Shingles is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. Anyone who developed chickenpox as a child can develop shingles. Normally it’s much more common in people over the age of 50 who have naturally declining immune systems, but other health issues such as cancer, HIV, or even the common cold can bring about an attack.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, most adults have already contracted the common childhood disease chickenpox. Once chickenpox has been contracted, the virus does not leave the body. It lies dormant in the spinal cord and nervous system for years until it’s activated. Usually, this ‘activation’ of the virus occurs when the body’s immune system is weakened. My father suffered a severe case of shingles towards the end of his life and I am currently at risk due to cancer. According to my oncologist, shingles spreads to the very ends of the nerves causing severe pain, itching, and burning sensations. Apparently, one out of every five people who have had chickenpox is likely to get shingles as an adult.
Symptoms of Shingles
My doctor assured me that if I develop shingles, I will most likely feel like I have the flu for three to four days in the beginning. Chills, fever, and aches will precede the appearance of fluid filled blisters which are surrounded by a red ring. It sounded a lot like chicken pox at that point. The main difference with shingles is that there can be severe pain in the affected area. The skin may be ultra-sensitive to touch, fever, swollen lymph glands, and even shooting pain may occur. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I don’t develop shingles while I’m dealing with cancer. I’ve had it with being sick; enough already! My oncologist also informed me that while shingles most commonly runs its course in a few weeks, in some cases the pain can last for months or even years after the blisters have disappeared.
The first question I asked the doctor was, “Is there anything I can do to prevent shingles?” Really, the answer to this question is ‘no.’ The most a person can do is try to keep the immune system in balance to avoid activating the virus. Of course, there are tons of natural ways to do this that include getting adequate sleep, proper nutrition, herbal boosts, and exercise. Eat a lot of fruits and vegetables, consider including brewer’s yeast in your diet, bee pollen, and chlorophyll. You may also use essential oils such as Bergamot, eucalyptus, and lemon oil which all have antiviral properties to disinfect your home with. For people with immune deficiencies, shingles can be a really devasting disease. The virus is capable of affecting internal organs or even causing blindness, paralysis, and deafness if left untreated.
Nutrient and Herbal Defense
There are natural methods that can be used to boost the immune system and also to help ease the effects of shingles. I recommend Vitamin C which aids not only in boosting the immune system but fighting the virus. L-lysine is important for healing and fighting the virus that causes shingles. However, this supplement should not be taken for more than six months at a time. Calcium and magnesium are also important because they support nerve function and healing (also combat stress). Vitamin D should be taken to aid in calcium absorption and to help tissue heal. I would also recommend a Vitamin B complex which is needed for nerve health and to counteract deficiencies. Herbs that may help include alfalfa, chamomile, and dandelion which will help to restore the body’s alkaline balance. Chamomile can also be used in a compress on the blisters themselves. Licorice extract is another herb that can be used topically to interfere with the growth of the virus. One of my favorite herbs that can help not only with shingles but with the side effects of chemotherapy is astralagus root. This may be used with Echinacea to boost immune function as well. Never use astralagus if you have a fever and do not use Echinacea for longer than three months.
Whether you have an immune deficiency or you are in perfect health, shingles can develop at any time if you have had chickenpox. I’m going to do everything I can to avoid it while I go through cancer treatment and hope for the best. If I happen to develop shingles then I’ll also be prepared for the worst. Stay healthy!