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Can Bread Give You Herpes?

Gluten in bread can wreak havoc on the body. (AP Photo/S Ilic)

If you’re sensitive to gluten, a protein found in wheat, and foods made from wheat, it can make you more susceptible to herpes. Herpes, a virus that forms blisters on the skin, mouth and genitals causes what are called cold sores or fever blisters. It is highly contagious and may keep coming back, causing repetitive infections.

For those sensitive to gluten (or who suffer from celiac disease, an auto immune response to gluten in wheat, barley, rye and oats), eating bread, cookies, crackers, cakes and other foods made from wheat can lead to increased outbreaks of herpes. I know that when I changed my diet to be gluten free, I went from having herpes outbreaks on my chin and lips every month or two to only having them about every six months. And now, when a blister does begin to appear, it never becomes very large and disappears rapidly. (I also treat it with a yarrow salve and take a red marine algae supplement when it starts to form.)

Though there hasn’t been much research on the relationship between herpes and gluten, a few small studies do suggest possible connections. When scientists looked at how the immune response in animals is influenced by wheat they found that gluten restricted the response of immune cells exposed to the herpes virus (Cancer Lett. 1982 Nov-Dec;17(2):175-85).

Researchers at the Southern Illinois University at Carbondale found that a tennis player suffering from celiac enjoyed relief from herpes after going on a gluten free diet (J Athl Train. 2005 Oct-Dec;40(4):365-9).

While going gluten free for me has not been a panacea for all of my physical complaints, it has offered relief from a host of problems (see Bread ate my brain). I don’t proselytize for a gluten free diet (OK, maybe I do, a little bit), but I’m grateful I discovered how going gluten free helped save my brain, liver and other parts of my vulnerable body before it was too late.

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About Carl Lowe

Carl Lowe
  • For years I suffered with blisters on feet, toes, hands and cold sores too. It would be really bad that I’d have to miss work… at a bakery!!
    Ironically, time off and time away from the bread (and gluten) helped. It wasn’t until years after I no longer worked there that I discovered the connection. These days my blisters still show up, but not a severely. I love bread. It doesn’t love me.

  • Jill Henning says:

    HI for most of my life I have suffered from fever blisters and shingles. I just lived with it as there did not seem that anything could be done.
    A year ago I stopped eating gluten and for 10 months I did not have any bread etc. I then had some bread (I really love it). Within 2 weeks I had a fever blister and a dose of shingles.
    I would not have put it together but thanks for the article – it makes sense

  • Jan says:

    There seems to be confusion regarding “herpes” vs “herpes outbreak.” This statement is incorrect unless you add the word “outbreak” to the end: “protein found in wheat, and foods made from wheat, it can make you more susceptible to herpes.” I don’t believe there is any research to suggest it makes us more susceptible to the “virus” just the “outbreak” if you already have the virus. Butyrate supplements (good for GI) can trigger outbreaks too. Prevention can also be “icing” immediately for 25 min upon the first tingle to put back into “remission” – not 100% effective.

  • S says:

    It’s called dermatitis herpetiformis and it is not contagious!!! Just itchy!!!!

    • Carl Lowe Carl Lowe says:

      We’re not talking about dermatitis herpetiformis here. That’s an entirely different issue. If you have celiac, and you consume wheat, it can compromise your immunity and make it much more likely that you suffer herpes outbreaks.

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