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5 Vitamin Deficiencies That May Have Caused Your Cold Sore

An oversized black vitamin capsule opens, releasing fruits and veggies that can help with a cold sore vitamin deficiency.

When you encounter a health concern, especially one as noticeable as a cold sore, it's common to look to your eating habits for answers. As researchers learn more about the roles various nutrients play in our health, we hear more about vitamin deficiencies and their effects.

Could cold sores be caused by vitamin deficiencies? Let's take a look.

What Are Cold Sores?

Cold sores are small, painful (and sometimes itchy) blisters that appear on or around the lips. These blisters may occur in small clusters and are caused by an infection with the herpes simplex virus, type 1 (HSV-1).

HSV-1 spreads easily from person to person and is extremely common. Once you contract HSV-1, the virus remains dormant in your nerve cells for the rest of your life. Various triggers can reactivate the virus, leading to more outbreaks.


Are Cold Sores Linked To Vitamin Deficiencies?

Asking whether vitamin deficiencies cause cold sores is a tricky question. In reality, cold sores only have one cause: HSV-1. As mentioned above, once you contract HSV-1, it will be with you forever. But there are many steps you can take to avoid triggering the HSV-1 virus to reactivate and produce cold sores.

Because your immune system plays a key role in keeping HSV-1 at bay, it's important to support it with proper nutrients. Studies show that certain vitamin deficiencies can severely reduce your immune system's ability to fight infections.

So while they don't cause cold sores directly, vitamin deficiencies can indirectly lead to cold sore outbreaks.

Conversely, resolving vitamin deficiencies through diet and/or supplementation can help to support your immune system and reduce outbreaks.

Here are five vitamins whose deficiencies may be causing your cold sore outbreaks.

Infographic: 5 Vitamin Deficiencies That May Have Caused Your Cold Sore

1. Vitamin B

B vitamins play a large role in the immune system. They boost your energy levels and cellular metabolism, and they help prevent infections of all kinds. They also play key roles in nerve cell health and antibody formation, which are important for preventing new cold sore outbreaks.

For example, one study on vitamin B12 deficiency and facial pain noted that many patients also presented with cold sores, which responded to treatment with vitamin B12 supplementation.

"Vitamin B complex" is actually a broad category that encompasses eight different B vitamins:

  • Thiamin (vitamin B1).
  • Riboflavin (vitamin B2).
  • Niacin (vitamin B3).
  • Pantothenic acid (vitamin B5).
  • Pyridoxine (vitamin B6).
  • Biotin (vitamin B7).
  • Folate (vitamin B9).
  • Cobalamin (vitamin B12).

Some of the best food sources for these B vitamins include:

  • Eggs.
  • Chicken and turkey.
  • Beef and pork.
  • Liver.
  • Salmon and trout.
  • Milk and cheese.
  • Legumes.
  • Avocados.
  • Nuts and seeds.
  • Dark leafy vegetables like broccoli and spinach.
  • Citrus fruits.
  • Bananas.

2. Vitamin C

People know vitamin C for its protective benefits against the common cold. Popular products like Emergen-C sell well for immune support and fighting infections. Research shows that vitamin C even works against the cold sore virus!

In one study, for example, patients with cold sores received 1 gram of vitamin C with bioflavonoids per day and found that their pain decreased in duration by 51%, from 3.5 days to 1.3 days. When the vitamin C supplementation was administered within 24 hours of the first tingling and burning, only 23% of patients developed a cold sore.

Foods that are high in vitamin C include:

  • Bell peppers.
  • Citrus fruits, such as oranges and lemons.
  • Cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli and Brussels sprouts.
  • Potatoes.
  • Strawberries.
  • Kiwi.
  • Guava.
  • Tomatoes.
  • Cantaloupe.

3. Vitamin D

About 42% of the U.S. population has a vitamin D deficiency, as does a huge portion of the world at large.

Vitamin D is vital to the human body for the building and maintenance of healthy bones. That's because calcium can only be absorbed when vitamin D is present in healthy amounts. Vitamin D also plays an important role in the immune system.

In one study, patients who presented with recurrent cold sores had significantly lower levels of vitamin D in their blood than their counterparts: about 23.8 nM compared to an average of 42 nM in a healthy control group.

Healthy vitamin D levels are often associated with sun exposure, which is correct. But in your quest to increase your vitamin D levels, it's important to remember that too much direct sunlight can also lead to cold sore outbreaks.

Fortunately, you can also increase your vitamin D through diet and supplements. Foods with high levels of vitamin D include:

  • Eggs.
  • Fatty fish (salmon, tuna, swordfish, trout, and sardines).
  • Cod liver oil.
  • Mushrooms.
  • Beef liver.
  • Foods fortified with vitamin D.

4. Vitamin E

Another vitamin that can help in your battle against cold sores is vitamin E. Studies have shown that high doses of vitamin E can reduce oxidative stress, helping the immune system to fight free radicals and viruses.

Vitamin E also plays a role in skin health, helping soothe and protect it from damage, meaning this nutrient has a big role to play in healing cold sores as well.

Foods high in vitamin E include:

  • Almonds or almond oil.
  • Hazelnuts or hazelnut oil.
  • Avocado.
  • Pine nuts.
  • Sunflower seeds and sunflower oil.
  • Peanuts and peanut butter.
  • Salmon, trout, and abalone.
  • Spinach, turnip greens, and collard greens.

5. Vitamin F

The term "vitamin F" is somewhat of a misnomer; it's not a vitamin in the traditional sense of the word. Vitamin F is a combination of two different polyunsaturated fatty acids: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is a type of omega-3 fatty acid, and linoleic acid (LA), an omega-6 fatty acid.

These important fats keep the body healthy in many ways, such as by supporting cell membrane health, inflammation control, nerve health, retinal development, and blood clotting.

Research has shown that both alpha-linolenic acid and linoleic acid, in addition to supporting general health and immunity, can also act specifically against herpes viruses. Some of the best foods to turn to for these nutrients include:

  • Vegetable oils (flaxseed, canola, and soybean oils).
  • Seeds (flax, chia, sunflower, and hemp seeds).
  • Nuts (walnuts, almonds, pecans, Brazil nuts, and pine nuts).
  • Navy beans.
  • Avocadoes.
  • Soybeans (edamame).

More Cold Sore Prevention Tips

When you address any lingering vitamin deficiencies, cold sores have less chance of making an appearance. But correcting your vitamin deficiencies isn't the only thing you can do to protect yourself from cold sore outbreaks.

Healthy Diet

The best way to prevent vitamin deficiencies is to eat a healthy, well-balanced diet with plenty of whole foods.

If you're looking for more specific food suggestions, check out our post about the best foods to eat when you have a cold sore. And for those who are interested, you can also visit our post featuring the best vitamins and supplements for genital herpes.


Lysine is an essential amino acid that your body can't manufacture itself; instead, you have to consume lysine from food or supplements. Dietary lysine interferes with the activity of arginine, an amino acid that HSV-1 depends on to reproduce.

You can find lysine in supplement form, often under the name L-lysine, or in cold-sore-fighting products like Lip Clear. You can also incorporate these lysine-rich foods into your diet:

  • Meat (beef, pork, and poultry).
  • Shellfish (clams, crab, lobster, and shrimp).
  • Fish (tuna, salmon, snapper, tilapia, and cod).
  • Soybeans and tofu.
  • Dairy.
  • Certain cheeses (ricotta, parmesan, romano, and gruyere).
  • Peas.

Light Therapy

Clinical research shows that red light therapy significantly reduces cold sore pain, healing time, and frequency. The Luminance RED Lip Sore Treatment Device offers this type of technology in an FDA-registered, handheld device intended for home use.

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