I am usually plagued by cold sores in winter. Are there any natural remedies that can help?

Irene McCabe, naturopathic nutritionist:

COLD sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus which produces an infection characterised by single blisters or clusters of blisters filled with clear fluid. The virus lies dormant and recurs following periods of stress, infection or exposure to the sun.

A healthy immune system is of paramount importance in the control of infections and in the prevention of cold sores.

A healthy diet of unprocessed foods is recommended. Brightly coloured fruits and vegetables supply antioxidant nutrients to support the immune system and aid skin healing. Oily fish, hemp oil and flax oil provide essential fats necessary for immune function and to reduce inflammation. Arginine rich foods (e.g. almonds, pork, beef, chicken, chocolate, peanuts, hazelnuts, seeds and buckwheat ) should be avoided as soon as the first signs of a cold sore appear, since this amino acid is believed to favour the growth of the herpes simplex virus. In contrast, the amino acid L lysine appears to inhibit the replication of the virus. I can personally vouch for L Lysine as it was for me a very effective remedy. Quinoa, eggs, beans, lamb and fish are good sources of lysine.

Stress and known allergens (which compromise the immune system) should be avoided, as should direct sunlight.

Aloe vera contains polyphenols that have been shown break down the virus and speed up wound healing. This can be used both topically and as a food supplement. Also supplementing with Vitamin C will help to strengthen your immune system and aid healing

Nikki Biddiss, medical herbalist:

ONE in five people in the UK are affected by recurrent cold sores (Herpes simplex virus type 1). Cold sores are often contracted in childhood after being in skin contact with someone with the virus (often a family member). The virus never leaves your system but for the majority of the time it lies inactive in a nerve sheath.

It is unclear exactly what reactivates the virus but it can be triggered by illness (especially feverish illnesses such as colds and flu), feeling run-down, menstruation, stress or sunshine. A familiar tingle or itch will herald the return of a cold sore and it will appear as a blister around the mouth or nose. If it affects your eye please seek medical attention. The cold sore will scab over and heal within 7-10 days.

Topical anti-viral creams/gels may help reduce the severity of the symptoms especially if you start using them as the cold sore starts to develop. The herb lemon balm has been shown to be active against this virus and a lip cream containing this or diluted eucalyptus essential oil or aloe vera may help. Dab creams on; don't rub them to avoid spreading the virus. Lemonbalm tea may also be useful and a herbalist will also consider herbs to support the immune system and help reduce stress.

Avoid kissing or skin contact with others while the cold sore is active especially babies or immunocompromised individuals. Don't share towels or face cloths and avoid touching or picking the cold sore.

Consult your health practitioner before following any advice if you are pregnant, breastfeeding or have underlying health issues.