Shingles is caused by the same virus as chickenpox. In fact, shingles occur in approximately 10 percent of people who previously had chickenpox. There is also an age factor with shingles risk. Unfortunately, the older you get the higher your risk of shingles. Roughly half of all shingle cases occur in people who are 50 or older. (2)
Thankfully, there is shingles natural treatment, including foods you should eat to boost your immune system as well as foods you should avoid. Plus there are essential oils for shingles and a variety of options when it comes to natural supplements. Overall, anything you can do to boost your immune system can go a long way both to prevent and naturally treat an unpleasant case of shingles.
What Is Shingles?
Shingles (herpes zoster) is a medical condition in which the sufferer experiences a rash or blisters on the skin. It’s caused by the varicella-zoster virus — the same virus that causes chickenpox. Shingles can remain in one area of the body (localized zoster) or it can spread (disseminated zoster). Many people wonder why having chicken pox doesn’t provide shingles immunity. According to medical experts, once you have chicken pox, it is a virus that stays in your body. For most of us, the virus remains dormant causing no issues. However, some people have their virus reactivated, especially at times of weakened immune function, and this is when a shingles outbreak occurs. (3)
Shingles usually only affects a small area of just one side of the body and pain is the common initial symptom of shingles. A few days later, you may likely see a red rash, but not always since some people have pain without a rash. Do shingles itch? Yes, they can definitely itch. In addition to pain and itching, having shingles can also result in burning, numbness, sensitivity to touch, and/or tingling in the affected area. Shingles blisters filled with fluid are also common. People with shingles can also experience fever, headaches, fatigue or light sensitivity. (4)
Even though shingles are most common on the left or right side of the torso, it is possible to have shingles on the face. Again, it’s usually around one side of the face or neck or even around one eye.
Shingles duration is most often between three to five weeks. The majority of people will only experience shingles one time, but it is possible to get shingles on multiple occasions. (5)
The people most at risk for developing shingles include those: (6)
- With a weakened immune system (such as someone with cancer)
- Older than 50 years of age
- Who have been recently ill
- Under excessive stress
- Have experienced major trauma
Shingles Natural Treatment
Clearly shingles is no fun, but the good news is that shingles natural treatment is not hard to do, not expensive and the following suggestions can all be done in the comfort of your own home. Much of shingles natural treatment is aimed at boosting the immune system since shingles is caused by a virus.
Top Foods for Shingles
Foods high in B-vitamins — The nervous system is under attack by the shingles virus; therefore, it’s important to include foods high in B-vitamins such as grass-fed beef, cultured dairy, eggs, organic chicken and wild-caught fish.
Water — Adequate hydration is the key to flushing out the virus from your system. Try to drink at least 8 ounces every 2 hours.
Garlic and onions — Both raw garlic and onion contain allicin, which can help boost immune function.
Foods rich in vitamin C — Add orange and yellow fruits and vegetables to increase your vitamin C intake, which will help to boost your immune system and speed healing.
Green leafy vegetables — These vegetables are high in beta-carotene and calcium, which can boost immune function.
Foods to Avoid For Faster Healing
Sugar — Decreases white blood cells that help fight off infection.
Fruit juices — Although orange juice contains some vitamin C, it is not as high in vitamin C as whole fruits or vegetables.
Caffeine — Depletes the body of hydration, so avoid it.
Carbonated beverages — These beverages promote a more acidic system, so try to limit them during the acute illness.
Fried foods — Promotes an acidic environment, so best to avoid these foods.
#1 Vitamin C (1,000mg 3-4x daily)
Helps with immune system function and boosts white blood cells.
#2 Echinacea (500 mg 3x daily)
Echinacea is an herb known for helping the body fight off infections and viruses.
#3 Oregano oil (500mg 2x daily)
Oil of Oregano has a powerful antiviral effect.
#4 Vitamin B12 (1000-5000 mcg daily)
Vitamin B12 helps promote faster recovery and reduced pain.
#5 Zinc (50 mg daily)
Zinc supports immune function and has an antiviral effect. It works best when taken at the first sign of illness.
Geranium Essential Oil
Geranium essential oil has been studied and shown to actually reduce pain due to post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN) following a shingles outbreak. With topical application, essential oil of geranium has been shown to relieve painful sensations within mere minutes. It even outperformed topical capsaicin, which is often recommended for shingles pain, but can take weeks to improve the pain. (7)
Other essential oil options for shingles natural treatment include: (8)
- Tea tree essential oil
- Lemongrass essential oil
- Lavender essential oil
- Peppermint essential oil
- Black cumin seed oil
You can take 2 drops of an essential oil and mix it with 1/4 teaspoon of coconut oil and rub it on areas of shingles pain. It’s a good idea to perform a patch test on a less sensitive area of skin to make sure you don’t have a negative reaction to the essential oil. You can also diffuse these essential oils for their antiviral benefits.
Other Natural Treatments
Applying honey topically to shingles rash is another scientifically-backed shingles natural treatment. A 2012 in vitro study showed that both manuka honey, as well as clover honey, showed significant antiviral activity against varicella-zoster virus. Simply apply the honey directly to problem areas a few times per day. (9)
Colloidal Oatmeal Baths
A shingles natural treatment that doesn’t cost a lot, but can really help with the common shingles symptom of itching, is bathing in water infused with colloidal oatmeal. Make sure the bath is on the cooler side since hot water will only make itching worse. (10)
You can use cool, wet compresses on shingles blisters to reduce their fire. These cooling compresses can help with shingles pain, sensitivity and itching. It’s a shingles natural treatment that only requires some running water and a wash cloth. Just make sure to change the wash cloth with each session.
According to Mayo Clinic, reducing stress in your life as much as possible is actually a key shingles natural treatment. This lifestyle change can help to prevent and treat shingles since stress reduction is such an overall immune system and health booster. (11)
There is currently no cure for shingles. Conventional treatment for shingles is typically antiviral drugs like Valacyclovir (Valtrex), Famciclovir (Famvir) or Acyclovir (Zovirax). If a shingles patient is experiencing pain, then a doctor will likely recommend a topical shingles cream containing capsaicin, a topical numbing agent or even injections of steroids or local anesthetics. Medicine for shingles pain conventionally may even include tricyclic antidepressants, anti-convulsants and narcotic-containing medications like codeine. (12)
There is now a shingles vaccine and the CDC recommends that anyone over the age of 60 gets this vaccine. This vaccine is relatively new (it was only licensed in 2006) and is a preventative vaccine not a treatment. It is said to cut shingles risk in half. Is it safe? To quote the CDC, “A vaccine, like any medicine, could possibly cause serious problems, such as severe allergic reactions. However, the risk of a vaccine causing serious harm, or death, is extremely small.” (13)
I always recommend doing your homework before getting any type of vaccination. The CDC also points out that there are certain people who should not get a a shingle vaccination with just one example being pregnant women or women looking to become pregnant. (14).
Precautions and Possible Complications
Shingles can be contagious to certain people. Someone with shingles can pass the virus on to anyone who is not already immune to chickenpox. Shingles can be passed to these people by direct contact with open shingles blisters. But the interesting thing here is that the person who comes in contact with the rash will not develop shingles, but will develop chicken pox. (15)
Immediate medical attention is especially recommended if you have shingles, as well as any of the following:
- You are 70 years of age or older.
- Rash and pain near the eye because lack of treatment could lead to permanent damage to the eye.
- You have a weakened immune system due to chronic health issues or medication.
- The shingle rash is widespread and painful.
Post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN) is the most prevalent complication of shingles. PHN is when someone with shingles experiences pain, which can be really severe, in the shingles rash areas after the rash is gone. PHN usually goes away in a few weeks or months, but some people can have it for years. The older the age of a shingles sufferer, the more likely the development and severity of PHN. In extremely rare cases, shingles can also lead to pneumonia, blindness (if shingles is around the eye) hearing issues, brain inflammation or death. (16)
Shingles are highly common and unfortunately the odds are that one in three of us will experience a shingles outbreak at some point in our lives. Yes, shingles risk does increase with age, but regardless of age, we can all make a daily effort to boost our immune systems. By doing that, we not only guard our bodies against shingles, but also a whole spectrum of health problems big and small.
Shingles natural treatment involves choosing foods that boost the immune system, as well as the nervous system, along with skin health. Shingles natural treatment also includes what to avoid or at least, eat less of — these are the foods that not only can make an outbreak worse, but can keep it around longer. Essential oils can be helpful to shingles, especially their common symptom of pain. Plus, things like honey, oats and cool water are some of nature’s answers to soothing those shingles blisters. Last, but not least, stress reduction is key, not only to naturally treating shingles, but avoiding them in the first place!