Greetings Dear Readers,
If you or someone you know is suffering from shingles, there is a lot that can be done to reduce pain, strengthen immunity and get relief using natural therapies. A word of caution: if you are experiencing the shingles rash, pain or unusual symptoms in your face, eyes or ears, this symptom that can have serious consequences such as damage to the eyes or ears leading to loss of vision or hearing. Please visit your doctor immediately.
In Western medicine, the virus causing shingles (varicella-zoster virus) is the same virus that causes chicken pox. When someone gets the chicken pox, eventually the rash clears, but the virus itself does not fully disappear. It lies dormant in the nerve ganglia at the spine waiting for another opportunity. When the immune system is down, the virus may then reactivate, this time as shingles. Since the virus lives at the nerve root in the spine, it tends to affect one or multiple dermatomes or areas that the affected spinal nerve controls. Prior to the outbreak, the immune system could have been weakened by chemotherapy, radiation, HIV, fatigue, organ or bone marrow transplant, physical or psychological trauma or a very stressful life event. Shingles also tends to affect those over the age of 50 more than younger people.
According to Asian medicine, shingles is a combination of Wind, Damp and Heat pattern often involving Liver/Gall Bladder and/or Spleen system. It’s interesting that the dermatomes at T9-T12 which are often affected by shingles, is also the area of the spine that corresponds to the Liver, Gall Bladder and Spleen in Asian Medicine. Where Heat predominates, the pain tends to be more intense and the sooner the acupuncture treatment is done, the lesser the chances of intense pain that carries on for months or in some cases years. Palpation of the Fire points shows the extent of the Heat in the body and the corresponding points are treated first before treating the immune system. The Spleen system is also treated because of the burden of Dampness caused by either a pre-existing weak Spleen system (the spleen is also an immune organ in both Eastern and Western medicine) or because the virus itself has weakened the Spleen system which is responsible for controlling Dampness. In either case, Asian medicine offers effective protocols to clear any residual pain or immune weakness caused by shingles.
Once the rashes and blistering have died down, there is often lingering post-herpetic neuralgia (read: intense pain) along the nerve pathway of the affected areathat can go on for months, sometimes years. Getting started with acupuncture soon after the pain starts will cut down the amount of time the pain goes on for. Some patients have been told to try various rash ointments that are intended for another purpose such as eczema or psoriasis, but with little success because the pain is not about the skin. It is caused by the infection at the nerve. An excellent remedy for this type of nerve pain is St. John’s Wart oil rubbed onto the affected area.
Dietary changes can help support the immune system. An acupuncturist can determine whether Damp, Heat or Wind is most predominant in your body. If the Dampness is predominant, it is important to avoid Damp producing foods such as roasted peanuts, dairy products such as milk or ice cream, beer, sugar, concentrated juices or sweeteners, pork, bananas and saturated fats. Refined sugar itself is
known to depress the immune system within hours of consumption.1 If Heat predominates, avoid hot spices, alcohol, coffee, chili, ginger, mustard, lamb, ginseng, maca and other heating foods or herbs. Ways to support the body’s immunity include immune tonics such as ganoderma (reishi mushroom), fermented foods because they promtote healthy gut flora, zinc, selenium and keeping stress levels down (stress reduces Defensive Qi) through relaxation, exercise and meditation.
Feel free to contact me if you have any questions.
Yours in health,
1. · Albert Sanchez, J. L. · Reeser, H. S. · Lau, P. Y. · Yahiku, R. E. · Willard, P. J. · McMillan, S. Y. · Cho, A. R. · Magie, and U. D. Register. (1973. The American Society for Clinical Nutrition). The Role of Sugars in Human Neutrophils Phagocytosis. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/26/11/1180