Canker Sore Prevention with Lysine

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January 9th, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

(Click here for more coverage of preventing canker sores.)

What are Canker Sores?

Painful is what they are! Canker sores are round or irregular breaks in the mucous membranes in the mouth, tongue, or throat. They typically vary in size from a couple millimeters in width to more than 10 millimeters in width. (For Americans, think 1/8 inch to 1/2 inch.) They tend to be very painful, especially when irritated through contact with a toothbrush and acidic foods. Often they take weeks to heal. Fortunately, they are not contagious.

For whatever reason, canker sores seem to be more common in women than men. About 10% or more of the population suffers from them on a regular basis. If your parents or siblings have them, you are more likely to have them, too. So there’s probably some genetic reason for susceptibility, but nobody knows what it is yet.

My Personal Misery and My “Secret Cure”

I used to get canker sores often, generally more than once per month. Often I had two or three of them at a time. Sometimes my mouth would be so painful that it was hard to eat. Even more embarrassing, sometimes the pain would be bad enough that I’d talk strangely and people would ask what was wrong with me. I can recall being like this for more than two decades from my childhood onward. My triggers for them were stress and lack of sleep. It was really obvious that if I got less than 6 hours sleep, I’d almost be sure to have one or more canker sores within a day or two.

Today, I don’t have those problems any more. That’s true even when I can’t sleep at all for a day, something that used to trigger multiple canker sores. What’s the secret to the improvement? My dentist suggested that I take lysine.

Yes, I was skeptical about it at first.  First I found out that L-Lysine is the same as lysine. Next I learned that it is an essential amino acid of which people need about 1000mg to 1500mg per day for basic nutrition at a bare minimum. Some sources think more like 2100mg to 3000mg if you’re around 70kg to 100kg (150 to 220 pounds) is more like it.  It turns out that meat, cheese, legumes, some fish, and eggs are good sources. However, I don’t each much meat or eggs, so it was looking rather unlikely I was getting enough lysine through diet.

While visiting a local drugstore one day, I noticed that lysine is very inexpensive. So I took my dentist’s advice and bought a bottle to try it. The results were basically immediate.  In the last two years, I have had only two or three canker sores, versus the several dozen I would normally have had over the same time period. None were as large as many used to be, and all healed in days rather than weeks. No more painful eating, and no more weird talking due to mouth pain. It’s a minor miracle!

Dosage and Cost

So at this point, you’re probably wondering that if you do have canker sores, how much is this lysine stuff going to cost?

And how much lysine do you need to take?

It varies from person to person, but I started with 1000mg per day as two tablets of 500mg. I stayed on that dosage for over a year until increasing it to 2000mg for other benefits (see below). Many sources advise taking lysine on an empty stomach so that it will be absorbed rather than being crowded out by other amino acids. So you could take it when you wake up in the morning and again when you go to sleep.

So when I say inexpensive, what do I mean? I’m a cheap person. Buying popcorn at the movies is an atrocious waste of money in my view.  For that matter, why go to a movie? Buy a DVD and watch it with a few of your family and friends and it’s way cheaper. Anyway, you get the idea — I am a bargain-hunter. It is readily possible to get a year’s supply of lysine for one person for less than the cost of a single fast-food meal per month, definitely under $50 per year and with careful shopping under $30 per year.

Good Sources for Inexpensive Lysine

So with that price-crunching mentality in mind, the first product I listed below is from Puritan’s Pride, a company whose products I’ve bought in the past. I use their lysine products daily. They are generally less expensive than their competitors and often have coupon deals for free shipping or $5 off your order which covers the $4.95 shipping charge. If you were to take two 500mg tablets each day, you’d need about 3 bottles of their 500mg / 250 tablets product for a year as this dosage. As of this March 11, 2009, update, it is priced at $23.98 for five bottles via their frequent “buy 2 get 3 free” sale. That would be almost a two year supply for one person.

Another vendor from which I’ve often purchased dietary supplements is Vitaglo. They carry NOW Foods and other manufacturers. NOW Foods powdered lysine is the least expensive source I’ve seen myself. If you don’t mind mixing the lysine in with a drink, this could save you a few dollars per year. One bottle as of this writing is also about $10, and Vitaglo has a similar “free shipping for orders over $50” offer. You’d get about an extra 20% lysine for about the same price versus the Puritan’s Pride tablets that I mentioned. If you’re already using other dietary supplements in powdered form, some people might prefer this route. Personally, I think the tablets are more convenient. NOW Foods also offers tablets and also capsules for those who may find those easier to swallow.

Better yet, if it works for you, you can stop buying those $5+ tubes of oral painkiller creams. So maybe it will even be a net savings for you if you are like I was.

Lysine Also Helpful for Herpes, Shingles, Chicken Pox

Finally, I mentioned that I’m taking 2000mg per day of lysine now. Why is that? It turns out there’s fairly good scientific evidence that it inhibits spread and outbreaks of herpes family viruses. Studies showed that upwards of 1250mg per day were necessary for effect. Did you know that out of the 8 herpes family viruses, most people are infected with a few of them? HSV1 and HSV2 may be the most infamous, but the viruses that cause chicken pox, shingles, and mononucleosis are all in the herpes virus family. HSV1 infection rates are running upwards of 50% of the adult population worldwide, and in some countries are approaching 100%. HSV2 in the US is at about 25%. Aside from cold and influenza viruses, this is the most common human virus family worldwide. So for about $28 per year (for the 2000mg per day dosage I’m using), it seemed like an extra $14 per year was a worthwhile expense to help reduce the chances of adverse effects from herpes. For instance, since I’ve had chicken pox as a child, I’d really like to avoid having a shingles outbreak.

If you’ve had active herpes HSV1 or HSV2 outbreaks, buy some extra as 3000mg to 9000mg per day is recommended during active outbreaks. Also be sure to read the Life Extension Foundation article on herpes and shingles.

To sum it all up, lysine is one of the best dietary supplements I’ve tried. It works, and it is inexpensive. If you’ve had problems with canker sores or herpes family viruses, you should definitely consider giving it a try.


Puritan’s Pride Lysine 250 tablets of 500mg each (product #003063)

NOW Foods Lysine 1 pound (454,545mg) as powder (from Vitaglo)

NOW Foods Lysine 250 tablets of 500mg each (from Vitaglo)

NOW Foods Lysine 250 capsules of 500mg each (from Vitaglo)

Further Reading

Vitamin B12 Reduces Frequency and Severity of Canker Sores

Mouth Probiotics Speed Canker Sore Healing and Reduce Cavities, Arthritis Pain, Heart Disease

Wikipedia: Canker sores

Wikipedia: Lysine

University of Maryland Medical Center: Lysine

Life Extension Foundation: Herpes and Shingles, a Global Problem

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The products mentioned on this post are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

  1. rick
    March 28th, 2010 at 11:23 | #1

    I’m looking to get yourself a multivitamin. I am hoping to get a liquid vitamin. Is there a good item or far better place to purchase them from. Any aid would be significantly appreciated.

  1. June 15th, 2009 at 17:53 | #1
  2. June 15th, 2009 at 17:58 | #2
  3. October 17th, 2010 at 05:14 | #3

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