Cold sores (Herpes simplex) – Mind Body Therapies

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Patient QI found a substantial amount of information on the use of mind body therapies for controlling herpes simplex infections. The use of essential oils as topical applications as well as hypnotherapy and CBT/NLP have all shown patient benefit.

Essential Oils

Recent research is now finding that oils used against colds and flu for years have an antiviral affect and may also be effective in the treatment and prevention of herpes. These oils include tea tree, eucalyptus, peppermint, Olbas oil (a prepared mix of oils for colds and flu), lemon balm and thyme.

Researchers from the University of Heidelberg have found that both tea tree and eucalyptus, peppermint and chamomile oils both all have antiviral affects in vitro at concentrations that are not toxic. In studies by teams in the Department of Virology it was found that tea tree and eucalyptus both had a direct antiviral effect, with tea tree being found to be more effective than eucalyptus (Schnitzler et al 2001).  These oils were found to have a protective effect if cells were treated with them before being exposed to the virus and the authors concluded that they had a promising role in possible application as antiviral agents in recurrent herpes infections.

In a separate study in which a wide number of essential oils were tested for their antiviral properties against herpes, they found although all oils tested (hyssop, ginger, sandalwood, anise and thyme) showed benefit, chamomile oil showed a high selectivity index and was identified as the most promising oil for developing a topical treatment as a virucidal in the treatment of herpes.

Another research team from the same department found evidence to support a role for direct application of peppermint oil, which has also been found to have a strong antiviral affect. They found that peppermint oil reduced the amount of HSV-1 and HSV-2 viruses present in an in vitro cellular suspension substantially (by as much as 92%). The researchers found that the oil was most effective against the viruses if added to cells before they were exposed to the viruses. Peppermint oil was also found to be effective against a strain of viruses resistant to the antiviral drug, acyclovir. The researchers conclude that because peppermint is able to be absorbed by the skin, peppermint oil might be suitable for topical therapeutic use as virucidal agent in recurrent herpes infection (Schuhmacher et al 2003). Another research team also found supporting evidence for the use of peppermint. Civitelli et al 2014 found support for peppermint’s use in treating herpes and found that it appeared to disrupt viruses replicating rather than having a protective effect. They also concluded that both the oil itself and its active ingredient were likely to be good candidates for a new treatment for herpes and suggested more research is needed to understand how they inhibit the virus at a cellular level (Civitelli et al 2014).

Olbas oil, an oil in use for many years for colds and flu, was examined for its antiviral activity again looking at in vitro effects on cells exposed to the herpes virus. Olbas oil was found to be most effective against the virus before it infected the cells and the study’s authors concluded that because of the skin penetrating nature of the Olbas complex essential oil mixture, which allow it to be absorbed by the skin, Olbas might be suitable for topical treatment of herpetic infections (Heidary et al 2013).Lemon balm has been found to have a similar effect and with low toxicity and the ability to be absorbed by the skin has also been suggested to be another candidate for use in herpes treatment (Schnitzler, 2008).

Schnitzler et al. Antiviral activity of Australian tea tree oil and eucalyptus oil against herpes simplex virus in cell culture. Pharmazie 2001.
Schuhmacher et al.  Virucidal effect of peppermint oil on the enveloped viruses herpes simplex virus type 1 and type 2 in vitro. Phytomedicine 2003
Civitelli et al.  In vitro inhibition of herpes simplex virus type 1 replication by Mentha suaveolens essential oil and its main component piperitenone oxide.Phytomedicine 2014


Hypnotherapy has been found to be effective in reducing eruptions of herpes and increasing immune function in a number of small scale studies. A recent review of hypnotherapy, guided imagery and relaxation techniques designed to improve immune function concluded that hypnotherapy successfully reduces the incidence and severity of outbreaks in patients with chronic herpes HSV-2 infections as well as improving mood (Gruzelier JH 2002). The review recommended that given the positive evidence more work should now be done to investigate the how effective hypnotherapy might be in the treatment of herpes and other infections.

Other studies confirm these findings. In one small study in the early 1980s of two women who both had herpes HSV-2 infections. One of the women was given three weekly hypnosis sessions and daily practise sessions; the other was given two sessions and daily practise. Both women were followed up after three months and again after seven months. Both women had improved mood, one had experienced no eruptions the other had only had one eruption and was able to control it using hypnotherapy. Both reported reduced pain and improvements in self esteem (Gould and Tisslerz 1984). Another later and larger experimental study (Pfitzer et al 2005), 21 patients with recurrent cold sore (HSV-1) infections were allocated to two groups. The experimental group received five weekly sessions of treatment related hypnotherapy as well as learning stress coping skills and ways to manage their feelings about the herpes infections. The control group receive the hypnotherapy, coping skills and emotional management technique. Both groups recorded the incidence and severity of any herpes outbreaks and took a series of questionnaires about stress and the emotional impact of the herpes. They study found a significant reduction in the intensity of the herpes in the experimental group as well as improved stress management and the emotional impact of their condition.

Hypnotherapy has also been found to have an effect on immune function, possibly explaining its role in reducing herpes outbreaks. In a study looking at hypnotherapy and immunological markers in patients with recurrent genital herpes simplex virus a significant connection was found. Physiological and immunological markers were measured six weeks before and six weeks after hypnotherapy and patients kept a diary of herpes symptoms. The study found that following hypnotherapy there was a reduction of eruptions of herpes and a significant rise in immunological markers – natural killer cells (LK) and lymphokine activated killer activity (LAK) (Fox et al 1999). Pfizer et al. Medical hypnosis in cases of herpes labialis improves resistance for recurrence. A pilot study Hautarzt. 2005.

Gruzelier. A review of the impact of hypnosis, relaxation, guided im

Heidary et al. Antiherpetic activity of the traditionally used complex essential oil Olbas. Pharmazie 2013 Aug;68(8):702-5.

Schnitzler et al. Melissa officinalis oil affects infectivity of enveloped herpesviruses. Phytomedicine. 2008 Sep;15(9):734-40

agery and individual differences on aspects of immunity and health. Stress 2002

Gould et al.Am J Clin Hypno 1984 26(3)

Fox et al (1999) Immunological markers of frequently recurrent genital herpes simplex virus and their response to hypnotherapy: a pilot study. Int J STD AIDS. 1999

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