Dealing With Shingles: Risk, Prevention, & Treatment
"One million Americans each year experience a shingles outbreak."
In today’s episode, Dr. Nancy Lin, PhD holistic nutritionist takes a look at the viral infection, shingles. We will talk about what shingles are and why some people get them and others don’t. We will also cover some common signs and symptoms of the condition as well as all-natural but effective treatment options for Shingles and more. Dr. Nancy will also share a recipe for her sweet but healthy immune-boosting green smoothie.
- 1:01: Fun Facts
- 13:07: Symptoms of Shingles
- 22:19: Who is at the highest risk for developing shingles?
- 23:00: Natural Treatments
- 24:08: Vitamin C
- 25:30: Vitamin B6
- 26:21: Vitamin E
- 27:03: Eat more garlic and onions
- 27:43: Drink more water
- 28:18: Some other tips for keeping your immune system strong and healthy
- 30:18: Natural treatment options during a shingles outbreak
- 32:29: Immune Boosting Green Smoothie
- 37:39: Wrap Up
What are shingles?
Shingles is a viral outbreak caused by the varicella zoster virus. Ninety percent of the adults are at risk of developing it. One million Americans each year experience a shingles outbreak, and this virus will affect 35% of people in the U.S. at some point in their lifetime.
It’s characterized by nerve pain, itching, fever, and fluid-filled blisters. A weakened immune system can increase the risk of shingles occurring, and can also make its symptoms worse. Shingles is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox, (herpes zoster) and the virus is from the same family that causes cold sores (herpes simplex virus). This virus occurs in approximately 10% of people who previously had chickenpox. It can remain in one area of the body (localized zoster) or it can be spread (disseminated zoster). Everyone has different dermatomes, or bands, of spinal nerves throughout the body, so the virus can occur in only one band, or multiple bands.
Once you have the chickenpox, the virus remains dormant in your body. As long as it remains dormant, it causes no issues. However, some people have had the virus reactivated, usually during times of weakened immune function, and this is when a shingles outbreak can occur. This just reinforces the importance of making sure that your immune system is strong and healthy, because it’s your immune system that prevents these debilitating, painful outbreaks.
In most cases, shingles will only affect one small area or stay on one side of the body.
Symptoms of Shingles
The primary indication or symptom of shingles is pain. Shingles is characterized by localized pain in one area or one side of the body. In addition to pain, other symptoms caused by this virus include:
- A painful red rash that appears in blister form and spreads throughout the body, including the chest, face, stomach, back, and the arms and legs; pretty much everywhere, depending on what dermatome it shows up in.
- Sometimes a stripe of blisters concentrated in one area, especially over the trunk, abdomen, or chest. Blisters tend to appear in lines that form from the middle of the body spanning outward. A telltale sign of shingles is that this blister only forms on one side of the body. It’s not symmetric. This happens because the virus travels along the spinal nerve routes that are located in the skin on either the right or left side.
- A tingly sensation, or pins and needles — These are scabs, or redness, or small blisters that come with associated burning pain, and pain on parts of the skin that lasts even once the rash clears up.
Even though shingles are most commonly seen on the left or the right side of the torso, it is possible to have shingles on the face. If shingles do occur on the face, and since the virus travels along the nerve routes, this will most likely be around one side of the face or the neck, even around one of the eyes.
Shingles can be extremely painful. In fact, according to the Center for Disease Control, people describe the intense pain from shingles as being excruciating, burning, stabbing, and even shocking. The pain caused by shingles has been compared to childbirth or passing kidney stones.
Shingles develops in stages. It might take longer than most illnesses to progress to the point that it’s noticeable. Shingles symptoms that appear on the skin can take anywhere from several days to a couple of weeks to fully show up. Most people will begin to sense symptoms of developing shingles over two to three days. During this time, the shingles virus is traveling through your nerves before settling in one localized area where the nerves connect with your skin. During this stage, which is known as the prodromal stage, as the virus moves through the body, it’s common to develop symptoms similar to other illnesses, such as fatigue, headache, swollen lymph nodes, and flu-like symptoms. During this stage, many people come down with the flu, develop a sore throat, experience allergy symptoms, or just get a common cold.
After a few days of the symptoms, when most people first notice the shingles, especially when itching and burning on the skin develops, this is soon followed by signs of rash, including redness and bumps that develop on only one side of the body. The blisters also associated with shingles can look very similar to cold sores, but appearing anywhere on the body instead of just your mouth.
Shingles lasts a long time. The average duration of the virus is 3-5 weeks, but most people only get shingles one time in their life and never again since their immune system develops resistance against the virus as it heals. However, a very small percentage, less than 10%, can develop shingles two to three times over the course of their lives.
Who is at the highest risk for developing shingles?
The people who are at the highest risk of developing shingles include:
- People with a weakened immune system
- People who are older than 50 years old
- People who have been recently ill, or under excessive stress
- People who have recently experienced major trauma
Since shingles is a virus, we can’t get rid of it. We can only hope to keep it in its dormant state. There are, however, some natural treatments to help prevent shingles. This can be done by supercharging your immune system. Best foods for immune health and for fending off shingles are:
Vitamin C is one of the biggest immune system boosters. Since your body cannot make or store it, it’s essential to increase your vitamin C intake through foods. This will help, not only to protect against shingles but boost your immune system and protect you from a variety of illnesses. Some of the foods with the highest amounts of vitamin C include: oranges, cantaloupe, pineapple, papaya, strawberries, mangoes, citrus fruits, tangerines, and vegetables such as Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, and dark leafy greens such as kale, spinach, and parsley.
This is vital to supporting biochemical reactions in your immune system. Vitamin B6-rich foods include cold water fish such as salmon, tuna, grass fed beef, eggs, and organic free range chicken. Vitamin B6 is also found in green vegetables and chickpeas, which are super healthy, delicious, and really easy to make at home.
This is another powerful antioxidant that helps the body fight off infection. Foods rich in vitamin E include almonds and hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, broccoli, and spinach. Avocados are also loaded with all three of these vitamins, C, B and E. As Dr. Nancy always says, an avocado a day keeps the inflammation at bay.
Garlic and Onions
Both of these contain Allicin, which can help boost immune function. Allicin is a compound that is produced when garlic and onions are crushed or chopped. It is kind of nature’s defense system. Allicin has been found to reduce inflammation. As an antioxidant, it also supports your immune system (and it's what makes your eyes watery when you cut an onion).
Drink more water
Adequate hydration is the key to flushing out shingles or any virus in your system. Try to drink at least 8 to 10 glasses of water per day.
Some other tips for keeping your immune system strong and healthy include:
- Don’t smoke
- Exercise regularly
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Avoid alcohol or drink in moderation
- Get adequate sleep
- Laugh or do things that make you laugh
- Reduce stress in your life. Do things that spark joy in your life. Use essential oils and deep breath, laughter, yoga, stretches, exercise, massage, nature walks, and relaxing baths.
Natural treatment options during a shingles outbreak
Applying honey topically to shingles, to where your blisters are, is scientifically backed as a natural treatment and it really works. A recent study demonstrated that honey showed significant antiviral activity against the varicella zoster virus. Simply apply honey directly to the problem areas a few times a day to pacify the agitation.
Take a bath or shower
You can soak in a nice cool bath or shower to soothe the skin. The coolness of the water can ease the pain from shingles blisters and calm the itchiness. You can also take a healing bath to reduce symptoms. Pour one or two cups of colloidal oatmeal or cornstarch into lukewarm bathwater and just soak for 15 to 20 minutes. If you have a gluten sensitivity, check your colloidal oatmeal label. Most are naturally gluten free but you always want to make sure.
You can use frozen peas or soak a towel into water and then put it into the refrigerator or freezer. This helps to reduce the burning sensation, and these cooling compressors can really help with shingles pain, sensitivity, and itching. It’s a natural shingles treatment that only requires some running water and a washcloth or a frozen bag of peas.
Immune Boosting Green Smoothie
This recipe is loaded with vitamins B, C, and E, and is naturally sweetened by pineapple. You can also sweeten it with mango or kiwi.
- 1/2 cup spinach and/or kale.
- 1 cup of almond milk or any other nut milk. You can also use 1/2 cup of Harmless Harvest coconut water and 1/2 a cup almond milk.
- 1 cup of pineapple, or any fruit (mango, kiwi, etc.)
- 1/2 tsp freshly grated ginger
- 1/2 lemon
- 1 bunch of parsley
Mix all the nutrients into a blender, and blend it with ice cubes if you want. Do this for about 30 seconds. Pour the juice into a mason jar and serve.
Shingles is an extremely painful viral outbreak that is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. Nearly 90% of us currently carry this virus, and our immune system does a pretty good job of keeping the virus dormant most of the time. However, when our immune system becomes compromised or weakened from chronic stress and inflammation, recent illness, or a traumatic event, we can experience a painful, debilitating shingles outbreak.
A shingles outbreak is characterized by pain in one area or one side of the body that is accompanied by a red, painful rash, and blisters that can last between three and five weeks. The best way to reduce your risk of a shingles outbreak is to keep your immune system in tiptop shape. Some of the tips to do this include eating foods rich in vitamin B, C and E, drinking plenty of water, exercising, getting adequate rest, and reducing your stress levels.
In this post we discussed a few ways to reduce pain and discomfort should you experience a shingles outbreak. These include using honey as a topical treatment for the rash, soaking in a colloidal oatmeal or cornstarch bath to reduce itching and ease blister pain, and using a cold compress to ease burning and pain from the blisters.
We also shared a recipe for an organic, naturally sweet immune-boosting smoothie. Shingles is a fact of life but hopefully these tips can help you prevent an outbreak, or manage one when it comes.