Shingles - A Natural Approach
Photograph of Shingles
Causes and Symptoms of Shingles
Shingles, usually technically known as herpes zoster, is a virus infection caused by the same virus (Varicella zoster) that causes chickenpox. It normally appears in people of late middle age or older, and presents itself as areas of inflamed skin which sometimes erupt in blisters. Sometimes, it can appear in the eye area or in the ears, and in those cases shingles can be rather serious.
Shingles usually causes fairly severe pain, because it attacks the sensory nerves (including those responsible for the sensation of pain) in the skin. Some cases of shingles can leave scarring, sometimes quite severe, in the affected areas and these areas can remain painful due to nerve damage.
An attack usually starts with a few days of flu-like symptoms. Then very small blisters appear in little groups, and at this stage there can be severe pain in affected areas, plus generalised fatigue, depression, headache and tingling. As the lymphatic system is heavily involved in the fight against the virus, there can be pain and swelling in the lymph glands.
Shingles can occasionally also affect the breathing passages, which is obviously a serious problem.
Shingles usually appears late in life because at that time the immune system is weaker than it used to be. The virus, along with other herpes-class viruses such as the one responsible for cold sores, has evolved a defence mechanism that makes it impossible for the immune system to completely eradicate.
The primary method by which the body eliminates viruses is by killing the cells containing the virus. Herpes-class viruses exploit this by hiding in the nervous system, particularly in the spinal cord, which contains cells that the body can’t afford to kill because such cells, unlike most others, cannot be replaced. When the immune system is weak, the virus can reactivate and cause obvious symptoms of infection.
The immune system is weakened by advancing age and also by various forms of stress, whether physical or mental. This is probably the reason why shingles often appears in either particularly cold or particularly hot weather, or when someone has a major stressful life event such as losing a close family member.
Shingles can also be made more likely by various drugs, some of which weaken the immune system (methotrexate and various steroids being the most likely) and also by some specific foods. The latter is because L-arginine is required for the virus’s reproduction, and so foods high in this amino acid might make shingles more likely. These foods are chocolate, dairy products, meat, peanuts, walnuts and wheat.
Sugar, or foods containing lot of easily absorbable sugar, also depresses the immune system for several hours.
Lastly, as is usual for most diseases and disorders, a diet high in unnatural chemicals depresses the immune system as well.
Diagram of Shingles
Prevention and Natural Treatment of Shingles
Conventional treatment of shingles is usually confined to treatment of the symptoms with painkillers and soothing creams. Like most virus infections in otherwise healthy people, shingles is usually self-limiting. However, in particularly vulnerable patients or when the virus affects something important like the eyes or breathing, antiviral drugs can be used. Unfortunately, these drugs can have serious side effects so they are not routinely used.
Natural treatments, and especially prevention, of shingles follow from the reasons why the virus flares up, sometimes after several decades. The idea is to promote healing and strengthen the immune system; also to suppress the virus by other means. Unfortunately, having shingles in the first place means that your immune system is below par, so the list of necessary measures, herbals and supplements is quite lengthy. As an aside, although the chickenpox virus can cause serious problems in adults, shingles only appears when you have already had chickenpox at some time before. Most of the measures described here would help with adult chickenpox, also.
First of all, although some foods should ideally always be avoided they are especially important to remove if you have any active infection including chickenpox. These are basically foods containing unnatural chemicals and/or large amounts of sugar; both of these put the metabolism under strain and thus depress the immune system. Such foods tend to be low in vitamins and minerals as well, compounding the problem.
- L-Lysine; 500mg twice per day, away from food. Molecules of this amino acid attach themselves to the virus’s receptor sites normally used for L-arginine, thus preventing absorption of L-arginine by the virus. This prevents multiplication.
- Vitamin C; at least 1000mg 3 times per day. This boosts the immune system and has direct effects on the virus.
- Vitamin A; 25,000iu per day – boosts the immune system and is good for healing.
- Zinc picolinate; 30mg per day with copper. Similar effects to vitamin A.
- B Complex; 100mg strength 1 or 2 per day – strengthens the nervous system.
- Vitamin B12; extra 1000mcg per day, sublingual.
- Potassium; 99mg per day.
- Magnesium; up to 600mg per day.
- Calcium; up to 1000mg per day.
The three minerals are important for nerve function.
- Vitamin E; work up from 200iu to 1000iu per day over a two-month period. Helps avoid scarring and reduces post-herpetic neuralgia pain Applying the contents of a vitamin E capsule can help reduce scarring, after the blisters and scabs have dried up.
- Flaxseed or hemp seed oil; 2x1000mg per day. Helps healing of all cells, especially in the nervous system.
- Reishi and shiitake mushroom extracts; antiviral and immune-boosting properties. Take a dose containing 400mg of each extract twice per day.
- Boswellia; for inflammation. Take extract containing 400mg boswellic acid twice daily. As effective as NSAIDs with no side effects. Also has some antiviral effects.
- Elderberry; very powerful antiviral effects. Take 150mg of extract four times per day for the first week, then reduce.
- Cats Claw; powerful immune booster and anti-microbial.
- St. Johns Wort; helps reduce nerve pain and has very useful antiviral effects.
This is unfortunately a long list of supplements. It is an acute problem that needs tackling vigorously from the start. The two lists are in order of importance in case you don’t want to take all those pills or can’t get hold of some of them.
This is against all advice that natural practitioners would normally give. Under almost all circumstances, exercise is beneficial, but unfortunately vigorous exercise reduces the white blood cell count for a few hours. Many athletes are more prone to infections than non-athletes. Be careful with exercise if you catch shingles, although a certain amount of gentle exercise can actually help. If you have active shingles, you probably won’t want to go running anyway!
Lastly, shingles can become a serious problem if it attacks the breathing passages or the eyes. If that starts happening, see a doctor as soon as possible - even if you have previously sought medical advice.