Q: Dear Healthier Talk,
I’ve been wondering if you have any advice that can help me get rid of canker sores.
I seem to get them all the time, and it’s quite a nuisance!
––K.S., Roanoke, VA
A: Dear K.S.,
You may not be thrilled to hear this advice, since it may require some substantial changes to your normal diet.
But if you give it a try, you should be able to reduce the number of canker sore outbreaks you experience or even eliminate them altogether.
Eliminate refined sugar from your diet
First and foremost, eliminate refined sugar from your diet. Sugar reduces the germ-fighting capability of white blood cells so they can’t fight micro-organisms associated with canker sores effectively.
We know this is easier said than done—sugar, in many forms (such as high-fructose corn syrup, dextrose, dextrin, matodextrin, and many others) is hiding in some very unlikely places including fruit juices claiming to be “all natural,” canned soups and even packaged breads.
It’s not much fun, and it could make your trips to the grocery store last a little longer in the beginning, but reading the labels of foods on the supermarket shelves is very important. And eventually the refined-sugar free shopping will become second nature.
But before you begin thinking we’re the “sweetness Scrooge,” there are some all-natural alternatives to sugar that can easily satisfy even the most persistent of sweet tooths.
In moderation you can use…
- raw, uncooked honey,
- 100-percent-pure maple syrup,
- or the herb stevia.
All of these items are available in natural food stores.
Figure out your food allergies
Second, you should consider the role of food allergies.
When you think of food allergies, you might picture the violent and dangerous reactions some people have to things like peanuts or shellfish. But many folks are surprised to learn that food allergies can be much more subtle than that, contributing to all sorts of seemingly unrelated health problems—including canker sores.
The good news is that once your food allergies have been identified, you can almost always desensitize yourself to the culprits so that they can be re-introduced into your diet. You will need the help of a good physician trained in these sorts of procedures, though.
The canker sore connection to the herpes virus
The herpes virus is another condition associated with various preconceived notions, but it’s actually much more widespread than you may think.
There are a number of different strains of the herpes family of viruses, some of which cause common illnesses like chicken pox, shingles, and—you guessed it—canker sores. This type of canker sore often starts with tiny blister-like outbreaks clumped tightly together, which rapidly break open forming the typical canker ulceration.
Controlling herpes-related canker sores also involves some dietary changes.
The amino acid arginine encourages the growth of the herpes virus, so cut back on foods high in arginine like grains, seeds, beans, nuts, and chocolate.
We know that last item on the list can be a real struggle for some people, and we’d never be so bold as to tell a full-fledged chocoholic to stop eating it entirely. But try it out for a while to see if your outbreaks decrease. If they do, save your chocolate indulgences for special occasions. Just remember that the less you eat of these foods, the better you’ll feel.
Lysine is an amino acid that discourages the growth of the herpes virus, so you may want to increase your intake of lysine-rich foods such as…
- and most animal proteins.
If you’re a vegetarian, or just prefer not to eat much meat, taking lysine supplements can also be effective. Some folks who take 2 to 4 grams of lysine daily (which fortunately is safe) find they continue to eat high-arginine foods (especially chocolate, of course!) and not suffer the herpes and/or canker sore consequences. Of course, since nearly all the chocolate you find in stores is high in sugar, we don’t recommend this strategy except for occasional use.
Nutrients to help ward off canker sores
In addition, there are several nutrients that can help prevent canker sores…
- folic acid,
- vitamin B12,
- and zinc.
Iron deficiency can facilitate an outbreak, so you should have your doctor check your iron levels. If they are low, daily supplementation with iron may be in order.
Folic acid is an important nutrient for maintaining good oral health in general. Look for the “methylfolate” and “folinic acid” forms, which are better metabolized by the body. You can also find folic acid mouthwash products in your local health food store.
Zinc stimulates the immune system by promoting the ability of white blood cells to fight a whole variety of germs, including the herpes virus.
Always talk with your own doctor about what supplements and dosages are best in your specific case, but the following dosage guidelines have helped some folks conquer their canker sores.
- 30 to 60 milligrams of iron daily;
- 800 to 2,400 micrograms of methylfolate or folinic acid daily taken along with 2,000 micrograms of vitamin B12;
- and 30 milligrams of zinc picolinate daily.
For long-term prevention of canker sores, consider taking 2,000 to 3,000 milligrams of lysine daily in between meals, along with smaller amounts of the nutrients mentioned above. When taking lysine, also take an equivalent amount of vitamin C.
Canker sores can be a nuisance, and you may be concerned that the changes you must make to eliminate them are just as big a hassle. But we can assure you that what might be a drastic shift at first will soon become second nature, and you’ll have the added benefit of being rid of your canker sores once and for all. And the rest of your body will be much healthier too!