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Treating Shingles Naturally

By Shannon Sinsheimer, ND

Shingles is a painful skin rash caused by exposure to the herpes-zoster virus. It can also be a reactivation of childhood chickenpox caused by the same virus. Shingles can be a very painful condition and early treatment is essential to reduce long-term discomfort.

Of course antiviral medication can be warranted; however, natural therapies are highly effective at decreasing the severity, length, and long-term side effects of shingles as a primary or adjunct treatment to pharmaceutical medication.

Natural treatments for shingles include anti-viral herbs, topical salves, nutritional supplements, and dietary recommendations. There are a variety of herbs with well known anti-viral properties; the two best herbal remedies for shingles are St. John’s wort and licorice root. Begin dosing these herbs every few hours for a constant supply to reduce viral replication and mitigate symptoms. However, herbal remedies can have side effects, and it is important to thoroughly understand any herb-drug interactions that may occur, as well as physical side effects from the single herb itself. For example, licorice can raise blood pressure or adversely affect certain cortisol-related health conditions like Cushing’s syndrome. St. John’s wort can negatively affect selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor medications, a drug category of primarily anti-depressants. It can also cause sun sensitivity resulting in sunburns. While herbs are highly effective for shingles, it is important to make sure they are taken with the appropriate amount of precaution.

Topical salves can assist with pain caused by shingles, and limit the spread of the rash. The primary herbs used in topical salves for shingles are licorice and lemon balm. Both herbs can reduce symptoms and severity of the shingles when used regularly throughout the day. Cayenne ointment can also reduce pain, but should be used with precaution if there are open vesicles or blisters on the skin. Homeopathic arnica montana in cream form can be used for pain and discomfort, and is gentle on abraded skin. These herbs can be found in pre-made salves or ointments in most health food stores.

Supporting the body with nutritional supplements is essential with a shingles outbreak. Shingles can occur with an imbalance of arginine to lysine in the body. Supplementing with l-lysine can limit the outbreak and enhance healing. Vitamin B12 orally and by injection can limit the spread of the rash, reduce acute pain, and prevent long-term post-shingle neuralgias. In addition, immune boosting supplements such as vitamins A, C, D, B-complex, and zinc will assist the body in a more rapid healing time.

Dietary considerations are always an important component of any healing health plan. With shingles specifically, avoiding foods high in arginine which disrupt the balance of lysine in the body is helpful. Arginine rich foods to avoid are nuts, seeds, soy foods, chocolate, and oats. Lysine rich foods to add to the diet are poultry, organic beef, fish, dairy, fruits, and vegetables. Eliminating white flour products, simple carbs such as white rice, gluten, sugar, and alcohol can also help boost the immune system.

A shingles outbreak should be approached with medical intervention that is appropriate to the individual. Prior to beginning any treatment, a patient should consult a health care provider that can meet their specific needs.

Dr. Shannon Sinsheimer is a state licensed naturopathic doctor with Optimal Health Center in Palm Desert (760) 568.2598.

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