Can Herpes Be Cured Naturally?

Many of us are infected with herpes simplex virus, which can be transmitted sexually to cause genital herpes. Although herpes is incurable, there are antivirals that can help reduce symptoms. But, because not everyone wants to take pharmaceuticals, a lot of us might seek alternatives in an attempt to treat or even cure our herpes infections.

“Natural” doesn’t necessarily mean safe or effective, so be critical.

For centuries, we have treated herpes in many ways — though not necessarily successfully! In the early 1800s, a British treatment involved placing lint between the tip of the penis and the foreskin. It was claimed that this would cause herpes lesions to heal within 14 days — not coincidentally, this is about how long it takes for them to heal on their own, untreated. Later that century, a London surgeon promoted an arsenic-based solution as a cure for recurrent herpes outbreaks. He presented the cases of a couple of patients. One had been suffering from outbreaks for six years, and after a course of this treatment he allegedly never experienced them again. Another patient had been experiencing recurring outbreaks for four years, and after taking this treatment for a year, his outbreaks “became less and finally cleared altogether.”

We now know that, even without treatment, herpes outbreaks generally become less severe over time, and often stop flaring up completely. When outbreaks do occur, they clear on their own, without treatment. This phenomenon is called “regression to the mean,” and many promoters of bogus remedies rely on it for the appearance that their products work. Because we often think that two things that happen at the same time are related, and that one causes the other, we might attribute the clearing of our herpes lesions to whatever “treatment” we were taking, regardless of whether or not it actually benefited us.

The only way we can know if treatments actually work is to compare them with standard medications or placebos (such as identical-looking sugar pills) in well-designed clinical trials. In such studies, patients are assigned to either medication or placebo at random, which is called “randomization” and is like flipping a coin. And, to protect against introducing bias into the study’s outcomes, trials should be “double-blinded,” meaning that neither researchers nor patients know whether the placebo or the medication under study is being administered. The “miracle cures” you hear about usually haven’t been subjected to such scientific rigor — if they have, the results usually aren’t promising. Continue reading

How to Find Accurate Health Information Online

Does conflicting information on the Internet leave you scratching your head? Image: David Castillo Dominici /

Does conflicting information on the Internet leave you scratching your head? Image: David Castillo Dominici /

Did you know only 13 states require that sex education in public schools be medically accurate? This leaves a lot of people in the dark when it comes to making decisions that could have a lasting impact on their lives. Luckily, the Internet can make accurate information about sex accessible. It can also be a dangerous tool if wielded incorrectly, so it’s important to differentiate sources of good information from unreliable sources. An article in the New York Times suggests that the No. 1 way teenagers get their information about sex is through the Internet. Whether or not they receive medically accurate information depends on their search results.

You can’t assume that a product’s legality is evidence of its efficacy.

The Internet is a maze of conflicting information. Most reputable authors will cite their sources, and it’s important that you check them. Online message boards can be filled with anonymous commenters offering opinions, anecdotes, falsehoods, or facts — unless these commenters back their statements up with sources, it may be difficult for you to evaluate their claims. A message board dealing with sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) might seem like an ideal outlet for someone who is concerned about having an STD; other message boards dealing with sex or contraception offer a similar refuge. Users might appreciate the anonymity afforded by such online communities, but it’s important to remember that the people there are also anonymous. The Internet “hive mind” cannot substitute for a professional diagnosis, scientific consensus, or medically sound advice.

Other dubious sources of information might include “alternative health” websites. Many of these practitioners give good advice, like to quit smoking, start exercising, and eat fresh fruits and vegetables. We can’t argue with that. Sometimes, though, these communities can encourage the use of unproven remedies in place of effective treatments. A quick Google search for “natural contraception” can lead you to websites promoting mixtures of herbs for preventing pregnancy, and a search for “herpes cures” might leave you thinking that earwax or homeopathy can stop an outbreak in its tracks. Nonscientific ideas about the immune system also give rise to medically inaccurate statements about vaccines, such as the idea that “natural” HPV infections are preferable to being vaccinated with Gardasil — despite the facts that natural HPV infections might not confer effective immunity against re-infection and can lead to cancer. Continue reading