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Return of the Pox


Return of the Pox

A strong immune system can prevent a childhood virus from haunting you in adulthood. Shingles is yet another painful reason to keep our immune system healthy.

A strong immune system can prevent a childhood virus from haunting you in adulthood.

Shingles is yet another painful reason to keep our immune system healthy. Following a childhood case of chicken pox, the alpha herpes virus (varicella zoster) retreats to the nervous system where it remains latent, but may reappear decades later in the form of shingles if the immune system is weakened. At risk are those who develop immune compromised systems, whether due to natural aging, stress from illness, physical or emotional stress, fatigue, poor nutrition, chemotherapy or other factors. If you develop a case of shingles, consult your health practitioner immediately.

Shingles is an acute condition that occurs at any age, but the incidence tends to increase as we get older. More than one out of every 10 people who had chickenpox as children gets shingles as an adult, usually after age 50.

In shingles, the skin is often highly sensitive and burns for days before the eruption of a ring of water-filled blisters around the back and chest. Itching, redness and numbness of the affected area are common complaints. A shingles outbreak may also be accompanied by flu-like symptoms such as muscle aches and pains, fever, chills and general malaise. Recovery can take up to two to three weeks after the appearance of the rash, but nerve pain may last much longer. In severe cases, the rash can leave permanent scars, long-standing pain, numbness and skin discoloration. Our overall health and nutrition habits will determine the severity of the outbreak and the length of recovery.

Particularly in the elderly, nerve pain can last for years after the skin symptoms subside. Eruptions are typically more extensive and inflammatory for individuals with an compromised immune system.

Shingles is infectious, but much less so than chickenpox and cannot be transmitted to a person who has had chickenpox. Blisters appear in clusters and become cloudy with fluid by day three or four, new ones forming for up to seven days. After seven to 10 days the blisters rupture and form crusts. At this point they no longer hold the virus.

The most common known trigger for a shingles outbreak is the weakening of the immune system. The immune system’s primary role is to defeat disease and keep us healthy. In order to perform its job at optimum levels we must provide it with the appropriate tools: food supplements, good nutrition, exercise and stress reducers. All of these support T-cells, which are responsible for fighting disease (especially viruses).

Immune Protectors

Increasing your intake of fresh fruits and vegetables provides the body with more plant sterols and sterolins, which enhance the effectiveness of the natural killer cells. This will also increase the antiviral agents gamma interferon and interleukin-2. Raw, unprocessed nuts and seeds are rich natural sources of sterols and sterolins. Supplements of sterols and sterolins should be taken on an empty stomach and not taken with milk (it inhibits absorption).

B vitamins are particularly important for immune health. Increasing your intake of whole grains, legumes, fish and eggs will provide your body with more B12 and B1. Yellow, orange and green vegetables help heal skin lesions. Leafy green vegetables provide calcium and magnesium, which in turn help support the health of nerve endings. Vitamin B12 (500 micrograms every hour for the first day and 2,000 mcg daily for next two days) is recommended for the relief of pain and speedy disappearance of shingle blisters. Vitamin B12 is difficult to absorb from oral nutritional supplements; your qualified health care practitioner may recommend vitamin B12 injections.

Vitamin E, an immune protector, will help speed healing, prevent scarring and reduce pain. It is difficult to acquire the appropriate quantities our bodies require from the foods we eat, due to modern day food-processing and grain milling methods. Taking a daily supplement, preferably with a high gamma tocopherol content, will boost your immune system. Gently massaging the oil from a vitamin E capsule onto the skin several times daily may also provide pain relief.

Taking vitamin C on the initial diagnosis of this viral disease can provide immune enhancing effects. Intravenous vitamin C has been shown to be more effective than oral supplements of vitamin C for treating a new or acute phase of shingles. Not many doctors are willing to proceed with intravenous vitamin C treatments but an alternative three-day program that includes taking oral buffered vitamin C (2,000 mg) may prove to be beneficial.

There are many wonderful herbal remedies that bring relief. Drinking goldenrod and rosehip tea will stimulate the kidneys. Application of cabbage leaf poultices will help absorb toxins and speed healing. Warmed tea tree oil mixed with any cold-pressed oil (1:10) applied to the painful area will assist in pain reduction. Echinacea taken in high doses may also help to relieve pain. Herbs that are members of the mint family (particularly lemon balm) are especially good for treating shingles. Mint tea mixed with lemon balm and a little licorice contains antiviral, anti-herpetic compounds and can be applied directly to the rash as well as taken orally. The powdered root of Chinese Angelica (do not take if pregnant) has successfully been used to treat shingles and can be used in tea or tincture.

Homeopathic and tissue salt remedies may also be recommended by your health care practitioner. Rhus tox or Arsenicum album may bring relief from the painful itch of shingles. Ferr phos may be effective during the first stage of burning skin pain and Kali phos may be helpful if blister eruption is due to stress or worry. Zinc ointments applied to blisters will help speed healing.



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Matthew Kadey, MSc, RDMatthew Kadey, MSc, RD