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Home > Living Well > Health Library > Shingles and Postherpetic Neuralgia (Holistic)
Apply 2 to 3 drops to the affected area three or four times per day for pain relief
Shingles is a disease caused by the same virus (Varicella zoster) that causes chicken pox. Acute,
painful inflamed blisters form on one side of the trunk along a peripheral nerve.
Shingles usually affects the elderly or people with compromised
immune function. Nerve pain that persists after other symptoms have cleared is called postherpetic
Symptoms include pain, itching, or a tingling sensation prior to the appearance of a severely painful skin rash of red, fluid-filled blisters that later crust over. The rash is typically located on the trunk or face and only affects one side of the body. Pain may resolve rapidly or persist in the area of the rash for months to years after the rash disappears.
Stress and depression have been linked to outbreaks of shingles in some,1, 2 but not all,3 studies. 4 A small, preliminary study found that four children with shingles outbreaks, but who were otherwise healthy, all reported experiencing severe, chronic child abuse when the shingles first appeared.5 Among adults, how a stressful event is perceived appears to be more important than the event itself. In one study, people with shingles experienced the same kinds of life events in the year preceding the illness as did people without the condition; however, recent events perceived as stressful were significantly more common among people with shingles.
Acupuncture may be helpful in some cases of shingles and postherpetic neuralgia. Anecdotal case reports of people treated with electroacupuncture (acupuncture with applied electrical current) described improvement in seven of eight people.6 A controlled trial, however, found no difference in response between acupuncture treatment and placebo.7 The authors of this trial reported some difficulty in evaluating the results due to difficulty in assessing measures of pain in this study group. Large, controlled trials using well-designed pain evaluation methods are still needed to determine the value of acupuncture in the treatment of shingles and postherpetic neuralgia.
Hypnosis has improved or cured some cases of postherpetic neuralgia, as well as the acute pain of shingles.8
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Adenosine monophosphate (AMP), a compound that occurs naturally in the body, has been found to be effective against shingles outbreaks. In one double-blind trial, people with an outbreak of shingles were given injections of either 100 mg of AMP or placebo three times a week for four weeks. Compared with the placebo, AMP promoted faster healing and reduced the duration of pain of the shingles. In addition, AMP appeared to prevent the development of postherpetic neuralgia.
Licorice has been used by doctors as a topical agent for shingles and postherpetic neuralgia; however, no clinical trials support its use for this purpose. Glycyrrhizin, one of the active components of licorice, has been shown to block the replication of Varicella zoster. Licorice gel is usually applied three or more times per day. Licorice gel is not widely available but may be obtained through a doctor who practices herbal medicine.
Because shingles is caused by a herpes virus, some doctors believe that lysine supplementation could help people with the condition, since lysine inhibits replication of herpes simplex, a related virus. However, lysine has not been shown to inhibit Varicella zoster, nor has it been shown to provide any benefit for people with shingles outbreaks. Therefore, its use in this condition remains speculative.
Some doctors have observed that injections of vitamin B12 appear to relieve the symptoms of postherpetic neuralgia. However, since these studies did not include a control group, the possibility of a placebo effect cannot be ruled out. Oral vitamin B12 supplements have not been tested, but they are not likely to be effective against postherpetic neuralgia.
Some doctors have found vitamin E to be effective for people with postherpetic neuralgia—even those who have had the problem for many years. The recommended amount of vitamin E by mouth is 1,200–1,600 IU per day. In addition, vitamin E oil (30 IU per gram) can be applied to the skin. Several months of continuous vitamin E use may be needed in order to see an improvement. Not all studies have found a beneficial effect of vitamin E; however, in the study that produced negative results, vitamin E may not have been used for a long enough period of time.
Wood betony(Stachys betonica) is a traditional remedy for various types of nerve pain. It has not been studied specifically as a remedy for postherpetic neuralgia.
1. Irwin M, Costlow C, Williams H, et al. Cellular immunity to varicella-zoster virus in patients with major depression. J Infect Dis 1998;178 (Suppl 1):S104-8.
2. Engberg IB, Grondahl GB, Thibom K. Patients' experiences of herpes zoster and postherpetic neuralgia. J Adv Nurs 1995;21:427-33.
3. Schmader K, George LK, Burchett BM, Pieper CF. Racial and psychosocial risk factors for herpes zoster in the elderly. J Infect Dis 1998;178 (Suppl 1):S67-70.
4. Schmader K, Studenski S, MacMillan J, et al. Are stressful life events risk factors for herpes zoster? J Am Geriatr Soc 1990;38:1188-94.
5. Gupta MA, Gupta AK. Herpes zoster in the medically healthy child and covert severe child abuse. Cutis 2000;66:221-3.
6. Coghlan CJ. Herpes zoster treated by acupuncture. Cent Afr J Med 1992;38:466-7.
7. Lewith GT, Field J, Machin D. Acupuncture compared with placebo in post-herpetic pain. Pain 1983;17:361-8.
8. Shenefelt PD. Hypnosis in dermatology. Arch Dermatol 2000;136:393-9.
Last Review: 06-04-2015
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