Top 5 Best Supplements for Canker Sores

Most of what you read and hear out there about canker sores deals with simply treating the sores once they develop.  And understandably so, after all, there’s not much else you care about when that volcanic pain hits in your mouth.

But as the great Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu once said, the best way to win a war is to prevent one from happening in the first place.  (Or maybe that was Richard Gere.  I always get them confused.)

In our case, of course that means that it’s better to prevent the canker sores from erupting in the first place than to treat them once they’ve unleashed their fury on you.

With that in mind, I present to you the 5 best supplements to help prevent canker sores.


1. Vitamin B12B12 chain

Vitamin B12 is one of 8 B vitamins and known as the most complex of them all, as it contains the biochemically rare element, cobalt.  In fact, it is sometimes referred to as cobalamin.  Mostly known for its energy-enhancing properties, Vitamin B12 is especially important for the brain and nervous system, and also aids in the production of blood.

People with vitamin B12 deficiencies experience a multitude of problems, including fatigue and depression at even slightly lower than normal levels, and even mania and psychosis at severe levels.  It’s also associated with a form of anemia.

You can get B12 the natural way by eating animal proteins, especially beef, shellfish, and liver, in slightly unnatural ways in fortified foods like flour, and in totally ungodly ways like energy drinks.  There aren’t any real side effects to taking too much vitamin B12, though the correction of megaloblastic anemia with vitamin B12 can result in fatal hypokalemia and gout in susceptible individuals.  And if you know what that means, you’re way smarter than me.

So what does all this have to do with canker sores?

According to results published in Spring 2009 from a study conducted at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel, B12 showed great promise in preventing canker sores in RAS sufferers.  In the study, 58 randomly selected RAS patients were given either 1000 mcg of B12 per night or a placebo and tracked over a 6 month period.  The results were that 74% of the treated group had a total remission of canker sores by the end of the study.  The average length of canker sores and the pain levels decreased in the first four months, but supposedly went away completely in the 5th and 6th month.  Those on the placebo saw 32% remission by the end.

Just to show how powerful the mind itself can be.


2. Folic Acid

Folic Acid is the Lon Cheney of the vitamin world as it is the vitamin with a thousand faces, including vitamin B9,vitamin Bc or folacin and folate (the naturally occurring form), as well as pteroyl-L-glutamic acid, pteroyl-L-glutamate, and pteroylmonoglutamic acid.  (It also loves to don a mask and lurk in the shadows of the Paris Opera House.)

For the purposes of simplicity, we’ll stick to Folic Acid, thank you very much.

Folic Acid is very similar to Vitamin B12 in that they work together to metabolize many functions in the body, including synthesizing and repairing DNA, as well as promote rapid cell growth.  It’s especially important in pregnant women and children as it keeps their fast-growing tissues healthy and developing properly.  Deficiencies in Folic Acid is uncommon in Western diets as many breads and foods are fortified with it, but creates a wealth of problems, including nerve damage and numbness, weakness, swollen tongue, forgetfulness, peptic ulcers, and even heart palpitations.

You can get Folic Acid naturally in leafy vegetables and legumes, egg yolks, sunflower seeds (so I’m okay), and liver, as well as fortified grains and breads.  Your body can also store up to 20,000 mcg in your body, so deficiencies are fairly uncommon.   The recommended daily intake is 1000 mcg for an adult.

As for what it does for canker sores…  There doesn’t seem to be a slam-bang study like the one for B12, it looks like mostly Folic Acid is recommended for canker sores because deficiencies can produce both peptic and mouth ulcers.  Now, while it’s been mentioned that deficiencies are uncommon, everybody’s body works differently.  So maybe some people are running a little low and will need to take more than the recommended daily amount to avoid getting them.  That, and the way Folic Acid speeds the process of cell division may help ulcers heal quicker than normal.

So it may be worth it to give it a shot.  Just remember the effects may take a while.


3. Lysine

Lysine is an amino acid, more specifically, it is an essential amino acid, which means that we can’t produce it ourselves and have to get it from other sources.  It’s a necessary building block for all protein in the body, so it’s not something you want to do without.  It also helps the body to absorb calcium, repair muscles, and aids in the body’s production of enzymes and antibodies.  Luckily, it can be found in a variety of sources including fish, chicken, beef, peas, legumes, and cheeses.

The recommended minimum amount for a healthy adult is 12 milligrams.

Some of the hype around Lysine’s effect on canker sores may go back to that old thorn in our sides, herpes.  Lysine has been shown to be effective at treating viruses, so it would stand to reason that it would be a good thing to take for cold sores and the herpes simplex virus.  But since RAS has nothing to do with herpes, it may be a fools errand to take it for canker sores.

Or is it?

Lysine deficiencies are linked to immunodeficiency, so taking lysine may help strengthen and regulate the immune system.  And RAS is an immune system condition, so it may have a positive effect in that regard.  Also, lysine being a building block of protein and a highly suggested supplement for after surgeries for its ability to help the body repair, it could help to heal canker sores.

I’m currently taking 2000 mg/day of lysine and while I’ve only been on it for a month or so, I am experiencing a (happily) light period of outbreaks.  We’ll see as things go along…


4. Iron

Iron is quite literally one of the most abundant elements in the universe.  The center of our planet is a solid core of the stuff.  It burns in every star in every galaxy, it’s under our feet, and it’s in our bodies.  In fact, we can’t live without it.  Hippy-dippy types might say it’s what connects us all.

Iron is essential to getting oxygen to our cells through the blood.  A protein called hemoglobin in red blood cells is the taxi cab that gets the oxygen from our lungs to our cells, and 2/3 of the body’s iron is found in the hemoglobin, with much of the rest in a protein called myoglobin, which moves oxygen to the muscles.  There are two types of dietary iron, heme, and non-heme.  Basically, heme iron comes from hemoglobin in red blood cells, which comes from eating animals.  Non-heme comes from plant sources.  Each are absorbed into the body roughly the same.

Iron is mostly used to treat anemia, a condition in which the body does not produce enough red blood cells and hemoglobin to effectively transfer oxygen around the body.

Typical recommended male intake for iron is about 8 mg/day, while for women it’s 18 mg/day due to blood loss during menstruation.  For pregnant women, 27mg/day is recommended.  The downside to iron supplementation is that iron toxicity is possible and can occur if you’re not careful.  Some people, mostly from European descent, have what is known as hemochromotosis, in which the body absorbs iron incredibly efficiently, so much so that it stores the iron in the body’s organs, which can lead to damage over time.  About 1 in 250 people have this condition, which can be accelerated with iron supplementation.

So what’s the jib with canker sores?

Well again, this is one of those deficiencies things.  Along with anemia, which creates a general malaise and tiredness, iron deficiencies can bring about canker sores.  There have been numerous studies that have tested iron-deficient RAS sufferers and after a round of iron supplementation as well as B12, the sores went away.  As always, it’s good to see the numbers yourself and track the results.


5. Astaxanthin


This last one is a bit of a wild card.

Astaxanthin is a carotenoid, a lipid-soluble pigment found in algae, yeast, salmon, trout, krill, crayfish, and other crustaceans.  Astaxanthin is what gives salmon its red color.  It’s so red, in fact, that it has been approved as a food additive for color.  Its color has other… unexpected effects that I’ll talk about later.

What makes astaxanthin interesting to us is it’s also one of the most powerful antioxidants in the world.  It works overtime to help the body heal and does it so well, in fact, it has been shown to prevent sunburn.

This was the reason why I started taking it in the summer.  As I’ve mentioned before, my skin handles sun about as well as the groundhog handles seeing its shadow, so the idea of taking a supplement that would prevent me from sun damage was appealing.  But I found there were other benefits that I wasn’t expecting.  In high enough doses, astaxanthin has anti-inflammatory properties.

And if there’s anything that will help get rid of a canker sore, it’s getting rid of the inflammation.

I noticed while I was on astaxanthin that the canker sores I did get were smaller,  less painful, and went away faster than typical sores.  It also seemed like they, for a lack of a better way of putting it, were struggling to get started.  A small spot would appear that would normally blow up into a canker sore in a day or two, but in this case, it seemed to just hover there, not proceeding or getting worse and then going away.

Alternately, I noticed that the longer I took it, the less effective it seemed to be.  Almost as if the body gets used to the supplementation and regulates itself back to normal.  It seems like the best way to take astaxanthin would be in cycles – a week or two on and then a week or two off as it were.

It only had one small downside that I could see.  Whereas many vitamins and multivitamin supplements tend to turn your urine a nice nuclear-reactor yellow, astaxanthin… well…

It turns your poop red.

It also stains the bowl a bit more than normal.  But nothing that doesn’t wash out.

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