A few weeks ago Justin Bieber made the news. At this time, it wasn’t about his music though, but a new health condition. In his Instagram video, Bieber revealed that he was diagnosed with Ramsay Hunt syndrome, a neurological condition that made half of his face paralyzed (1). His condition is a complication of a varicella-zoster virus infection, which is responsible for shingles and chicken pox.
Shingles is not a rare condition. In fact, about one-third of the population will get shingles at one point in their lives (2). Though complications like Bieber’s are rare, shingles can be a painful and frustrating health condition. In this article, I want to discuss what shingles is and offer some natural treatments for shingles.
What Is Shingles
Shingles or herpes zoster is an infection characterized by a red, burning, and painful skin rash. It usually appears in a stripe of blisters covering usually only one side of your body, mainly your torso, neck, or face. It is caused by the varicella-zoster virus, which is also responsible for chickenpox. If you had chickenpox as a child, the shingles virus may lie dormant in your body and reactivate later in life. About 1 in 3 individuals will have shingles at one point in their lives, but it’s rare to get it more than once (2).
Symptoms of Shingles
The most intense period of shingles is usually the first 5 days. Over the first 7 to 10 days the fluid-filled shingles blisters will slowly dry up and crust over. It takes anywhere between 2 to 5 weeks for the scabs to clear up (2, 3).
Symptoms of shingles may include:
- Fluid-filled blisters
- Red patches
- Rashes and/or blisters around the spine, torso, neck, face, and ears
- Muscle weakness
More rare symptoms and complications of shingles may include:
- Rashes or pain around the eyes, which can lead to permanent eye damage if not addressed immediately
- Earache, dizziness, loss of hearing, and loss of taste, all may be symptoms of Ramsay Hunt syndrome, a condition that requires immediate medical attention (this is the condition Justin Bieber has (1)
- Secondary bacterial infections are characterized by swelling, redness, and warmth of the skin
Risk Factors for Shingles
Risk factors for shingles may include:
- Being over the age of 60
- Having a weak immune system due to certain immune-compromising health conditions, including HIV/AIDS or cancer
- Taking immunosuppressants, steroids, medications given after an organ transplant, or other medications that may weaken your immune function
- Receiving or having had chemotherapy or radiation treatment
Vitamin D and Shingles
We rarely hear about the connection between vitamin D and shingles. Yet, vitamin D is a critical nutrient for your immune system and deficiencies may make you more vulnerable to infections. Vitamin D deficiency may also slow recovery.
A 2015 study published in Medical Hypotheses has found that due to its important role in the host’s immune function, vitamin D deficiency can increase the symptoms and risk of complications of shingles (4). A 2016 study published in the Korean Journal of Family Practice has found that people with lower vitamin D levels were more likely to get shingles than those with normal vitamin D levels (5). According to a 2019 study published in Nutrients, vitamin D deficiencies may be linked to shingles and related postherpetic neuralgia (PHN) (6).
Natural Treatments for Shingles
Conventional treatments for shingles usually involve over-the-counter or prescription oral anti-inflammatory medications for pain relief, oral antiviral medications, oral antihistamines for itching, topical numbing gels and creams for pain, topical capsaicin for neuralgia (nerve pain), and oral anticonvulsants or tricyclic antidepressants for prolonged pain (2, 3). However, there are many natural treatments for shingles, including home remedies and nutrition, you can try to improve your symptoms without significant side effects. You can try these natural treatments for shingles while using a completely medication-free approach or alongside recommended medications. Here is what I recommend:
Anti-Inflammatory, Antiviral, and Low Histamine Diet
Nutrient deficiencies and a weak immune system may increase your symptoms, delay recovery, or increase your risk of complications from shingles. I recommend that you follow a diet rich in anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, and nutrient-dense whole foods.
Remove inflammatory foods, such as refined sugar, refined oil, gluten, artificial ingredients, additives, and heavily processed foods. Choose nutrient-dense whole foods, including greens, vegetables, herbs, spices, fruit, grass-fed meat, pasture-raised poultry and eggs, and wild-caught fish, ideally all organic.
Ginger, turmeric, astragalus, rosemary, peppermint, garlic, basil, and oregano are just some herbs that may help to reduce inflammation and viral growth (7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14). A histamine response may play a role in the blisters and inflammation associated with shingles. According to a 2006 study published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood, antihistamines may help to reduce symptoms (15). Instead of using antihistamines, following a low-histamine and quercetin-rich diet may help. Quercetin helps to naturally lower histamine in your body and may help to reduce your symptoms (16). Quercetin-rich foods include cabbage, red leaf lettuce, romain lettuce, kale, red onion, snap peas, asparagus, cruciferous vegetables, peppers, grapes, blueberries, cranberries,, black currants, cherries, black plums, and apples.
Certain vitamins, minerals, and nutrients may offer immune support and aid natural treatment for shingles. Here is what I recommend:
- Vitamin D: A 2019 study published in Nutrients and other research has found that vitamin D deficiency may increase your risk and symptoms of shingles (4, 5, 6). You may benefit from supplementing with vitamin D, getting some sunshine, and eating vitamin D-rich foods, such as egg yolk, oily fish, and liver.
- Vitamin C: Vitamin D offers antiviral and immune-supporting benefits (17). A 2012 study published in Medical Science Monitor has found that vitamin C supplementation may be helpful for shingles (18). You may benefit from taking a vitamin C supplement and eating citrus and other foods rich in vitamin C.
- Zinc: Zinc deficiency may also compromise your immune health. A 2019 study published in Advances in Nutrition has found that zinc may also offer anti-viral benefits (19). You may benefit from zinc supplementation and eating foods high in zinc, including beans, nuts, and seafood.
- Antiviral Herbs: Using anti-viral herbs and spices in your diet is a great idea. You may also benefit from taking some antiviral, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant herbal supplements, including ginger, turmeric, peppermint, garlic, oregano, olive leaf extract, broccoli sprouts, and mulberry juice (7, 8, 11, 14, 20, 21, 22).
- Bioactive Carbons: Bioactive carbons such as fulvic and humic are plant-based acids that support your immune system. They may have some antiviral properties and may help your body in fighting viral infections (23).
Try Probiotics and Lysine
According to a 2021 study published in Foods, probiotics may help to support your immune system and your body’s defense against viral infections, including shingles (24). You may benefit from taking a daily probiotic-rich foods. Yogurt is a probiotic-rich food that’s also rich in lysine. According to a 2017 study published in Integrative Medicine (Encinitas), lysine may help to reduce viral infections (25). You may benefit from eating yogurt and other lysine-rich foods, including wild-caught salmon, pasture-raised poultry, and grass-fed beef. You may also benefit from taking an L-Lysine supplement as a natural treatment for shingles.
Lower Your Stress and Improve Your Sleep
High stress and poor sleep may compromise your immune system, increase inflammation, and increase histamine in your body (26, 27, 28). A chronically stressed and sleepless, fatigued state can compromise your body’s ability to recover from a shingles infection. Reducing your stress levels and improving your sleep are among the most important natural treatments for shingles.
Aim to get 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night. If you are feeling tired and unwell, honor your body by getting more sleep and resting. Practice meditation, breathwork, gratitude, and progressive muscle relaxation strategies to reduce stress, relax your body, and calm your mind.
Try a Cold Compress or Cold Bath
Using a cold, wet compress on your shingles blisters may help to reduce shingles pain, itching, sensitivity, and discomfort as part of your natural treatment for shingles. Wet a washcloth with cold water and use it over your blisters. Use a cool compress as many times as needed throughout the day. Use a new washcloth each time to avoid spreading the virus. You may also try taking a cold bath or cold shower to further reduce symptoms with cool water.
Apply Baking Soda and Cornstarch Paste
By relieving pain and itching, using a baking soda or cornstarch paste can be a natural treatment for shingles (29, 30). Mix two parts of baking soda or cornstarch with one part water. Mix well then apply the paste on the affected area. Leave it for 10 to 15 minutes then rinse it well. Path dry it with a clean cloth. Use this method several times throughout the day as needed.
Try a Healing Bath
Cold baths and cold showers can relieve some pain and discomfort, but adding oatmeal or cornstarch to your bath water may be even better (31, 32). Fill up your bathtub with lukewarm water. Mix in one to two cups of cornstarch or colloidal oatmeal. Make sure the water is not too hot as hot water may increase blood flow and worsen your symptoms or not too cold to sit in. Soak for about 15 to 20 minutes then dry your body with a clean towel.
Use Some Witch Hazel
Witch hazel is commonly used for reducing inflammation and itchiness in all kinds of skin conditions (33). You may try a witch hazel cream to apply topically on your blisters and painful rashes. You may also try witch hazel water or witch hazel pads. Use witch hazel-soaked cotton balls or witch hazel pads over your blisters for relief.
Apply Some Honey
Honey is an anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and antiviral remedy that can be used topically on blisters, rashes, and skin concerns. According to a 2012 study published in the Translational Biomedicine Journal, manuka and clover honey may show antiviral potential and may be used as a natural treatment for shingles (34). You may apply some honey topically to your blisters to relieve your symptoms.
If you have shingles, try these natural remedies to relieve your symptoms and improve your health. If you are looking for personalized tips and dietary recommendations for reducing your risks or improving your symptoms of shingles beyond these home remedies, or simply want to improve your health, wellness, and mental well-being, I welcome you to start a personalized functional medicine consultation with me. You may book your consultation here.