PEOPLE’S PHARMACY l-lysine for dealing with cold sores?

By Joe Graedon and Teresa Graedon

Q: You recently wrote about rubbing a cut onion on a bee sting to ease the pain. In 1949, when I was stung by a bee, my farmer grandmother gave me a freshly cut onion and told me to rub it on the sting site for five minutes. After that, I could not even feel the sting or any pain anymore. I have used this remedy many times since.
A: Onions contain compounds that can break down the proteins in bee venom. We also heard from someone who experienced a different kind of sting: “Several years ago, I was stung on the leg by a scorpion. … At my mom’s suggestion, I tried fresh-cut onion on the sting, and it worked great. In about 20 minutes, the redness had completely disappeared, the swelling stopped and the pain was almost completely gone.”
Some scorpion stings can be dangerous. If they cause numbness or tingling, blurry vision or twitches, emergency treatment is advisable.

Q: You recently mentioned the value of l-lysine for dealing with cold sores. About 20 years ago, I first tried l-lysine. I’ve found that taking 1,000 milligrams twice a day at the first sign of a “tingle” stops the cold sore immediately. If I miss that signal and a blister forms, taking l-lysine makes the blister disappear within a few days: no scabs, no inflammation.

A: Like you, many people who suffer from recurring cold sores report that the amino acid l-lysine can be useful in shortening the attack.
Despite such testimonials, however, there is a surprising lack of recent clinical trials supporting the use of l-lysine.
Without better research, it is hard to say whether this natural product is really better than a placebo. On the other hand, l-lysine appears safe.

Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist and Teresa Graedon is an expert in medical anthropology and nutrition. They can be reached at

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