Shingles is a painful condition caused by herpes zoster, the same virus that causes chickenpox. After a person has had chickenpox, the virus does not leave their body. It resides in the nerves near the spine, where it usually lies dormant for the rest of the person's life.
In some individuals, however, the virus is triggered back into action. The second time around the symptoms are different and more severe.
Symptoms of Shingles
As the illness begins, the area along one branch of nerves (usually one side of the face or trunk) is more sensitive than usual. The patient may also develop fever or chills. The sensitive area soon becomes very painful and small blisters develop into a rash. These clear, water-filled blisters turn yellow and form scabs. After awhile they fall off and sometimes form scars.
Perhaps the most alarming part of a shingles attack is the agonizing pain. Some people cannot stand even the lightest touch on the affected area, and routine activities such as showering or shaving may be out of their realm of capability. The pain is so intense that even the weight of bed sheets or clothing may be overwhelming. However, this pain usually disappears once the blisters fall off.
This condition, which is known as postherpetic neuralgia, usually strikes people over the age of 50. No single trigger has been found which always activates the herpes zoster in the body, but when the immune system is weakened the virus seems to thrive. Patients undergoing extremely aggressive treatment for cancer or other serious illnesses are at a greater risk for this condition. Shingles can also strike people who are under severe emotional stress or whose immune systems have been compromised by AIDS or lupus.
Although most people will return to their former states and be healthy and pain free, a doctor should monitor the patient's recovery to ensure the virus does not spread to the eyes or internal organs, where it can have a devastating effect. In some people the virus also leads to pneumonia or other secondary infections, which can be fatal to those with severely compromised immune systems and the elderly.
A wide range of therapies can help bolster the immune system and reduce the need for aggressive pain medication.
There are several tests that can be conducted to determine the cause of chronic shingles. These include:
- Intestinal permeability - urine
- Detoxification profile - urine
- Hormone testing (thyroid, DHEA, cortisol, testosterone, IGF-1, estrogen and progesterone) - saliva, blood or urine
- Vitamin and mineral analysis - blood
- Blood sugar imbalance - blood
- Toxic metals - hair or urine
- Amino acid analysis - blood or urine
- Immune system imbalance or disease - blood
- Food and environmental allergies/sensitivities - blood, electrodermal
Treatments for Shingles
While a person is undergoing a case of shingles, the nervous system is under attack. The damage can be partially healed by consuming foods that are high in B vitamins, including eggs, whole grains, wheat germ and brewer's yeast.
Green, orange and yellow vegetables should be eaten at every meal. Such foods are loaded with vitamins A and C, which help speed the skin's recovery from the blisters and inflammation. Leafy green vegetables are also good sources of magnesium and calcium, which will help heal the nerve endings.
Foods to avoid while suffering from shingles are those that encourage an overly acidic body system. Do not eat fried foods, red meat, chocolate and also avoid carbonated beverages (not even fizzy water) or drinks that contain caffeine.
The activity of white blood cells (the immune system's foot soldiers in the war on illness) is suppressed by sugar. Avoid refined sugar products, including cakes, cookies, sweet baked goods, and sodas. Only eat naturally-occurring sugars, such as those found in fruit, and then in moderation.
A good idea is to detoxify the body. Follow a two- to three-day juice fast to remove any toxins that may be depressing the immune system. Green drinks, fresh unsweetened cranberry juice, and miso broth are nutritious and will alkalize the body system.
Some herbal supplements are recommended for the treatment of shingles. They include:
- Lomatium root - used for its antiviral effects and its benefits for immune support
- Saint John's Wort - has antiviral properties
- Cat's claw - this herb works against inflammation and viruses
- Zinc - for supporting the immune system
- Vitamin A - also supports immune functions
- Multi-vitamins - a high-potency multivitamin provides a base of nutrients for immune support. A multi-vitamin should include selenium, a mineral which aids against viral infections.
Several remedies are available to treat a variety of the symptoms associated with shingles. A few follow here:
- Arsenicum album - good for people who are experiencing burning, itching pain that is relieved by warm applications.
- Apis Mellifica - for those individuals who experience stinging and burning pain that is better with cold applications and worse with warm ones
- Iris Versicolor is suggested when the shingles are accompanied by stomach problems, particularly burning sensations and nausea
- Mezereum - for those who feel burning that is followed by bright-red eruptions that have an intolerable itch. The pain is not relieved from cold and is better with warm applications.
- Balch, J.F. & Stengler, M. (2004). Prescription for Natural Cures: a self-care guide for treating diseases and health problems with natural remedies including diet and nutrition, herbal medicine, nutritional supplements, bodywork, and more. New Jersey: John Wiley and Sons Ltd
- De Vries, J. (1992). Skin diseases. Edinburgh : Mainstream
- Goodman, T. (1984).The skin doctor's skin doctoring book.New York : Sterling
- Papadopoulos, L. (2003). Understanding skin problems : acne, eczema, psoriasis and related conditions. Chichester, West Sussex : John Wiley and Sons Ltd
- Turkington, C., (1998). Skin deep : an A-Z of skin disorders, treatments and health. New York : Facts On File
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