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Alternative and Complementary Medicine for STDs

By Jill Grimes, M.D., FAAFP ; Updated August 14, 2017

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs), also known as sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), permeate our society, with more than 20 million new cases in the United States each year, and more than 110 million people living with ongoing STIs. While bacterial and parasitic STIs can be treated and eliminated, viral STIs (herpes, HPV, HIV and hepatitis B and C) do not yet have complete cures. Antiviral medications can suppress these viral STIs, in many cases greatly reducing symptoms and improving quality of life, but they cannot remove the infection.

Complementary therapies are not limited to herbs and vitamins. These therapies also include behavioral choices, exercises and diets that support the body’s natural immune system. Meditation, yoga, self-relaxation, prayer, massage, music therapy, biofeedback and other modalities help many people to reduce stress.

Viral STIs are frequently more symptomatic when the body is stressed. For example, herpes outbreaks may be triggered by sunlight, physical trauma, emotional stress or lack of sleep. Simple complementary therapies, therefore, include sun protection, lip balm, aerobic exercise in temperature-controlled settings and good sleep hygiene.

Herbal Medicine Therapies

Herbs have been successfully used for centuries to help with various ailments. However, there are many challenges today that complicate recommendations. These substances are not regulated by the FDA, so there is less confidence in the consistency of active ingredients in each pill. As clinicians embrace evidence-based medicine, we have far fewer scientific randomized, controlled studies with herbs and supplements, which makes it difficult for physicians to recommend them over better-evaluated prescription medications. Additionally, most physicians have not had enough training to be familiar with potential side effects or drug interactions with these substances. If you are taking herbs or supplements, be sure to talk with your primary care provider so you both are aware of possible interactions.


Lysine has been promoted for years to reduce herpes simplex outbreaks, for both oral and genital lesions. Prior clinical studies have yielded mixed results with small numbers of participants and no significant studies in the last two decades. Zinc has been used both topically and as an oral supplement to reduce HSV outbreaks.

Oral vitamin C has been recommended to improve healing from many viral infections, from influenza to HSV outbreaks.

Topical applications of lemon balm and licorice root for HSV outbreaks may improve healing.

Sleep Hygiene

Prioritizing quality sleep is critical to supporting your immune system and optimizing your health.

Be consistent with your sleep cycle. Try to go to bed and get up at roughly the same times every day (rather than sleeping in on weekends), aiming for at least eight hours per night.

Avoid screen time in the hour before you go to sleep.

Limit or completely avoid caffeine and alcohol until you have established a healthy sleep pattern.

If you wake up frequently during the night, cover your clock. Set and double-check an alarm, but do not look at the clock during the night.

End the day with a relaxing bath or shower, and pamper your senses with a scented candle and calming music. Go to bed directly after this (do not stop and do dishes or check email) so that your relaxed mind and body can fall asleep easier.


Human nature drives people to seek a fast or easy cure when faced with a difficult diagnosis. Not surprisingly, the internet is filled with false “cures” for viral STIs, so be skeptical of any therapy with that promise. A cure for viral STIs simply does not exist yet, but research is advancing and current antiviral medications are improving outcomes.

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