Shingles (S3E6)

When putting a new roof on a house, it is important to choose a good contractor that will do a thorough job, so that the roof will last a long time.  Just replacing old shingles without paying attention to the condition of the layers of wood underneath them would result in a roof of poor quality.  By this rationale, it is important to mention that the condition of the immune and nutritional status of everyone at risk of contracting herpes zoster (aka shingles) is also highly important.

By Fisle - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, is a cutaneous infection that is brought on by the varicella zoster (aka chicken pox) virus.  It typically manifests in the elderly and those with compromised immune systems due to the presence of severe stress and diseases like cancer, AIDS or diabetes.  Its characteristics include blistery red skin eruptions that go along areas supplied by spinal nerves (called dermatomes), and lasts for approximately 2 weeks.  In some cases, severe pain can follow this initial eruption, which can then last for months or years.  Those whom are most at risk for developing this pain syndrome, called post herpetic neuralgia, are the elderly with the previously mentioned conditions.

Conventional treatment for shingles includes antiviral medications, with topical creams, analgesics and antidepressants used to treat post pain complications.  However, this approach alone would be like that bad contractor who doesn’t look at the roof boards.  In nutritional medicine three of the major treatments that are used include Vitamin C, B12 and Magnesium.  In Chinese medicine, acupuncture and herbal prescriptions (both topical and internal) are used. 

Vitamin C has long been known to be a very effective treatment for a wide variety of viruses, and immune conditions.  Therapeutic dose ranges during viral illnesses are usually between 6000-10,000mg/day by mouth, in divided doses, with normal daily doses at around 3000-6000mg.  While this might seem high, it is one of the main co-factors that the body uses for connective tissue synthesis and is in short supply during infections.

Vitamin B12 injections are used both intramuscularly and subcutaneously around shingles lesions to aid in lesion healing.  Its dosage would be 1000 micrograms per IM shot for 5 days in a row during the beginning of an outbreak.   When used subcutaneously, 1/10th of a ml is injected just under the skin in several places surrounding the lesion, 5 days in a row, upon the start of the rash.  Vitamin B12 should also be taken orally after age 50, or in diabetic, vegan and vegetarian populations as it is often low.

Magnesium acts as an NMDA receptor blocker, which is a nerve receptor that plays a role in the development of neuropathic pain.  Orally it is taken at 250 mg, 4 times per day for up to 2 weeks, or until stools soften.

Acupuncture could be thought of as a site specific, anti-inflammatory therapy, with sedative and analgesic effects.  These qualities account for why it is useful in treating pain and inflammation associated with shingles. Typically, it is used once per week for several weeks to shorten the course of the outbreak.

Chinese herbs can also be used to lower inflammation, and speed up the healing of the lesions.

While these interventions may seem like a lot of things to do, they all go into bolstering an immune system which is already compromised.  To keep yourself from getting to this state, oral B12, Magnesium and Vitamin C in addition to a diet lower in refined carbohydrates would help to ensure that shingles is less likely to happen to you.

Be Well and Be Zen



Gaby A R, (2017, 2nd Ed.), Nutritional Medicine, Ch. 184, Herpes Zoster, p. 748-52., Fritz Perlberg Publishing, Concord, NH., ISBN 13: 978-1-5323-2209-9.

Shen De-Hui, Wu Xiu-Fen, Nissi Wang, (1995), Manual of Chinese Dermatology, Ch. 8, p. 98-106., Eastland Press, Seattle, WA, ISBN: 0-939616-20-3.

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