Shingles is a painful, blistering rash caused by the herpes zoster virus which also causes chickenpox, it affects up to 20% of adults at some time. Shingles occurs in people who have had chickenpox and is a reactivation of the dormant virus. Shingles can occur many years after the initial chickenpox infection, it is contagious and may itself cause chickenpox. You cannot catch shingles from someone with shingles.

After the chickenpox virus has been contracted, it travels from the skin along the nerve paths to the sensory roots of the nerves in the spinal cord, where it lies dormant. The chickenpox virus then ‘hibernates’. When immunity to the virus drops, it is reactivated and travels back along the the nerve pathway to the skin. Any nerve can be affected, but the virus most commonly affects the divisions of the trigeminal nerve which serves the face and the nerves of the chest.

The first sign that a reactivation of the chickenpox virus is taking place is a burning or tingling sensation on the nerve paths along which the virus is travelling. Prompt treatment with anti-viral agents may abort or lessen the severity of an attack. Nerve paths typically form half-circles around the body. The pain and subsequent rash correspond to the position of the nerve paths and are almost always on one side of the body or face only. The rash is usually accompanied by a fever and enlarged lymph nodes.

Two to three days after the pain has begun, a typical rash appears: small blisters on red, swollen skin. It resembles the rash that is seen during an attack of chickenpox but usually affects a smaller area. The rash generally reaches its peak after three to five days after which time the blisters burst and turn into sores, which gradually scab over. The scabs fall off after two to three weeks. In some people, the area where the rash was located becomes extremely painful after the scabs have gone and can last from a few weeks to several months. This highly unpleasant after-effect of shingles is called post-herpetic neuralgia.

It is not known what factors trigger a reactivation of the virus. Shingles generally affects the elderly, but occasionally occurs in children who have had chickenpox within the first year of their lives and in people with an immune deficiency.

Shingles can be a sign of immunodeficiency, caused by HIV or chemotherapy, for example, but most people who get shingles have a normal immune system. Shingles has been linked to stress and as stress suppresses the immune system, it makes sense to reduce stress levels.

Nutritional Supplements that could help. (Refer to the individual supplement for cautions in use.)

Supplement/Herb What it does Dosage
Vitamin E Vitamin E has been found to be effective for people with postherpetic neuralgia—even those who have had the problem for many years. In addition, vitamin E oil (30 IU per gram) can be applied to the skin twice daily. A few months of continuous vitamin E use may be needed in order to see an improvement. 1,200–1,600 IU per day.
L-Lysine Because shingles is caused by a herpes virus, lysine supplementation may help people with the condition, since lysine inhibits replication of herpes simplex, a related virus. 1gm to 5gm per day, decrease as the condition improves.
Vitamin C To support the immune system. 3 to 5 gms daily
Echinacea Boosts the immune system and helps the body fight viral infections. 500mg 3 times daily
Liquorice Anti-viral, anti-inflammatory it has potent healing properties. 500mg 3 times daily
Lemon Balm Well known for it’s anti-viral properties, particularly the herpes virus. 500mg 3 times daily
St Johns Wort Anti-viral and anti-bacterial. 500mg 3 times daily


Diet and Lifestyle Factors

 The virus that causes shingles is a type of herpes virus. A diet that is low in arginine and high in L- lysine may help prevent herpes viruses from replicating. If you have shingles you may wish to avoid foods with high arginine-to-lysine ratios, such as nuts, peanuts, and chocolate. Non-fat yoghurt and other non-fat dairy can be a healthy way to increase lysine intake.

Eat a well balanced diet with plenty of fruit, vegetables and oily fish to help support your immune system and reduce inflammation.

Avoid processed foods, hydrogenated and trans fats.

Acupuncture can help to support the immune system and relieve the pain of shingles.

Homoeopathic Remedies which may help. (Refer to the individual remedy for guidance on the one that is most appropriate for you.)

  • Arsenicum alb
  • Apis mel
  • Rhus tox

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