Lysine is one of numerous amino acids that the body needs for growth and tissue repair. It is classified as one of the nine "essential" amino acids because you need to get it from outside sources such as foods or supplements – your body can't make it on its own.
As an amino acid, it is found in a host of foods and is not normally deficient in the diet. Many foods supply lysine, but the richest sources by far include red meats, fish, and dairy products (milk, eggs, cheese). Vegetables, on the other hand, are generally a poor source of lysine, with the exception of legumes (beans, peas, lentils).
Of all the amino acids, lysine is the most sensitive to the effects of food processing, such as dry heat. The amount of protein available in legumes and other sources of lysine can be significantly reduced if they have been toasted or roasted.
While many people satisfy their need for lysine through dietary sources, supplements are now popular for treating and preventing specific ailments as well.
Supplements come in various forms: tablet, powder, liquid, and capsule.
Like all amino acids, lysine functions as a building block for proteins. It is also a key player in the production of various enzymes, hormones, and disease-fighting antibodies. It is necessary for proper growth and helps form collagen which comprises bone cartilage and connective tissues.
Researchers are exploring the value of lysine supplementation and the consumption of lysine-rich foods for lowering cholesterol, improving athletic performance, and enhancing recovery after surgery. Because Lysine helps repair tissue, it is a good supplement for anyone recovering from surgery and injuries.
Lysine is helpful in lowering triglycerides and as an anti-aging factor. It is involved in the structural repair of damaged blood vessels.
Recently it has been shown that L-Lysine can inhibit the growth of the herpes virus. Herpes virus requires many proteins with the amino acid arginine, and lysine competes directly with arginine in many of these processes. This competition is thought to slow down the growth of the herpes virus. While high doses (500-1500 mg/day) are beneficial during the suppression of viral growth, lesser amounts should be taken, if taking on an on going basis to prevent an amino acid imbalance problem.
At the time of writing there is no official RDA for lysine. It is estimated, however, that the daily requirement for an adult is approximately 12mg per kilogram (2.2lb) of body weight.
In very large doses (10 to 30gm per day), lysine increases the toxicity of aminoglycoside antibiotics, such as gentamicin, neomycin, and streptomycin.
Linus Pauling discovered that supplemental L-lysine reduces the binding of lipoprotein-a, also known as Lp(a), in its binding to the walls of arteries. By preventing this action, plaque buildup is discouraged since plaque is made up primarily of Lp(a).
The naturally-occurring amino acids lysine and proline assist Lp(a) in its deposition and binding to stressed or injured vascular wall sites. However, when there is an extra quantity of lysine and proline in the blood stream, the Lp(a) attachment sites get blocked by these amino acids creating a "Teflon-like" layer around the lipoprotein particles. This prevents the Lp(a) from binding to artery walls, as well as helps detach Lp(a) plaque from preexisting sites in the vascular wall. This supplemental use of these amino acids can prevent plaque build-up and initiate the reversal of plaque deposits. The amount will vary between individuals. Seriously ill heart patients require 5-6 grams (5,000 to 6,000mg) of lysine daily. This strategy may be useful for treating type 2 plaque.
Some nutritionally-oriented physicians and dentists recommend taking lysine during an outbreak of canker sores to speed healing. However, there have been almost no clinical trials using lysine as a remedy for canker sores. Take 1,000mg L-lysine three times a day with meals while a canker sore is present. Reduce the dose to 500mg three times a day for one week following healing. Take 1,000mg L-lysine three times a day with meals while a canker sore is present. Reduce the dose to 500mg three times a day for one week following healing.
Lysine can speed the healing of shingles lesions. Painful shingles blisters are caused by a reactivation of varicella-zoster virus, an infection that started out as an attack of chickenpox. Herpes zoster is closely related to herpes simplex, however, and lysine appears to have a similar role to play in treating an eruption of shingles. Most physicians who recommend lysine will combine this therapy with conventional antiviral medications such as acyclovir or valacyclovir. Recommendation: Take 1,000mg L-lysine three times a day with meals during flare-ups. Reduce the dose to 500mg three times a day for one week after healing.
Researchers recently discovered that, in order to replicate, the herpes virus needs arginine, another common amino acid. Lysine competes with arginine for absorption and entry into tissue cells. And when lysine is present, it inhibits the growth of HSV by knocking out arginine.
This makes a diet high in lysine and low in arginine a useful tool in managing HSV infections. In one study, participants consumed large amounts of lysine (about 1gm three times daily) while restricting food sources of arginine. A significant number of participants (74%) noticed an improvement in their HSV infections and a decrease in the number of outbreaks.