Preventing Shingles

Shingles is a terribly painful outbreak of the varicella zoster virus, a member of the herpes family better known by its initial infection, chicken pox (or varicella). If the infection ever recurs, it’s labeled shingles (or zoster in the medical community). Significant pain and a rash, that often stubbornly and slowly subsides, are the most common tells. Not everyone who gets chicken pox will get shingles, but for those that do, treatment for recovery is both needed and appreciated.

After the initial chicken pox infection, the virus becomes contained but remains dormant within the nerve roots of our nervous system. There the virus might remain dormant forever, or it might trace its way along the nerve to the surface of the body. Doctors diagnose shingles based on a rash that may or may not be present yet, pain and location. The rash can become very red and blister. The pain may start before the lesions ever erupt and can linger long after the lesions clear.

The location of shingles typically helps with the diagnoses. The infection is uniquely one-sided and will follow the path of the nerve from where the shingles originated. For example, the pain and rash of shingles may start on the right side of the back and trace its way around the front side of the chest, never crossing over to the left. When the history and physical presentation lead to the diagnosis of shingles, antiviral medication is typically started to reduce the duration of the outbreak. Early treatment will hopefully lead to less long-term pain.

What nutritional treatments are available to combat shingles?

There are two vitamin treatments that can provide substantial relief to a shingles outbreak. Injected B-12 can be very helpful in preventing the expansion of the problem. B-12 is available over-the-counter as an oral supplement, but oral dosing may not be adequate to fend off a shingles infection. B-12 injections are extremely safe and can be given several days in a row if needed to help the body contain the virus. B-12 shots work much better if done early in the infection, versus after symptoms have existed for several months. Patients who are sensitive to medications may want to ask for preservative-free B-12 shots, which pharmacies can compound specifically to a doctor’s request.

Intravenous vitamin C is another treatment that can be done for more significant infections, or along with B-12 injections. Vitamin C is thought to help boost the immune system. But the body can only absorb so much orally. When vitamin C is given as an IV, concentrations in the blood stream can reach a much higher level. Doctors practicing nutritional medicine have long used vitamin C for tough infections, like mono. Shingles, clinically, seem to respond to IV vitamin C as well. Unfortunately, large studies have not been completed to verify dosing, but the treatment is known to be well-tolerated and worth considering for those suffering from an acute, or long-standing case of shingles, even after lesions have cleared.

On the next page, learn how to strengthen your immune system to prevent shingles.