An outbreak of the shingles virus can be a harrowing experience for those affected. While antiviral medications are the first line of treatment in the medical field, a natural approach can be very effective, too. This article explores The Wellness Way’s understanding of why shingles outbreaks occur. It also goes into how to alleviate discomfort and promote recovery of this painful skin condition. It all goes back to supporting the immune response.
What is Shingles?
Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is a viral infection that causes a painful skin rash. It’s caused by the varicella-zoster virus (VZV), the same virus responsible for chickenpox. After a person has had chickenpox, the virus remains dormant (inactive) in the nerve cells near the spinal cord. Later in life, the virus can reactivate and cause shingles. 
Shingles is not directly contagious, but the virus can spread to those who haven’t had chickenpox. If someone with shingles comes into contact with someone who hasn’t had chickenpox, the susceptible person could contract chickenpox. 
Risk factors for shingles include a weakened immune system, chronic stress, age (over 50), and female gender. While these are common risk factors, shingles can still occur in those without these factors. 
Symptoms of Shingles
- Itchy skin
- A painful rash, typically only on one side of the body
- Fluid-filled blisters
- Upset stomach
- Nerve pain that can last for months – postherpetic neuralgia (PHN)
Shingles can occur in people of all ages but is most common in older adults and individuals with weakened immune systems. The reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus is often linked to a weakened immune system due to aging, illness, or stress.
How is Shingles Diagnosed?
Shingles is typically diagnosed based on clinical symptoms, medical history, and sometimes laboratory tests. Here’s how shingles is diagnosed: 
- Clinical Evaluation: A healthcare provider will begin by taking a detailed medical history and conducting a physical examination. They’ll ask about your symptoms, including the location and characteristics of the rash and any discomfort.
- Rash Examination: The appearance of the shingles rash is often a key indicator. Shingles rashes usually develop as a band or strip of fluid-filled blisters that follow a specific pattern associated with a nerve. Chickenpox, on the other hand, typically results in a more widespread rash.
- Medical History: The provider will ask about your history of chickenpox or the chickenpox vaccine. Shingles is caused by a reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus, which is still dormant after a chickenpox infection.
- Laboratory Tests (if needed): Rarely, doctors may use lab tests to confirm the diagnosis, mainly when the clinical presentation is outside the norm or if he or she is uncertain about the diagnosis. The most useful is cited as the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test.
It’s essential to consult a healthcare provider when you suspect you may have shingles. Early diagnosis and treatment can help manage the infection and reduce the severity of the rash and associated pain.
The Fireman vs. The Carpenter in Healthcare
At The Wellness Way, we talk about the mainstream perspective on healthcare versus our perspective, referring to these methods as the “fireman approach” versus the “carpenter approach.”
Mainstream “fireman” doctors have two tools (treatment options) to take care of people: an axe and a hose. The axe represents cutting things out during a surgical procedure. The hose represents using medications to extinguish the “flames”: inflammation, pain, and other symptoms.
Wellness Way doctors are more like carpenters: They assess the current state of the body with testing and then create a personalized plan to rebuild using nutrients from foods and supplements. Sunshine, rest, and positive relationships are other natural therapies that support healing.
While these things are considered “complementary medicine” or even “alternative medicine,” scientific research backs up their effectiveness in healing.
Mainstream Medicine’s Approach to Shingles
Conventional medicine mostly sees shingles as an inevitable part of aging. However, they are still trying to prevent it by concocting shingles vaccines. They’ve now developed Shingrix and Zostavax as vaccinations they believe will prevent someone from getting shingles.  However, they still admit chicken pox is protective. But don’t worry; they’ve also created a chickenpox vaccine. 
Medications for Shingles
Doctors will commonly prescribe antiviral medications to reduce the duration of the infection and lower the risk of complications like postherpetic neuralgia. Typical antivirals used for shingles are acyclovir, valacyclovir, or famciclovir.
These drugs may alleviate some discomfort by blocking the replication of viral DNA, but they all have side effects. Those side effects are why many people seek out home remedies and natural ways to alleviate shingles pain and other symptoms.
What Causes Shingles? Traumas, Toxins, and Thoughts
At The Wellness Way, we think differently! Shingles is a common infection in the human body. It only rears its ugly head when our daily physical, biochemical, and emotional stressors suppress our immune response.
Traumas (Physical Stressors)
Traumas or physical stressors can be acute (like a car accident) or chronic (like being in a physically abusive relationship). Examples of traumas that could contribute to shingles include the following:
- Physical abuse
- Sexual assault/rape
- Car accidents
- Severe illness or infection
- Having a baby
A 2013 study found those who had physical trauma had a higher risk of reactivating the herpes zoster virus in the trauma location.  These physical traumas may set off a state of chronic stress within the body. The result may be a viral infection like shingles.
Toxins (Biochemical Stressors)
Toxins are biochemical stressors in the body. Examples of toxins that could contribute to shingles include:
- Sugar – Excessive sugar consumption can contribute to shingles infections by lowering the immune response. 
- Vaccines – The chicken pox vaccine can increase the risk of having a shingles outbreak.  The COVID shots may also increase a person’s risk of developing shingles due to changes in the immune system after the shot. 
- Medications – Immune-suppressing medications may also increase the risk of a shingles outbreak. These include corticosteroids like prednisone, autoimmune disease drugs like methotrexate (Trexall, Xatmep) and sulfasalazine (Azulfidine), and TNF inhibitors also used for autoimmune diseases like adalimumab (Humira) and infliximab (Remicade). 
- Pesticide/Herbicide exposures – Long-time exposure to certain pesticides and herbicides could alter the immune response, increasing the risk of reactivating herpes infections and triggering shingles. 
- Food allergies – Healthy foods can act like toxins if you’re allergic to them. Continuing to eat foods you’re allergic to can lead to chronic inflammation, poor digestion, and immune imbalance, creating the perfect environment for a shingles outbreak. 
- Gut dysbiosis – Intestinal dysbiosis (imbalanced gut bacteria) may also contribute to shingles susceptibility by altering the immune system. 
Traumas and toxins are made worse by negative thought patterns and emotional stress.
Thoughts (Emotional Stressors)
Don’t underestimate the power of your thoughts. Emotional stress is just as powerful (or more powerful) than physical and biochemical stressors in triggering inflammation and imbalance. Emotional stress can come from the following:
- Relationship issues – Relationships can turn toxic, leading to chronic stress. Prolonged stress can lead to dysregulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which can, in turn, affect the immune defense against viruses.
- Financial stress – Financial struggles can lead to dysbiosis and chronic infections due to the long-term effects of stress and cortisol.
- Watching the news – The mainstream media rarely focuses on the positive. Regularly exposing yourself to bad news increases fear, worry, and overall stress.
- Feeling overwhelmed – Stress from significant life changes, like a recent marriage, a new baby, graduation, a divorce, or even moving to a new city, can lead to gut dysbiosis and chronic infections.
- Holding a grudge/pent-up anger – Holding a grudge creates stress in the body.
- A death in the family or a close friend – Grief is another form of stress that may create imbalances in the body.
- Military combat – PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder) or PTSD from other causes can create a chronic sense of dis-ease in the body.
- Witnessing violence or a natural disaster – Being a witness to a mass shooting, murder, accident, or natural disaster is another potential cause of PTSD that may cause lasting imbalances.
The cumulative effect of these traumas, toxins, and thoughts can create inflammation and increase the risk of dis-ease anywhere in the body.
The Wellness Way Approach to Viral Infections like Shingles
At The Wellness Way, we dig deeper to solve the health challenges others can’t. We don’t just address symptoms; we run tests to find out what’s going on behind the scenes. Chronic inflammation, stress, and other infections can increase a person’s likelihood of developing shingles.
Essential Tests for Assessing Gut Health and Viral Infections
- TWW Viral Panel: Access Custom Viral Panel
- Gut Health Test: Genova GI Effects with Parasitology
- Food Allergy Test: Immuno Food Allergy Test
Your Wellness Way practitioner will order more tests based on what he or she considers most relevant based on your health history.
Topical Solutions for Soothing Shingles
The pain and itchiness of shingles require more than dietary and lifestyle changes. Here are some ideas for soothing the pain and supporting healing:
- Wet, cool compress – A compress soaked in cool water can relieve shingles by soothing itching, reducing inflammation and swelling, and helping to numb the affected area, reducing pain and discomfort.
- Oatmeal baths – A colloidal oatmeal bath (ground-up oatmeal added to warm water) is a home remedy that can calm the skin and reduce itchiness and pain. Studies have shown colloidal oatmeal products can soothe dry, itchy skin and improve the skin microbiome. 
- Witch hazel – Witch hazel is a natural astringent and anti-inflammatory agent derived from the leaves and bark of the witch hazel shrub (Hamamelis virginiana). Witch hazel may help soothe the irritation, relieving pain and itching. 
- Tamanu oil – Tamanu (Calophyllum inophyllum) oil is a greenish-yellow liquid derived from the nuts of the tamanu tree. It’s known for its natural skincare benefits, including moisturization, wound healing, and pain relief. 
- Tea tree oil – Tea tree oil (Melaleuca alternifolia) has wound healing and anti-inflammatory properties and has been studied for its antiviral effects on herpes simplex. It may be helpful for shingles as well. 
- Capsaicin ointment – Capsaicin is an extract from cayenne pepper recommended for shingles pain. It also comes as a topical patch. 
These natural remedies can help soothe the skin and provide relief. Still, addressing the immune system is essential for helping the body fight shingles and other infections.
Dietary Changes for Those Overcoming Shingles
First, focus on lowering sugar intake and improving digestion to support your immune response. That means avoiding food allergies and following a personalized nutrition program, as the Wellness Way practitioner recommends. Here are some general dietary guidelines for those overcoming a shingles infection:
- No sugar or processed foods – Both increase inflammation and contribute to gut dysbiosis. Ultimately, they negatively affect the immune response and open the door to infections.
- Gluten-free, mostly grain-free – Gluten is known to aggravate the gut lining, contributing to chronic inflammation throughout the body.
- Consume an overall low carbohydrate, non-inflammatory diet of organic whole foods, which supply nutrients, antioxidants, and food for a healthy gut microbiome. 
- No cow’s milk dairy products – Goat and sheep’s milk products may be better tolerated – and even beneficial for lowering inflammation in the gut, which makes up a large part of the immune response. 
- Avoid high omega-6 vegetable oils, like corn, canola, soybean, cottonseed oil, sunflower, grapeseed, and others, which can alter the omega-6 to omega-3 balance to be more inflammatory.  Instead, use fruit oils like olive, coconut, avocado, and palm oil or animal fats like beef tallow, bacon grease, and duck fat.
- Eat omega-3-rich foods – Wild-caught salmon, herring, sardines, walnuts, and ground flaxseeds provide omega-3s and help lower inflammation. 
- Follow a Personalized Nutrition Program based on your food allergy test results.
- Add specific nutrient-dense foods: Add Liver/organ meats, sauerkraut, and microgreens for enhanced nutrition. Liver is nature’s multivitamin, according to Dr. Patrick Flynn.
- Focus on antioxidants – Including things like turmeric, green tea, berries, dark chocolate, green leafy vegetables, and other foods rich in phytochemicals helps keep inflammation under control. They also support a healthy microbiome. 
A healthy diet can reduce inflammation and support gut health, but supplements can go further to support the immune response.
Supplements to Help Those Overcoming Shingles
Herbal supplements and other nutritional supplements can support the body in overcoming infections like shingles. While everyone is different, some supplements The Wellness Way may use to support those overcoming shingles may include one or more of the following:
- Megabiotic Formula – Probiotic supplements like this blend of highly researched strains can help keep infections and inflammation under control in the gut and throughout the body.
- Mushroom Immune – Reishi and other medicinal mushrooms support immune function and may even help with shingles-related pain. 
- Vitamin D – Vitamin D is crucial for supporting the immune system and overall health. Maintaining adequate vitamin D levels may contribute to a healthy immune response, potentially reducing the risk and severity of various infections, including viral infections like shingles. 
- Zinc – Zinc is an essential mineral that plays a pivotal role in various bodily functions, including immune health and wound healing. 
- Herbal Throat Spray – Bee Propolis is a natural resin-like substance that bees collect from various plant sources to seal and protect their hives. It’s known for its antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties. It also has compounds that have shown antiviral activity and may support the body in overcoming shingles.  The Wellness Way Herbal Throat spray includes bee propolis and other immune-supporting ingredients.
- St. John’s Wort – Research shows increasing brain levels of serotonin can reduce nerve pain. 
- Vitamin C – Those who are vitamin C deficient when they have a shingles outbreak are more likely to have intense nerve pain. 
Every person is different – herbal remedies that work for one person may not work for another. Part of that is due to body chemistry, including genetics and allergenic responses, and part is due to differences in the contributing causes of shingles.
Lifestyle Changes & Complementary Therapies for Shingles
Other natural solutions for supporting the body in overcoming shingles include:
- Reduce stress – Stress can suppress the immune response, allowing infections to spread and recur. Stress, stressful events, depression, and anxiety are all linked to higher pain levels with a shingles attack.  Find what lowers stress for you, whether it’s music therapy, artistic endeavors, ecotherapy (time spent outside), or even playing with children.
- Get Adequate Sleep – Sleep is vital for a healthy immune response. A 2016 observational study found that those with sleep disorders were at an increased risk for shingles. 
DISCLAIMER: Many of these should be a part of a normal daily lifestyle. The Wellness Way is not giving any medical advice. These are simply A Different Perspective on what you can do. You’re more likely to have a healthy immune system when doing these things regularly. These supplements and therapies are not a replacement for any medication. We are carpenter doctors and practitioners, not firemen. If you want medical advice, ask your fireman doctor.
Be a well-informed patient! Here are some resources for learning more about shingles and a healthy immune response.
Educational Resources for Learning About Shingles and The Immune Response
Videos & Webinars Related to Shingles
Articles to Support Those Overcoming Shingles
CONNECT WITH US
We invite you to connect with us! Find an event at a clinic near you! Follow us on social media. Tune in to A Different Perspective each Saturday morning LIVE to get cutting-edge training directly from Dr. Patrick Flynn. Set up a no-obligation health consult with one of our doctors today. The best is yet to come! Think differently – and THRIVE. Reach out to a Wellness Way clinic today to get thorough testing and start on your health journey. We are here to help!
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