A Most Unwelcomed Guest

Healthy Food

Last week, our normally calm household was disrupted by a most unwelcomed guest: shingles!  For anyone not familiar with this nasty intruder, it’s the re-emergence of the chicken pox virus decades later.  That is, only if you had chicken pox as a child (or at any time, really), can you get shingles as an adult. My husband is among the unfortunate roughly one-third of Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to suffer an outbreak of shingles in their lifetimes. 

Everyone over the age is 60 is encouraged to get the shingles vaccine (although only about 10% do). The vaccine reduces your chances of getting shingles and the severity and duration of the condition, should you contract it, but unfortunately, the vaccine does not come with a guarantee that you’ll avoid shingles. 

Along with getting the vaccine, what’s also important, we learned, is to seek treatment from your doctor very early.  Anti-viral medication should be administered within 72 hours.  And that means you’d better know the signs and symptoms of shingles so that you can act promptly.  The main symptoms are an itchy (and later painful) rash — often on one side of the torso but sometimes on the face or other parts of the body; sometimes the onset of shingles is accompanied by flu-like symptoms, though without fever or headache. Along with anti-viral medication, treatment typically includes pain killers to ease the burning, stabbing-like sensations, along with the itchiness of the rash.

I wondered….could diet play a role in helping to treat shingles?  While I don’t know of any controlled studies (the gold standard) that examined the role of diet in treating shingles, there are recommendations which seem common sense and consistent with typical recommendations for a healthy lifestyle.  These recommendations include boosting your immune system with foods that pack a nutritional punch. Be sure to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds and legumes especially those that contain vitamins A and C — as well as foods that are good sources of vitamin E, like wheat germ, sunflower seeds, almonds, and peanut butter.  In addition, foods that are high in the amino acid lysine could be helpful, so that means including protein-rich foods like egg whites, tofu, legumes, nuts and lean meat and poultry (skinless, of course!) as part of your meals.