Many of us suffered through chickenpox as a child, and though a distant memory now, the pain, itching, and discomfort may still cause a shudder. The virus that is responsible for chickenpox can enter a period of dormancy that lasts for years, or even decades, and eventually manifest itself as shingles. Unlike bacterial and fungal infections, viruses need a host to replicate, and that host is our body’s own cells. They hijack the machinery of the cells to make more copies of themselves. Often, the shingles virus starts to replicate during times of stress, when your resistance is low. This can create a hard-to-break cycle of stress and illness that can make symptoms even worse. According to the CDC, roughly 33% of the U.S. population will experience a shingles outbreak at some point in their life.
Antiviral drugs can sometimes be useful to help lighten the viral load during a shingles outbreak. However, fortifying the immune system to naturally eliminate viral infections can be a much more successful long-term solution. Viral infections are ever changing and viruses themselves not well understood. Modern science is still trying to understand how to combat these illnesses. Fortunately, Mother Nature has provided substances that have potent antiviral activity, like propolis and elderberry.
Propolis is an anti-multimicrobial, which means it is beneficial for bacterial, viral, and fungal infections. Bees collect resinous materials from natural sources like plants, trees, and buds, which are then processed to create propolis. Each beehive creates a unique propolis, so its characteristics can vary greatly, and therefore its effectiveness can too.
There is a clinically studied form of propolis, called GH2002, which comes from bees with access to specific types of trees containing high-levels of desired resinous compounds. This yields a more potent propolis with consistent levels of key nutrients. Clinical research shows that this specific propolis is effective against viral infections. Compared to acyclovir (a common antiviral used for shingles), the propolis outperformed the drug in pain reduction and time to heal. Additionally, over 90% of the participants in the propolis group rated their treatment as very good, versus only 39% of the drug group. This propolis is available as an oral supplement and has also been developed into a lotion. The lotion can be applied daily for prevention and also used multiple times per day during outbreaks.
The GH2002 propolis is also purified to be free from beeswax and other impurities that may inhibit its effectiveness. The resulting propolis is therefore hypoallergenic.
Another powerful antiviral is a botanical called elderberry. While elderberry shrubs grow throughout many regions of the world, the most sought after varieties, like Haschberg Elderberry, come from Europe. Scientific studies have shown that elderberry binds to viruses and therefore blocks their ability to infect cells. Additionally, elderberry can help call out the immune system troops that help to neutralize virus particles and eliminate infected cells. There are many types of elderberry preparations, including those you can make at home, but when using elderberry therapeutically, a standardized extract is recommended. Because anthocyanins are responsible for many of elderberry’s immune-supportive properties, a freeze-dried extract that contains at least 12% anthocyanins is preferred.
Supporting the immune system is a top priority for shingles infections, but so is reducing any pain and discomfort that may be present. Many people reach for over-the-counter medications, like NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), some of the most popular of which are ibuprofen, aspirin, and naproxen. Unfortunately, research shows that these commonly used substances actually weaken the immune system. Most shingles infections occur in people over the age of 60, who are frequent users of NSAIDs and other medications that may decrease our natural viral defenses. However, people of any age can suffer from a shingles outbreak, even children. A combination of curcumin blended with turmeric essential oil, boswellia, DLPA, and nattokinase, can be effective for reducing pain and inflammation in numerous acute and chronic health conditions.
Other helpful natural interventions include stress reduction, cool baths, and a diet full of antioxidant-rich foods. Because shingles can be a very complex condition, people often work with an integrative healthcare practitioner to explore treatment options.
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