Shingles: What is it and How Can Herbal Medicine Help?

woman working on a herbal remedy on a morter Photo by Katherine Hanlon on Unsplash

What are Shingles

Shingles (herpes zoster) is a reactivation of the varicella zoster virus (the virus that also causes chicken pox), most commonly seen in older adults or people with poor immune function, though occasionally in children.

Postherpetic neuralgia is the most common symptom of shingles and frequently causes severe nerve pain. I have treated many people in my clinical practice with postherpetic neuralgia, and herbal treatments can serve as an important part of a repertoire of medicine for reducing nerve pain. For some people the pain is considerable, and herbs will play an adjunctive role to medicines like gabapentin, or acupuncture by allowing a reduction in medication dose.

Herbal Interventions for Shingles

Four types of herbal actions help in the management and recovery of shingles and include topical and internal applications: anti-inflammatory, immunomodulatory, adaptogenic and analgesic. Topical applications include licorice root gel (have your compounding pharmacist make it for you), which can be applied to shingles lesions as an anti-inflammatory and capsaicin cream, which can also be purchased over the counter as Zostrix neuropathy cream (0.25 percent capsaicin) or, if a stronger dose is required, it can be compounded by prescription up to 2 percent at a compounding pharmacy.

Cannabis strains that are rich in varying ratios of THC, CBD, and terpenoids provide options for anti-inflammatory and analgesic topical application of gels or creams to herpetic lesions and for use orally as oils and tinctures for neuropathic pain. Consult with your local cannabis pharmacy about these special strains and options.

Ginseng and schisandra act as adaptogens and modulate immune function, and fungi like reishi and shiitake are immunomodulators that can be incorporated into daily diet or taken with other fungi like agarikon (Laricifomes officinalis) and Fomitopsis officinalis, which Paul Stamets of Fungi Perfecti suggests as an antiviral available as a concentrated powder in capsules. Some experimental work has also been done using apitherapy (bee venom injections used to reduce pain). This procedure requires a licensed clinician experienced in and knowledgeable about this protocol.

The shingles vaccine can provide protection against the disease, and is well worth obtaining. Although shingles can still occur in spite of vaccination, it does so with fewer symptoms and for a shorter duration. You do not want this dis-ease!

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