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L-Lysine Overview | Nu Image Medical®

L-Lysine Overview | Nu Image Medical®
Dr. Constance Odom, MD Picture of Dr. Constance Odom, MD

Medically reviewed by

Written by our editorial team.

Last Edited 7 min read

There are several benefits that L-Lysine can provide to its users. For many people, you might not be aware of what it is, or might never have heard of lysine. It is an essential amino acid, which the body can't produce on its own, so will require food, or outside resources (supplement) to ensure sufficient levels are achieved in the body. From fighting treating a cold sore to fighting cancer, the same protein building blocks can get the job done. Science tells us so, and this protein block is found in L-Lysine. People have relied on the power of L-Lysine for treating herpes, and even for post-workout recovery for years now; and, studies suggest the amino acid can do much more than those two things. From treating diabetes, to anxiety, to muscle recovery, L-Lysine can help. You can get the amino acid in food, but as is the case with most people, diet alone simply doesn’t cut it; this is where a L-Lysine supplement can fill in the void.

What is L-Lysine?

L-Lysine is an amino acid; you are probably aware of the fact that amino acids are “protein building blocks” which are used for everything from improving cognitive function to treating injuries, to helping treat internal injuries, and helping with growth. There are about 100 amino acids found in nature, however about 20 of these are essential for creation and growth; and, of those 20, only half are naturally produced in the body. The remainder are known as “essential amino acids” which humans need to survive and thrive. Degradation of internal cells is one of the setbacks of a deficiency, which can lead to other health issues; therefore, it is imperative you get these elsewhere.

Amino acids exist in two variations, which are identical to each other, or “mirror images.” They come in D and L forms, where the L-form is used in protein synthesis, and found in foods and supplement forms. These are referred to as “lysine” for short. L-Lysine has many benefits including: treating a cold sore, treating anxiety, and even helping with muscle recovery after a hard workout. Although it can be taken in a supplement form, L-Lysine is best when consumed through the foods we consume. Meats, beans, eggs, and cheeses, are a few of the foods where L-Lysine is found in high volumes.

L-Lysine is essential in carnitine creation, which is responsible for converting fatty acids to energy and can also help reduce cholesterol levels. It can also help the body form collagen and help with calcium absorption. This helps with skin tightening, bone strength, and maintenance of connective tissues. It can also help in warding off illness and disease, which makes L-Lysine essential in the body, for optimal health.

L-Lysine: The Benefits

  1. Frequency reduction and Prevent Herpes outbreaks

L-Lysine may be found in cold sore medications; so, if you’ve heard of it before, this is probably where. Cold sores result from herpes simplex 1-virus, and nearly 70% of people under the age of 50 are affected by it. This is true even if symptoms aren’t displayed. HSV-2 is responsible for genital herpes, and nearly 85% of carriers aren’t aware they suffer from it.

Research isn’t specific, but L-Lysine is highly effective in treating this condition. Studies suggest using L-Lysine can help in reducing the total number of outbreaks, and others suggest that when outbreaks do occur, they are shortened in duration with the assistance of L-Lysine. Although experts agree L-Lysine won’t completely prevent outbreaks, they can reduce the frequency, pain, and other side effects that come with the virus.

A study using a cream with zinc, herbs, and L-Lysine, found 80% of patients had cold sores gone within a 6-day period, while the outbreaks typically last for 21-days. Although studies don’t conclude how L-Lysine treats the virus, it is suggested that how it interacts with arginine (another amino acid) is effective in treating herpes. Arginine has been proven to decrease replication rates of herpes, while L-Lysine reduces activity of arginine, as the amino acids work together.

L-Lysine will help with HSV-1, but can also help in treating HSV-2, or genital herpes. Using the same mechanisms, it can reduce frequency, duration, and symptoms experienced, although studies aren’t 100% clear how this occurs.

  1. Cancer Treatment 

Radiation and chemotherapy hurt the body’s cells; and this is why researchers are constantly after a natural cure or solution to treat cancer. Recently, huge strides have been made on this front, as researchers learn that certain foods can do exactly what we need them to do in our body. It can target malignant cells without killing the healthy cells in the body. FSU researchers found during a 2007 study that L-Lysine can affect damaged DNA, like those found in cancer. It can locate a damaged cell, “cleavage” the damaged cell, and cause the remainder of that cell to tear apart. Apoptosis, the suicidal death of the cell, is the end result.

How it works with specific light variations is even more fascinating as it comes to L-Lysine and treating cancer. Only when exposed to certain lights are the L-Lysine benefits found; this allows doctors and researchers to place the treatment in the most concentrated areas and activate them where they are most impactful. Studies in this area found that between 25 to 90% of the damaged cells were destroyed using this treatment.

L-Lysine oxidase was tested in colorectal cancer in mice, in 2014. The injection was linked to no deaths and significantly shrunk tumors, which is promising for treating this form of cancer going into the future. Leukemia and other bone-marrow related cancers can also be treated, as per early research conducted using L-Lysine. Prevention of genotoxicity was achieved in cells which were exposed to cancer-causing substances in these studies.

  1. Psychological Symptoms & Anxiety treatment

Eating foods high in omega-3, magnesium, and B-vitamins, along with increase in L-Lysine, can minimize anxiety; by helping the body better absorb calcium, it can potentially help anxiety sufferers calm down. It also behaves like a serotonin; it partially binds to serotonin, to help prevent anxiety responses. This was found in research studies linked to anxiety, including diarrhea.

In developing countries, where wheat is a primary staple in the diet, this study relying on L-Lysine is extremely beneficial. Since people in these countries are more likely to be deficient in L-Lysine, relying on a supplement can greatly help in reducing diarrhea and stomach disorders, as well as other anxiety-related problems. Individuals suffering from schizophrenia may also benefit from L-Lysine; when used in conjunction with therapy, it can help decrease negative and general schizophrenia symptoms. Dosage and long-term effects haven’t been determined to this point.

  1. Absorb more Calcium

By consuming more L-Lysine, greater calcium absorption rates are achieved. And, this has led many to believe this can potentially go forward in helping treat osteoporosis. No studies have been conducted to date on this front; but, given how important calcium is in bone health, it is possible L-Lysine can help reduce occurrences of osteoporosis, in individuals who aren’t deficient in the amino acid. And, logic suggests, it can help strengthen bone health, for individuals who have brittle bones.

Calcium is beneficial for more than just bone health; it is also linked to maintaining a healthy weight, PMS symptom reduction, cancer prevention, nerve and muscle health, dental health, and prevention of diabetes. Many athletes also use L-Lysine to help with performance increase; this is also linked to the manner in which the body absorbs calcium.

  1. Diabetes problems reduced 

Increased risk of infection, along with other diabetes-related symptoms, are most often the risks which diabetes sufferers are concerned with. The large presence of advanced glycation end products, or AGEs, has been paid much attention to in the past. AGE is a part of the aging process in all people; however, are found in higher concentrations in those who suffer from diabetes. They are further implicated in diabetes, age-related issues. This leads scientists to believe that AGE therapies, can be treated when used in conjunction with L-Lysine supplements.

Prohibiting the AGEs in diabetes sufferers is one of the main benefits that L-Lysine provides. It can prevent specific paths of glycation which leads to these products; this in turn can help stave off the infections. By introducing more L-Lysine to the system, and following a diabetic diet plan, AGE, or advanced glycation end products, are also reduced in the body. This can help slow down the aging process, which seems to be sped up in diabetes sufferers.

  1. A Healthy Gut

Leaky gut syndrome is an issue millions of Americans, and people worldwide, suffer from, without even being aware of it. This is basically a condition which permeates the lining of the digestive tract lining; this in turn allows larger particles than intended, to get out of the digestive system, and make their way into other areas of the body. Low energy levels, allergic reactions, thyroid disease, autoimmune disease, and joint pain, are just a few of the many issues which are linked to leaky gut syndrome.

Poly-L-Lysine, which is a form of L-Lysine, was recently found to have anti-inflammatory effects on the digestive system. Hopefully, this will lead to further research as to how L-Lysine can help with improve gut/digestive health can be achieved. Although it is not directly linked to leaky gut syndrome, L-Lysine has also been found to help suppress pancreatitis. This is the inflammation of the pancreas, which is also essential in improved digestive health, and the body’s ability to properly and safely digest foods after they are consumed.

L-Lysine Dosage - How much should you take? 

Okay, so you are aware of the many benefits L-Lysine, this powerful amino acid, has on your system. But, how much should you be taking? Are you getting enough from your diet alone (probably not)? And, what form of the supplement should you be taking? Let’s answer a few of these questions.

When all possible, it is far better to get your nutrients from food, rather than supplement form. It is more readily absorbed by the body, and is easier on digestion. Further, this also prevents the risk of overdosing, which is a possibility with L-Lysine, and any other nutrient, vitamin, or supplement you take to treat a deficiency. However, when you aren’t meeting the daily required dosage, or recommended levels by diet alone, this is where a L-Lysine supplement can prove to be extremely beneficial.

An average individual, weighing about 150 pounds, should be getting anywhere between 800 to 3000 mg daily of L-Lysine in their diet. For treating herpes outbreaks, it is suggested to take 1 to 3 grams daily of L-Lysine. You can take L-Lysine in a cream/topical form, to treat herpes, or cold sores. Depending on severity and where they are present, there are different options available to users.

It is important to bear in mind that when you are eating foods which are rich in L-Lysine levels, that conventional preparation methods can decrease the actual amount which goes into your body, when you consume the foods. Methods like reducing sugar based substances, heating foods which have sucrose present, or high yeast-content present, or cooking where there is an absence of moisture, are all reasons why L-Lysine levels dissipate, when preparing foods you are going to consume. For such reasons, it is important to know how much you are getting from diet, and how much you are actually ingesting, to determine the proper dosage if you do have to include a L-Lysine supplement into your diet.

Foods: Which foods are rich in L-Lysine?

So, you are aware of the fact that you should be getting as much of the essential amino acid from foods, rather than supplements. But, which foods should you be consuming, if you want to eat a L-Lysine-rich diet? There are many foods which have high contents of this amino acid. These are among the highest concentrations found in foods listed below:

  1. Lamb or lean beef contains 3582 mg, which is 171% Daily Value.

  2. Parmesan cheese contains 3306 mg, or 157% Daily Value.

  3. Turkey or chicken contain 3110 mg, or 148% Daily Value.

  4. Pork contains 2757 mg or 131% Daily Value.

  5. Soy beans (roasted) contains 2634 mg, or 125% Daily Value.

  6. Tuna contains 2590 mg, or 123% Daily Value.

  7. Shrimp contains 2172 mg or 103% Daily Value.

  8. Pumpkin seeds contain 1386 mg or 66% Daily Value.

  9. Eggs contain 912 mg, or 43% Daily value.

  10. White beans contain 668 mg, or 32% Daily value.

Due to the nature of most peoples’, they simply do not consume enough of these foods, or eat them often enough, to ensure they are getting the appropriate levels of L-Lysine in their diets daily.

Further, although these foods are rich in L-Lysine, it is advised to avoid shrimp, pork, and soy-based products as much as possible. The reason for this is they are contaminated with toxins. So, even though they are beneficial in increasing L-Lysine levels, they can be harmful to your body, and system, in other ways. In terms of the meats, cheese, and eggs you consume as a part of your diet, choose organic, grass-fed, and free-range when all possible. This not only ensures toxins aren’t found in your foods, but also that other additives are not going to make their way into these foods, which can decrease L-Lysine levels, and can also have other adverse effects on your health.

L-Lysine: The History & Facts you should know

Dreschel, a scientist, discovered L-Lysine in 1889; this was done by isolating the amino acid from casein, which is a milk-based protein. In 1928, further research on L-Lysine was conducted, when Leavenworth and Vickery prepared it in a crystalline form. Fisher and Weigart finished this process, until the L-Lysine was completely synthesized.

Many pop-culture spots have made reference to L-Lysine over the years. For example, in 1993’s Jurassic Park (the fictional 1993 film and the 1990 book) cited a “L-Lysine contingency”. This was cited as a way to prevent the dinosaurs from living outside of the park which had been created in the film. Although it is faulty-scientific logic, what it stated in the film was that the geneticists who were creating the dinosaurs made these beasts incapable of producing L-Lysine naturally. Meaning, if they did not get a supplement form of L-Lysine, from their caretakers, they would die. Therefore, they had to remain in the park in order to get the supplement of L-Lysine, required for them to survive.

L-Lysine is an essential amino acid. However, it is not produced in any animal’s body, but it is only found in nature. Although this is true, as known through research and studies, it still made for a rather clever plot-line in the film, and was a premise behind the reason why the dinosaurs had to remain in “Jurassic Park”, in order to survive.

L-Lysine has also been involved in US court cases. In fact, it was the focal point of the most expensive price-fixing case in the US which garnered a huge $100 million settlement, and led to three convictions of top executives who served prison time for the offense they were charged with. The case was the subject of 2009’s film, “The Informant”, which starred Matt Damon.

And, we’re not done with the celebrities, or pop-culture references yet. Sheldon Cooper, from the Big Bang Theory, also shows his love for L-Lysine by naming it his favorite amino acid in a season two episode of the popular, long-running TV series. It is referenced in episode 13 of the show’s second season.

Even though it is important to us, as human beings to thrive and survive, L-Lysine has gotten its love outside of the original “scientific realm” it is known through. From popular TV shows, box-hit movies, and even US court cases, which led to jail-time, and huge settlements for major corporations, L-Lysine has made its way through US pop culture in recent years.

Possible Side Effects of L-Lysine

Some minor side effects have been reported in those who use L-Lysine supplements in order to treat a deficiency. When consuming foods which are high in L-Lysine concentrations, these side effects have not been reported, which is important to note, for those who are considering the use of a supplement. Some of the complained of side effects include: stomach pain and diarrhea. And, although not common, it has been linked to kidney disease. Therefore, patients who suffer from kidney disorder, are on dialysis, or take medication for inflammation, should be fully aware that it is possible this can lead to a disorder if taking L-Lysine supplements. Further, those with liver impairment should also warn their doctor prior to starting use of L-Lysine supplements, to ensure it is safe for use in their system.

The effect of L-Lysine supplements hasn’t been studied in pregnant mothers at length. Because of this, women who are pregnant or are nursing, should avoid use of a L-Lysine supplement, as the side effects are not known. If you are deficient, and are nursing or pregnant, you can also speak to your doctor or healthcare provider, to learn what the possible risks are if you choose to take a L-Lysine supplement.

The viral load of HIV patients can be increased when taking L-Lysine supplements; this is important to note as L-Lysine supplements have been used in many cases where people suffer from many diseases, and would like to treat those conditions. For such reasons, individuals who suffer from HIV or AIDS, should avoid taking L-Lysine, and should also avoid consuming foods which are high in L-Lysine levels (even though the foods will not produce the same result or adverse effects the supplement may cause). On a positive twist on this note, scientists are discovering that the phenomenon is now capable of helping to speed up the testing of different treatments for curing/treating HIV going forward. So, this might also be something of the past in coming years.

Final Thoughts: L-Lysine

  • L-Lysine: This is the L-form of Lysine. What is it used for? It is formed in the body, and used by the body, to build proteins. This is an essential amino acid which the body requires to function normally, and therefore, relying on a supplement form of L-Lysine, is often a chosen method for those treating a deficiency in Lysine levels.

  • L-Lysine: This is an essential amino acid which can’t be produced in the human body. So, how do we get it? Consumption of foods which are high in lysine concentrations is the best approach to ensure the body has sufficient levels of lysine. However, because of food allergies, or difficulty consuming high enough quantities of foods which are rich in lysine, many people rely on L-Lysine, or a supplement of the L-form, to ensure they are getting sufficient levels in their diet each day. Topical creams also contain Lysine for treating herpes or cold sores.

  • L-Lysine: What is the most common use or practice when using this supplement? It is most often used in treating the herpes simplex virus. Although it is not known if it kills the virus, numerous studies and research conducted, have shown that it can reduce the length which individuals suffer from herpes (reduced to 6 days, where outbreaks typically take 21 days to cure). It has also been found to help minimize symptoms and pain which are often associated with herpes simplex virus.

  • L-Lysine: It has many mechanisms, and variations, through which it can possibly help in fighting or preventing different forms of cancer. It has been found to help reduce the size of tumors in the body when treating cancer. It also helps to cause cell death, in the contaminated or damaged cells. Further, it does this without damaging the healthy cells which are nearby to the damaged cells. Because of this, researchers believe this is a viable, “natural” solution, as opposed to chemotherapy or radiation, which are known to kill the healthy cells in the body, as well as the cancerous cells. Plenty of research still has to be conducted, however, going forward, there is a positive outlook on L-Lysine, and its ability to help in treating different forms of cancer going forward.

  • L-Lysine: There are other benefits to taking an L-Lysine supplement. It can greatly help increase calcium absorption. This can possibly help in treating or preventing osteoporosis; it can also help improve bone health, dental health, and overall body composition and well being. It can also reduce diabetes related illness. By reducing AGE-process in diabetes sufferers, it can help prevent many of the symptoms which sufferers often complain of. And, it can help in improved digestive health. It can help in treating leaky gut syndrome, which is a condition millions of people suffer from, and are not aware of. By helping protect the digestive-tract, not only does it limit allergies, thyroid conditions, and other digestive problems, but can even help in weight maintenance. By pinpointing different areas of digestive health issues, L-Lysine can greatly help those who suffer from leaky gut, or other digestive issues which have been diagnosed by their doctors.

  • L-Lysine: It is suggested that eating foods which are rich in lysine-levels, is the optimal way to get the essential amino acid in our diets. Poultry, fish (tuna), lamb or pork, pumpkin seeds, eggs, and cheeses, are just a few foods which can be consumed, to help increase levels of lysine in the body naturally. It is important to note, however, that most people simply don’t get enough of these foods in their diet alone. And, some of these foods shouldn’t be consumed often in the diet, as they can adversely affect your health in other areas. For such reason, many people rely on the use of L-Lysine supplements, and many doctors suggest using a supplement, to ensure sufficient levels are achieved on a daily basis in the diet.

  • L-Lysine: How much should you be taking in daily? The average individual (weighing about 150 pounds), should be getting anywhere between 800 to 3000 mg daily. And, for those who are using L-Lysine to treat herpes simplex virus, it is suggested to get anywhere from 1 to 3 grams daily. Because most people do not get this suggested intake through diet alone, many rely on the use of a L-Lysine supplement, which can be prescribed by their doctor, in order to ensure they are getting sufficient levels on a daily basis in their diet.

Is a L-Lysine supplement for you?

The answer really depends for every individual. As detailed above, HIV and AIDS sufferers can’t use a supplement. Further, those who have kidney disease, or liver conditions, should also avoid using the supplement. And, women who are nursing or pregnant, should speak to their doctor (at the very least) prior to using a supplement.

But, for the general population who isn’t getting enough lysine in their diet alone, a L-Lysine supplement can be greatly beneficial. Since the body can’t produce the amino acid naturally, and it is an essential amino acid, your body really needs it to survive and thrive. Therefore, if you aren’t getting enough in your diet, you are going to be deficient in L-Lysine. This is where the use of supplements can greatly help in curing those deficiencies, and treating chronic conditions which may be linked to a deficiency in this, or other amino acids, vitamins, and nutrients, your body is simply not getting enough of.

If you are deficient, or believe you are not getting enough lysine in your diet alone, the next step would be to speak to your doctor or healthcare provider, to learn if using a L-Lysine supplement is a viable solution for you. Not only will they inform you of risks, and whether you have other options to consider, but can also prescribe the right dosage level, in the event you are deficient. From there, you can cure the deficiency, improve overall health levels, and possibly treat some of the above listed illnesses or diseases you suffer from, and had no idea they might’ve been linked to a deficiency in L-Lysine.

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your physician about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Nu Image Medical may not offer the medications or services mentioned in this article.