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Understanding Shingles and Natural Treatment Approaches to Prevent & Treat It

Many pharmacies and clinics today are advertising shingles vaccines in addition to flu shots. But what exactly is shingles, and do you really need a vaccine to prevent it?

Photo credit: Mike Mozart via Flickr

This article will cover the basics of shingles, including its causes, symptoms, and natural ways to approach prevention and treatment.

What Is Shingles?

Shingles is a type of viral infection that results in a red, painful, and blistering rash. This is the same virus that causes chickenpox, which is why people who had chickenpox as children may see the virus reactivate itself in the form of shingles later in life. This is because viruses can lie dormant in the body, and in this case, in the nerve tissue near the brain and spinal cord. Nearly one-third of people in the U.S. develop shingles in their lifetimes, with an estimated one million cases of the disease diagnosed each year.

Causes of Shingles

As noted above, the cause of shingles is a virus, but it’s not exactly clear why some people who have had chickenpox develop shingles while many others don’t. However, shingles is most common among older adults and people who have weak immune systems. This means that bodies that are run down are more likely to be affected. Risk factors of shingles include being older than 60, having a disease like HIV/AIDS that weakens the immune system, and taking certain medications (like steroids) for a prolonged time.

Shingles Symptoms

You’ll most often see signs of shingles around either side of the torso. But it can also occur on the face and neck. Commonly, shingles appears on just a small section of the body and creates painful, burning, and numbing sensations. Skin affected by shingles may also be itchy, sensitive to the touch, and have blisters that are filled with fluid. While pain is the most prominent symptom of this condition, people may also experience headaches, fever, and fatigue when they have shingles.

Photo credit: Bill Smith via Flickr

How to Prevent Shingles

Adults who have never had chickenpox may consider getting the chickenpox vaccine to reduce their risk of developing the condition, as well as the severity of it if it occurs even after vaccination. The FDA has approved a shingles vaccine, and the CDC maintains that the only way to reduce your risk of developing shingles is to get vaccinated.

But since a weakened immune system is a definite trigger for shingles, you can make dietary and lifestyle changes to boost your immunity the natural way. People who have colds or infections, who have an immune deficiency, who have undergone cancer treatment, or who are pregnant should not get the shingles vaccine.

Conventional Treatments for Shingles

The conventional treatment for shingles typically includes antiviral medications, such as acyclovir and valacyclovir. Pain medications are also commonly prescribed to relieve shingles-related pain.

Natural Approaches for Shingles

However, there are many natural approaches that you can also take to prevent, treat, and soothe shingles pain. For example, wet compresses, calamine lotion, and oatmeal baths are great for relieving the itching. You can also make a paste out of two parts cornstarch or baking soda and one part water to apply to the rash.

The foods you eat can also boost your immune system and help you prevent and fight shingles. The best foods in this regard are ones high in vitamin A, vitamin B12, vitamin C, and vitamin E. Foods that contain the amino acid lysine may also be helpful. Plan to eat more green leafy vegetables, fish, spinach, garlic, tomatoes, legumes, and citrus fruits if you are concerned about shingles. One of the best ways to get over shingles is by consuming more vitamin B12, which is mostly found in meat products and also supplements.

There are several herbal and homeopathic remedies that have shown promise in treating shingles and helping the body naturally heal itself as well. Melatonin, echinacea, green tea, St. John’s Wort, and essential fatty acids may help the body fight the virus without prescriptions or vaccinations. Talk to your doctor about your individual risk of shingles and what type of prevention and treatment plan is best.

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Jean Krause - I recently started with an outbreak of shingles. At first I did not identify the itch/pain as such but then a blister started forming along with a rash. I immediately but wild mediterranean oregano oil on it and the blister started to dry up. For the pain I made a paste of apple cider vinegar and baking soda which had a relieving effect immediately. Then I relied on olive leaf extract – took the 9 suggested capsules on the bottle but divided them up throughout the day – 3 in the morning 2 at noon 1 at supper and then 3 before bed. Also used olive-viate on the rash. Five years prior I did have the first shingles vaccine that had come out, and was planning on getting the newer one but had not gotten around to doing so. I did this for about a week and am now cleared.

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