Shingles (Herpes Zoster)
Shingles is a painful condition caused by herpes zoster, the same virus that causes chickenpox. Once you’ve had chickenpox (and most adults have had the disease at some point in their lives), the virus doesn’t leave your body. Instead, it takes up res- idence in the nerves near the spine, where it lies dormant, usually for the rest of your life. Sometimes, however, herpes zoster is triggered back into activity. This time around, the symptoms are different and more severe. At the beginning of the illness, the area along one branch of nerves, usually one side of your trunk or face, is more sensitive than usual; you may also develop a fever or chills. The sensitive area then becomes acutely painful, and a rash of small blisters develops. After two or three weeks, these clear, water-ﬁlled blisters will turn yellow and form scabs. Eventually, they fall off, and sometimes they leave scars.
The nerve pain caused by shingles can be agonizing. You may not be able to bear even the lightest touch, and simple activities like shaving and showering may be out of the question. Even the weight of clothes or bed sheets may be too much. But this pain usually disappears when the blisters drop off. In a few cases, though, the blis- ters fade but the pain remains for months or even years. This condition, which usu- ally strikes people over ﬁfty, is known as postherpetic neuralgia. No single trigger will always cause herpes zoster to reactivate in the body, but the virus seems to thrive when the immune system is weakened. People undergoing aggressive treatment for cancer or other illnesses are at a greater risk for shingles, as are those who are under extreme emotional stress. Immune-compromising diseases like AIDS or lupus can also leave a body vulnerable to shingles.
Most people will be healthy and pain-free once the disease has run its course. Nev- ertheless, your doctor should monitor you frequently to make sure the virus doesn’t spread to your eyes or your internal organs, where it can have a devastating effect. Sometimes the virus can lead to pneumonia or other secondary infections, which can be deadly to older people or those who suffer from severely compromised immune systems. Between visits to your doctor, you’ll ﬁnd that a wide range of complemen- tary therapies can bolster your immune system and reduce your need for aggressive conventional pain medication.
The symptoms usually appear in the following order:
• Sensitivity in one side of the chest, the back, or the face
• Fever, chills, or other ﬂulike symptoms
• Extreme pain in the sensitive area
• Clear blisters that break out in the affected area
• Blisters turn yellow and scab over, then fall off
• Herpes zoster virus • A weakened immune system
The following tests help assess possible causes of chronic shingles: Immune system imbalance or disease—blood
Hormone testing (thyroid, DHEA, cortisol, testosterone, IGF-1, estrogen, progesterone)—saliva, blood, or urine
Vitamin and mineral analysis—blood
Food and environmental allergies/sensitivities—blood, electrodermal
Toxic metals—hair or urine
Amino acid analysis—blood or urine
During a case of shingles, the nervous system is under attack. Heal the damage by eating foods that are high in B vitamins, including wheat germ, brewer’s yeast, eggs, and whole grains.
Eat green, orange, and yellow vegetables at every meal. These foods are packed with vitamins A and C, which will speed your skin’s recovery from the inﬂammation and the blisters. Green leafy vegetables are also good sources of calcium and mag- nesium, which will help heal your nerve endings.
Food to Avoid
Avoid foods that encourage an overly acidic body system. Do not eat red meat, fried foods, or chocolate, and do not drink carbonated beverages (not even ﬁzzy water) or drinks containing caffeine.
Sugar suppresses the activity of white blood cells, the immune system’s foot sol- diers in the war on illness. Stay away from reﬁned sugar products, including cook- ies, cakes, sweet baked goods, and sodas, and eat naturally occurring sugars, such as those found in fruit, in moderation.
Follow a two– to three-day juice fast to remove any toxic build-up that may be depress- ing your immune system. Green drinks, fresh unsweetened cranberry juice (available at health food stores), and miso broth are nutritious and will alkalinize your body system.
In a double-blind study, thirty-two elderly patients with chronic pos- therpetic neuralgia were treated with either capsaicin cream or a placebo for a six-week period. After six weeks, almost 80 percent of cap- saicin-treated
Super Seven Prescriptions—Shingles
Super Prescription #1 Homeopathic Rhus Toxicodendron
Take a 30C potency three times daily. This remedy is effective if you have burn- ing pain that feels better from warm applications. The rash is itchy, with blisters. See the Homeopathic section for a complete listing of homeopathic remedies for shingles.
Super Prescription #2 Vitamin B12
Have your doctor give you a 1 cc injection daily for ﬁve days and then twice weekly. This helps the body recover more quickly and reduces the pain associated with shingles.
Super Prescription #3 Vitamin C
Take 1,000 mg four times daily for immune support. Reduce the dosage if diar- rhea occurs.
Super Prescription #4 Capsaicin cream
Apply a cream with an 0.025 to 0.075 percent capsaicin extract two to four times daily to the affected area. This herbal extract blocks pain. Note: When this cream is ﬁrst applied, you may feel a burning, stinging sensation during the ﬁrst few days, but the pain will subside.
Super Prescription #5 Olive leaf extract (Olea europa)
Take 500 mg four times daily, to beneﬁt from olive leaf ’s potent antiviral beneﬁts.
Super Prescription #6 Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea)
Take 4 ml or 500 mg four times daily for immune support and antiviral effects.
Super Prescription #7 Vitamin E-complex
Take 1,200 to 1,600 IU daily for the treatment of postherpetic neuralgia and 400 IU daily to prevent neuralgia. You can also apply vitamin E oil topically.
Lomatium root (Lomatium dissectum) is used for its immune support and antiviral effects. Take 4 ml or 500 mg four times daily.
Saint-John’s-wort (Hypericum perforatum) has antiviral properties. Take 300 mg or 4 ml of the tincture three times daily.
Licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra) has antiviral properties. Take 500 mg in capsule form or 4 ml of the tincture three times daily. Note: Do not use it if you have high blood pressure.
Cat’s claw (Una de gato) works against viruses and inﬂammation. Take 500 to 1,000 mg two or three times daily, until the inﬂammation is gone.
Zinc supports the immune system. Take 30 mg daily, along with 2 mg of copper. Vitamin A supports immune function. Take 50,000 IU daily for two weeks.
A high-potency multivitamin provides a base of nutrients for immune support. It should include 200 mcg of selenium, a mineral that helps with viral infections.
Pick the remedy that best matches your symptoms in this section. For acute shingles pain, take a 30C potency three times daily. For chronic shingles discomfort, take a 6x,
12x, 6C, 12C, or 30C twice daily for two weeks to see if there are any positive results. After you notice improvement, stop taking the remedy, unless symptoms return. Con- sultation with a homeopathic practitioner is advised.
Arsenicum Album is a good remedy when there is a burning, itching pain that is relieved by warm applications. Symptoms are often worse between midnight and
2 A.M. The person is restless, anxious, and chilly.
Apis Melliﬁca is for people who experience stinging and burning pain that feels better from cold applications and worse from warmth.
Iris Versicolor is indicated when the shingles are accompanied by stomach prob- lems, with burning sensations and nausea. Eruptions tend to appear on the right side of the abdomen.
Mezereum is for people who feel burning that is followed by bright-red eruptions that itch intolerably. The pain is relieved from cold applications and is worse from warmth.
Ranunculus Bulbosus is a speciﬁc remedy for when the shingles affect the front or the back of the ribcage.
Rhus Toxicodendron is a great remedy if you have burning pain that feels better from warm applications. The rash is itchy, with blisters.
Sulphur is a good choice for burning pains that feel better from cold applications and worse from warmth. The person is usually very warm and prefers ice-cold drinks.
Variolinum is a remedy that stimulates the immune system to combat the shingles virus more effectively. It can be used in addition to any of the remedies described here for quicker healing.
See pages 668–675 for information about pressure points and administering treatment.
Large Intestine 4 is the point for effective relief of general pain. For more speciﬁc treatment of this complex condition, it’s best to turn to an acupressure professional.
To reduce pain and ﬁght the virus, work the spine, in addition to the painful area. To heal nerves and reduce stress, work the solar plexus and the diaphragm. Stimulate the lower thoracic area to promote healing of the skin.
Other Bodywork Recommendations
Acupressure and acupuncture (especially electroacupuncture) have a good track record of successfully treating many painful conditions, including shingles and post- herpetic neuralgia. Chinese herbal therapy can be very helpful as well.
Constitutional hydrotherapy stimulates the immune system and relieves pain.
Tea tree oil is a powerful antiviral agent that will help dry up blisters. Combine it with lavender or bergamot, two oils that have milder antiviral properties but that also reduce pain and stress. You can use a cotton swab to apply the oils directly to the blisters or the painful area, or you can add them to a bath. No matter what preparation you choose, use just a little at ﬁrst, as tea tree oil is extremely potent and can be irritat- ing in large quantities.
General Stress-Reduction Therapies
Constant pain is terribly stressful and can result in further depression of your immune system, so it’s essential to ﬁnd an activity that thoroughly engages your mind and takes you away from your pain, if only for a little while.
Bach Flower Remedies
Consult the chart on pages 648–650 to determine the best remedy for your particu- lar needs. Once you’ve chosen a remedy, place 10 drops of the liquid under your tongue. Hold the drops in place for thirty seconds and swallow. Use as often as needed.
If you are overworked to the point of burnout, take Hornbeam.
Elm is for people who are depressed and overwhelmed by the tasks of everyday life. This remedy is often combined with Hornbeam.
People with postherpetic neuralgia may come to feel that nothing will ever relieve their pain and suffering. Gorse will help revive their hope and conﬁdence.
If the rash of blisters makes you feel unclean, take Crab Apple.
If you have recently suffered a severe shock, such as a frightening diagnosis, the death of someone close to you, or an accident, take Star of Bethlehem. It will speed your emotional recovery.
Seek the consultation of a naturopathic or holistic doctor who can help you with a spe- ciﬁc therapy for quicker improvement. Severe cases may also require pharmaceuti- cal therapy.