hormone as a vitamin. And while some can be obtained through diet, much of it comes from the sun producing vitamin D in the skin. It would be safe to say that most people, certainly in the Northern Hemisphere, are deficient, especially during the winter months. A deficiency of vitamin D could result in being more susceptible to bone fractures, chronic inflammation and infections. There are numerous studies showing the benefit of vitamin D3 to antibodies. It’s a powerful antiviral.
Natural Killer cells, thyroid hormone and iodine. Researchers have noticed the relationship between low thyroid hormone and decreased NK cell activity with optimum thyroid hormone causing the opposite effect. Dr. Jesse Stoff, Immunologist, states “Thyroid hormone stimulates the activity of Natural Killer (NK) cells.” He also mentions in his book, The Prostate Miracle, “Iodine also supports thyroid function, which is critical to immune, and specifically NK cell function”.
Janice Wittenberg, RN in her book Rebellious Body states that, “Iodine in particular is important to the production of the thyroid hormone. Low to sub-clinical [not measurable through testing] thyroid function is very common. Soils in the mid-west and areas along the St. Lawrence [U.S.A.] have the lowest iodine concentrations and largest number of thyroid related problems in the world.”
A good resource about iodine: Iodine: Why You Need It, Why You Can’t Live Without It by David Brownstein, M.D.
Cytotoxic T cells and zinc. Zinc deficiency is a well known and leading risk factor in the development of disease and the susceptibility to infection. Zinc is important to immune function in general in its relationship to the thymus gland and to T cells specifically. Zinc both stimulates and slows down immune function appropriately limiting inflammation.
Medical surveys haven’t turned up wide spread deficiencies in the western world but it is suggested that a diet high in phytate containing whole grains, zinc deficient soil, or highly processed foods can result in zinc deficiency. Gastrointestinal and digestive disorders can decrease zinc absorption. And vegetarians may not be getting recommended amounts as one major source of zinc is meat. Age can be a factor. So, there can be issues.
[“Phytate” means phytic acid which is found in many whole grains which inhibits zinc absorption.]
Over the Long Term
The immune system is indeed influential in dealing with the herpes virus over the long term. Correcting immune system related deficiencies is a grand idea but it takes some time and it’s only part of the story.
There are more immediate actions you can take as well.
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“Zinc Deficiency”. Wikipedia. Retrieved 3-9-15.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zinc_deficiency
“Thymic size correlates with cord blood zinc levels in low-birth-weight newborns.” Study. Kumar,Pandey,Basu,Shukla, Asthana. Banaras Hindu University. India.Eur J Pediatr. 2014.
“Thyroid hormones as modulators of immune activities at the cellular level.” Study. DeVito, Incerpi, Pedersen, Luly, Davis F., Davis PJ. University of Rome. Italy. Epub 2011.
“Key feature of immune system survived in humans, other primates for 60 million years.” Article.EurekAlert.Aug. 2009. Oregon State University study.[Immune regulation and vitamin D) http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2009-08/osu-kfo081809.php
“Vitamin D controls T cell antigen receptor signaling and activation of human T cells”. Article. Nature Immunology 11, 344-349 (2010). Essen., Kongsbak, Schjerling, Olgaard, Odum, Geisler.
“Natural Killer Cell”. Wikipedia. Retrieved 3-9-15. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natural_killer_cell
“Innate and Adaptive Immune Responses to Herpes Simplex Virus.” Study. PMC3185534. December 2009. Chew, Taylor, Mossman. McMaster University, Ontario, Canada.
“Vitamin D & innate immunity”. Study. Feinstein Institute for Medical Research. New York. Caranow.
“Vitamin D and innate and adaptive immunity.” Study. Hewison M. David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. California.PubMed.
“Vitamin D and the anti-viral state.” Study. Beard, Bearden, Striker. University of Wisconsin-Madison, Department of Medicine. PMC3308600. PubMed.
“Herpes - Why is Conventional Medicine Ignoring the Obvious Solution?[vitamin D]” Article. November 2010.
“Vitamin D and the immune system.” Study. PMC 2011. Arano, C. Feinstein Institute for Medical Research, Manhasser, NY.
”Inhibition of MHC Class 1 Is a Virulence Factor in Herpes Simplex Virus Infection of Mice.” Study. Orr, Edelmann, vieira, Corey, Raulet, Wilson. University of Washington, Seattle, Washington.
“Herpes genitalis - topical zinc sulfate: An alternative therapeutic and modality.” Mahajan, Dhawan, Singh. Guru Gobind Singh Medical Collete and Hospital, India. PubMed. PMCID: PMC3730471