Shingles risk goes up when you’re over 40
I learned last week that my mother has shingles. I had called her to plan my Thanksgiving trip up to see her and the rest of my family. I realized as we were talking and she was sharing her experience that all I knew about shingles came from a 30 second TV commercial for the vaccination. So, I decided I needed to learn more not only to possibly help my mother but to make sure my family and I are prepared.
I am not a doctor. I'm just going over my research as I make health decisions for myself. You should do your own research and work with your doctor to make decisions for yourself.
What the heck is shingles?
A virus called varicella-zoster causes Shingles. This is the same virus that causes chickenpox. After your body beat down chickenpox, the virus retreated into the nerve tissue in your spinal cord and brain. As we age, the likelihood we will get shingles goes up.
Shingles is a very painful rash (much worse than the chickenpox you experienced). The blistering rash causes pain, itching and may cause a fever. The rash can be anywhere, but it tends to be on your torso.
This virus is in the herpes family which includes nine different known types:
- herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1), which is also known as a fever blister;
- herpes simplex virus 2 (HSV-2), which is also known as herpes;
- varicella-zoster virus (VZV), which is also known as chickenpox or shingles;
- Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), which is also known as mono;
- human cytomegalovirus (HCMV);
- human herpesvirus 6A (HHV-6A);
- human herpesvirus 6b (HHV-6B);
- human herpesvirus 7 (HHV-7); and
- Kaposi's sarcoma-associated herpesvirus (KSHV).
If you had chicken pox, you can get shingles. In fact, experts estimate that 50% of people over 80 who have had chicken pox get shingles. Since we're all here to improve our health and therefore live longer, we make sure we're dealing with this risk.
You're at increased risk when your immune system is depressed. This can happen if you're taking certain drugs, have HIV, or cancer. Remember this isn't about exposure, you already have the virus. It just comes back when you're too weak to fight back.
The pain associated with shingles can continue long after the rash goes away. Depending on the severity and duration of the virus, you can lose vision and/or deal with neurological issues. You can also face infection from the rash. This is why you want to focus on quick and direct treatment when you get an outbreak.
- Avoid treatment – Don't try to tough it out. Seek treatment.
- Allow chronic stress – Stress causes an increase in cortisol, which turns off your immune system. When you're stressed, your body redirects energy to deal with the stressor and leaves you vulnerable.
- Eat foods high in or take the amino acid Arginine – Typically, chocolate (dark low sugar), nuts, coconut, bone broth, and gelatin are healthy, but not if you're dealing with shingles. Arginine is the balancing amino acid against lysine (see below)
- Be a fertile female – There really isn't a good theory on why this happens, but women tend to get outbreaks of herpes viruses during their period. Obviously, you want a good healthy reproductive system, so use some of the strategies to boost your immune system detailed in the “do”, which I cover next.
Inoculation – I'm not going to go into the pros and cons of vaccinations. Just know that getting the vaccination will decrease your risk of getting shingles. However, it won't drop it to zero and there are some potential side effects. If you're going this route, do your own research and have some thoughtful conversations with your doctor.
Anti-virals – If you have shingles, your doctor may prescribe anti-viral medication. Work with your doctor to treat your shingles quickly. Complications often occur when not addressed timely.
Stress management – Have a stress management protocol so your immune system is as strong as you can make it. I discussed stress management with Ori Hofmekler on this episode of the 40+ Fitness Podcast.
Immunity weakness – As we've noted, your immune system is the only think keeping shingles at bay. Anything that weakens your immunity will give you a higher risk of it getting out.
Lysine – This is an essential amino acid, which means you have to consume it to get it. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. We get lysine from animal proteins. If you're at risk (immune system depressed, chronic stress), you may want to supplement with lysine. To get the best benefit from this supplement, you should take it on an empty stomach.
Adaptogens – Many cultures have used plants and herbs to manage health. I won't go into this too much here, but there are plants and herbs that can enhance your immune system and help you deal with stress. These adaptogens have been used for centuries with no adverse affect, but do your research and find reputable sources.
Vitamin D, K2, and Calcium – These vitamins and mineral are key nutrients for many functions of the human body. But most importantly they relate to bone health. I'm not sure why these have been linked to shingles prevention, but it seems there is a link to bone health and this virus.
Links to learn more about shingles:
Have you or someone you know had shingles? Please share your experience in the comments below. Thanks!