What is Shingles?
Shingles is a disease caused by the varicella-zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox. Shingles affects the nerve endings in the skin and can appear anywhere on the body, however, it is most commonly found on the skin around the ribs and torso. Once the varicella-zoster virus enters the body and has caused chickenpox (usually in childhood), it never goes away completely. It usually lies dormant in the spinal cord and nerve cells that lead from the spinal cord and brain. In approximately 1 out of 3 people who have been infected by chickenpox in the past, the shingles virus will be activated at some stage in their lives.
Shingles is usually activated after a period of intense stress or trauma or when there has been a weakening of the immune system. Then, the varicella-zoster infection spreads to the very ends of the nerves, causing them to send impulses to the brain that are interpreted as severe pain, itching, or burning and rendering the skin much more sensitive than usual. This is accompanied by a rash or blisters on the skin. Other symptoms can include chills, fevers, achiness, and depression. Shingles usually lasts between three to five weeks. The majority of people will only experience shingles one time, but it is possible to get shingles on multiple occasions.
Who is at risk for shingles?
Those who are most at risk for developing Shingles include;
- Those with a weakened immune system (such as someone with cancer)
- Approximately 50% of all Shingles cases occur in people who are 50 or older (Zostavax is a shingles vaccination available in NZ for people over 50)
- People who have been recently ill
- People under excessive stress
- People who have experienced major trauma
Foods & Drinks to help with recovery from shingles include;
- Vitamin B rich foods – B vitamins help to support the body’s nervous system and considering that the nervous system is under attack with a shingles, it is important to eat foods that are high in B-vitamins. Foods to include are; brewer’s yeast, sweet potatoes, bananas, grass-fed beef, cultured dairy, eggs, organic chicken, whole grains, and vegetables
- Water – Adequate hydration is vital to help to flush out the virus from your system. Try to drink 2 litres of purified water every day.
- Garlic and onions – Both raw garlic and onion contain allicin, which can help boost immune function.
- Vitamin C rich foods – Vitamin C helps to boost your immunity and also speed up the skin’s healing. Incorporate a lot of oranges, lemons, tomatoes, capsicum, kiwifruit, and berries into your diet.
- Green leafy vegetables – These vegetables are high in antioxidants and magnesium, which can boost immune function and support the nervous system.
- Green tea – has antiviral, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. The polyphenols it contains have been found to help fight herpes viruses.
Foods & drinks to avoid for faster healing include;
- Sugar – The consumption of sugar decreases white blood cells in the body. White blood cells are vital to helping fight off infection.
- Caffeine – Caffeine can be over-stimulating for the nervous system and can also be dehydrating, so it is best avoided in all its forms (i.e. coffee, tea, chocolate, energy drinks).
- Fried foods – Fried foods Promote an acidic environment that is not conducive to healing, so best to avoid these foods during an attack of shingles.
- Alcohol – Alcohol should best be avoided during an attack on shingles as it puts stress on the liver and the body’s healing process on the whole.
Supplements & herbs to consider include;
- Vitamin C – Helps with immune system function and boosts white blood cells.
- Echinacea – A herb known for helping the body fight off infections and viruses.
- Valerian root – Can help to calm the nervous system. It is particularly good to take at night to ensure a restful and healing sleep.
- Vitamin B12 – Vitamin B12 helps promote faster recovery and reduced pain.
- Zinc – Zinc supports immune function and has an antiviral effect. Also helps to protect the skin from infection.
- Cayenne (capsicum) – Cayenne contains a substance called capsaicin which can relieve pain and aid healing. It is available in capsule form.
- Vitamin E – Helps to prevent the formation of scar tissue
- Probiotics – Provide beneficial bacteria to the intestines and help to boost immune function
- Colloidal silver – A natural antibiotic that has shown effectiveness in treating shingles. Can be taken internally or used topically.
- Essential fatty acids – Promotes healing of skin and nerve tissue.
Other Natural Treatments include;
- Oatmeal & Lavender Oil Baths – A bath of ground oatmeal and lavender oil can help relieve the itching and burning sensation associated with shingles. Mix 5 cups of ground oatmeal into a lukewarm bath (Ensure it is on the cooler side since hot water will only make itching worse.) Mix until the water takes on a milky appearance and texture. Add a few drops of pure lavender oil. Lavender oil has antiviral anti-inflammatory, and analgesic properties so can greatly help to reduce pain along with helping you to relax. Soak for approximately 15 minutes.
- Cool Compresses – You can use cool, wet compresses on shingles blisters to reduce the intense heat/burning sensation that they cause. These cooling compresses can help with shingles pain, sensitivity and itching. Be sure to change the washcloth with each session to prevent infection.
- Stress Reduction – Reducing stress in your life as much as possible is one of the key natural treatments for shingles. Stress reduction is such an overall immune system and health booster.
Always ensure you chat with a health professional before starting on any new supplements or herbs. Talk to your doctor or vaccinating pharmacist to see if the shingles vaccination is right for you.