Lysine: An Essential Amino Acid That Provides Abundant Health Benefits


Story at-a-glance:

  • Lysine recently became popular for its ability to help fight off or alleviate cold sores, which are caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV)
  • Lysine is one of the building blocks of protein that plays an important role in the production of enzymes and hormones, as well as the formation of bones and muscles

Lysine recently became popular for its ability to help fight off or alleviate cold sores, which are caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). However, lysine is more than just a potent supplement for herpes, since it’s also a key component in various physiological processes.1 Read on to find out how lysine can help you take control of your health.

What Is Lysine?

Lysine is one of the building blocks of protein that plays an important role in the production of enzymes and hormones, as well as the formation of bones and muscles. Your body cannot synthesize this compound naturally, since it’s an essential amino acid.

Since your body cannot produce lysine on its own, it can be difficult to maintain adequate levels of this nutrient in your system. Unfortunately, lysine deficiency may cause a variety of health problems, including:2

Fatigue Nausea Loss of appetite
Agitation Anemia Stunted growth
Reproductive disorder

You can prevent the health issues mentioned above by eating foods that are naturally rich in lysine. You may also opt to take lysine supplements.

If you’ve looked into lysine supplements, then you may have encountered the term “l-lysine.” Don’t let this term confuse you, since it simply refers to the form of lysine that’s used in protein synthesis. Hence, it’s the form found in foods and supplements. Because of its abundance, l-lysine is often referred to as “lysine” for short.3

Natural Sources of Lysine That You Should Include Into Your Diet

Lysine can be obtained from a variety of foods, particularly those that are rich in protein. Here are some of the best dietary sources of this vital nutrient:

Grass fed beef

A 3-ounce serving of grass fed beef contains approximately 3 grams of lysine, making it one of the best sources of this amino acid.4

Grass fed parmesan cheese

Grass fed parmesan cheese is one of the most wholesome cheeses that you can get. One ounce of it contains 0.9 grams of lysine — that’s 44 percent of the recommended daily intake (RDI) for this nutrient.5

Grass fed chicken and turkey

Three ounces of chicken contain around 2.8 grams of lysine, while the same amount of turkey has 2.4 grams of this amino acid.6

Organic pork

The amount of lysine that you can get from pork depends on the part that you’re eating.

For instance, 3 ounces of cooked pork chop contains 2 grams of lysine, while the same amount of pork spareribs provides 106 percent of your RDI for this amino acid.7

Organic eggs

A raw organic egg that weighs 50 grams contains 0.4 grams of lysine. When cooked, eggs may give you 20 to 22 percent of your RDI for lysine.8


Spirulina is a type of algae that’s also considered a superfood. A 100-gram serving of dried spirulina contains approximately 3 grams of lysine.9

Fenugreek seed

Consuming a tablespoon of fenugreek seed can give you around 185 milligrams of lysine.10

In addition to the foods mentioned above, some of the other possible sources of l-lysine include avocadocantaloupe and sardines.11

Lysine Provides a Wide Array of Health Benefits

As with other amino acids, the primary role of lysine is to support the production of protein in order to repair and promote the growth of cells throughout your body. Without it, your cells will slowly degrade, ultimately hindering a wide range of physiological functions.12Aside from keeping your cells healthy, lysine also provides a variety of other health benefits:13,14

Increases collagen production Supports the production of enzymes and hormones
Supports the production of antibodies Lowers bad cholesterol levels
Promotes better calcium absorption Prevents the production of advanced glycation end products (AGEs)
Increases insulin secretion

L-lysine benefits your skin health, as well as your bones, tissues, cartilage and other body parts. Studies also suggest that lysine may help manage different medical conditions.

Take a Look at Some of the Most Common Uses of Lysine

Maintaining appropriate levels of lysine in your body not only helps maintain your overall well-being, but also helps you control or prevent a variety of health issues. Here are some of the common uses of l-lysine that you should be aware of:15

Helps reduce the frequency and/or severity of cold sores

Lysine is known for its ability to help prevent or alleviate cold sore outbreaks by blocking the activity of arginine, which is another amino acid that supports the production of the herpes virus.16

Improves bone health

Lysine helps your body absorb calcium more efficiently, ultimately increasing your bone strength and reducing the risk of skeletal conditions like osteoporosis17

Boosts athletic performance

Maintaining high levels of lysine in your body may improve your athletic performance, since this amino acid can help your muscles recover quickly after a strenuous workout routine.18

Promotes healthy skin and hair

Lysine helps improve the synthesis of collagen, a structural protein that protects your hair from free radicals and maintains the strength and elasticity of your skin.19,20

Reduces the risk of diabetes-related complications

By inhibiting the production of AGEs, lysine may help prevent the complications related to Type 2 diabetes.21

Improves heart health

Lysine may help improve heart health by supporting the production of carnitine, a compound that can reduce the amount of bad cholesterol by converting fatty acid into energy.

Lysine may also help prevent clogged arteries when taken along with vitamin C. This reduces your risk of heart diseases and stroke.22

Reduces anxiety and stress

Maintaining high levels of lysine in your body may help improve your mental health, since a deficiency in this nutrient is liked to anxiety, stress and depression.23

Lysine may also help reduce anxiety responses, such as diarrhea, by binding itself to the brain’s serotonin receptors.24

Lysine is also believed to be good for alleviating canker sores when taken orally. However, further studies are still needed to confirm its efficiency.25

Studies Support the Efficiency of Lysine for Cold Sores, Anxiety and Other Health Issues

Lysine has been used for a variety for therapeutic applications. Its ability to help fight off herpes is one of its most popular use. In fact, numerous studies have confirmed its efficiency in the management of this viral infection.

In a double-blind, placebo-controlled study conducted in the Indiana University School of Medicine, 27 participants who took lysine supplement three times a day for a span of six months experienced reduced severity and shorter healing time of cold sore episodes.26Another study published in the Journal of Oral Surgery, Oral Medicine and Oral Pathology also concluded that lysine may be useful in managing herpes infections if taken in adequate concentrations.27

In addition to its positive effects on cold sore management, researchers have also looked into its benefits on mental health. A study conducted in 2003 involved a three-month-long lysine fortification trial in poor Syrian communities. The results show that lysine may indeed help reduce stress responses and control chronic anxiety.28

Lysine’s efficiency when it comes to decreasing the risk of diabetes complications has been tested as well. According to a study published in the Journal of Acta Medica Iranica, l-lysine can help reduce the structure and function of glycated lysozyme, enabling it to decrease the risk of complications in patients with Type 2 diabetes.29

A study published in the Journal of Nutrition in 1992 also states that lysine may help prevent and/or improve osteoporosis, since it increases intestinal calcium absorption and prevents calcium from getting out of the body through urine.30

Ideal Dosage of Lysine

The right amount of lysine that you need to take depends on a variety of factors, including your body weight and your health goals. If you’re planning to take lysine supplement to manage cold sores, then the typical recommended dose is 3 grams per day for six months. Some people also use the topical form of lysine to treat cold sores — this should be applied every two hours for 11 days.31

If you’re planning to take lysine to maintain good health or prevent recurring cold sore outbreaks, then a lower dosage may be recommended by your doctor. Make sure that you consult your physician before taking lysine supplement, as it may cause adverse side effects when taken in excessive amounts.32

Take Note of These Side Effects Before Taking Lysine Supplement

While lysine is generally safe and beneficial to take, it may still cause a variety of adverse effects when taken in excessive amounts, which is why it’s important to follow the dosage recommended by your doctor. Here are some of the most common side effects of l-lysine supplement:

If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, talk to your physician before taking lysine, since there is not enough evidence to confirm if this supplement is safe for pregnant or breastfeeding women. Those who are suffering from kidney or liver disease should also take extra precaution before taking lysine supplement.

It’s important to note that lysine may interact with other medications too. Keep in mind that it increases the absorption of calcium, so make sure that you don’t take large amounts of calcium while supplementing with lysine. It may also increase the risk of nephrotoxicity if taken with aminoglycoside antibiotics.33

Keep This Tip in Mind When Getting Lysine From Your Diet

Since most of the foods that are rich in lysine also contain high amounts of protein, it’s important to eat them in moderation. Keep in mind that there’s a limit to how much protein your body can use. Consuming more than the recommended intake may lead to weight gain and higher glucose levels.

To prevent excessive protein intake, it’s a good rule of thumb to limit your protein consumption to a half gram per pound of your lean body mass.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Lysine

Q: What does lysine do to your body?

A: Lysine is an essential amino acid that provides a wide array of health benefits, including better calcium absorption, increased collagen production, improved athletic performance, reduced stress and stronger bones. This nutrient may also help reduce your risk of developing cold sores, diabetes-related complications and heart diseases.34

Q: How much lysine is considered safe to take?

A: The typical recommended dosage for lysine is 3 grams per day for relieving a cold sore outbreak. Keep in mind, though, that the right amount of lysine that you should take depends on a variety of factors, including your health condition and body weight. It’s best to consult your doctor to get the dosage that specifically suits your needs.35

Q: Does lysine help with cold sores?

A: Numerous studies have confirmed that lysine is helpful when it comes to reducing the severity and frequency of cold sores.36

Q: Can you overdose on lysine?

A: Yes, you can overdose on lysine. Some of the side effects that you may encounter if you take too much lysine include diarrhea, nausea and abdominal pain.37

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