Scientists have studied alternative treatments, like herbal extracts and nutritional supplements, based on some genital herpes patients' claims that they help relieve symptoms. Some study results have been promising, others discouraging.
Many people say that an extract of the echinacea plant helps boost the immune system's ability to fight the genital herpes infection. Some say it decreases the frequency and severity of genital herpes outbreaks. Researchers in the U.K. compared the effect of echinacea with that of a placebo. They gave echinacea to 50 people with genital herpes for six months and a placebo for another six months. There was no significant difference in the number of herpes outbreaks during the two periods.
Another study showed that an ointment containing propolis, a waxy substance that honeybees make, may help genital herpes sores heal. Sores healed faster for people using the propolis ointment than in those using ointments containing the antiviral drug acyclovir or a placebo. The ointment was applied to herpes sores four times a day. After 10 days, 24 of the 30 people using propolis ointment said their sores healed, compared with 14 of the 30 people using acyclovir ointment and 12 of the 30 using a placebo.
Researchers have also found that the herb Prunella vulgaris, and an edible mushroom, Rozites caperata (the "gypsy mushroom"), contain chemicals that fight both the oral herpes virus (HSV-1) and the genital herpes virus (HSV-2).
These treatments have not been approved for treating genital herpes by the FDA. You can buy them in stores, but they are considered nutritional supplements, not drugs, so they are not subjected to the same quality standards that FDA-approved drugs are.
SOURCES: Terri Warren, RN, and Ricks Warren, PhD, The Updated Herpes Handbook, Portland Press, 2002. Vonau, B. International Journal of STD and AIDS, March 2001. Vynograd, N. Phytomedicine, March 2000. Chiu, LC. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, July 2004. Xu, HX. Antiviral Research, November 1999. Piraino,F. Antiviral Research, September 1999.