Shingles, also popularly known as herpes zoster is a type of painful viral infection which is caused by varicella-zoster virus. It is the same virus which causes chickenpox. Once a person has suffered from chickenpox during his/her growing up years, the virus lays dormant inside his/her nerve cells extending from the brain or the spinal cord. It can get reactivated any time during the person’s adulthood, leading to a second eruption of the chickenpox disease (shingles). Hence, one thing is clear that you cannot suffer from shingles unless you have had chickenpox at least once before. Only people who had chickenpox earlier or took the chickenpox vaccine can get shingles. However, having suffered from chickenpox at least once in your life is no guarantee that you’ll certainly suffer from shingles as well, later in life.
Chickenpox is a herpes variant (hence the name herpes zoster), and like all forms of herpes it doesn’t go away completely. It stays dormant inside the spinal nerves for the rest of the life.
Shingles affects almost one in every 5 adults who had chickenpox during their childhood. While it can also affect younger people, the ailment is commonly found in people over 50 years of age. Simply put, the older you are, the more are your chances of developing shingles, provided you had suffered from chickenpox earlier. Furthermore, you can never catch shingles from anyone who has it already, as the condition is noncontiguous in nature. Although this virus can get transmitted into other’s bodies, but that’s possible only in case of someone who has never suffered from chickenpox before and the person gets exposed to the shingles rash. However, even in that case the person will not develop shingles, but chickenpox instead. On the whole, if you’re suffering from shingles, you must avoid all sorts of contact with pregnant women, children and adults who’ve never suffered from chickenpox.
A person having a solid immune system can naturally suppress the shingles virus (varicella virus) and keep it hidden inside the nerves. However, as we grow old our immunity levels also undergo depletion. This is the ideal time for the virus to attack. Without any help from the immune system for its stoppage, it can easily travel along the nerve path and to the skin, causing painful rashes and blisters. Anyone whose immune system gets compromised because of conditions/treatments like chemotherapy, organ transplant medicines, HIV etc. are also at greater risk of getting shingles. This is also the reason why you’ll experience shingles rash only in one particular area of your body as it normally travels along only a single nerve to reach your skin’s surface.
The best way to keep the shingles virus in check is by strengthening your immune system. Following are some very important ways in which you can keep your immune system healthy:
- Avoid eating simple sugars – Having too much of sugar can work as a suppressant for your immune system and prevent the production of cells which attack harmful bacteria. Consuming only around 75 – 100 g of sugar per day (equivalent of around 700 ml of sodas) is enough to reduce your body’s white blood cells ability to overpower and eliminate the harmful bacteria. Instead, you must have plenty of water, tea and natural fruit juices to flush out the toxins, to keep yourself hydrated and to boost your body’s immune system with essential nutrients and vitamins.
- Quit cigarettes – A study published in the year 1983 in the “Medical Journal of Australia” focused on an analysis of immune system markers in its 35 subjects, before and 3 months after they quit smoking. When compared to the control group that continued smoking, the subjects who stopped smoking showed several positive changes with regard to their immune system markers. It was inferred that the use of tobacco products and smoking causes several health problems and suppresses the immunity levels.
- Avoiding high stress levels – Although keeping stress completely at bay may not be humanly possible, suffering from chronic stress makes you vulnerable to conditions like colds, illnesses and even some serious diseases. Continued stress exposes your body to a steady buildup of stress-related hormones like adrenaline and cortisol that also suppress your immune system. Opt for alternative programs like meditation, deep breathing etc. to let go of your worries and to reduce your stress.
- Consume oregano oil – This oil can function as the ultimate bad bacteria killer inside your body and completely do away with harmful bacteria that may be compromising your digestive system. You should use oregano oil regularly to cleanse your gut by consuming 200 mg of it per day for 3 days at a stretch.
- Enroll into some relaxation or meditation program – If stress is the single biggest immune system suppressor, then the practices that help suppressing the stress levels can significantly improve the body’s natural ability to heal itself. Enrolling into some relaxation or meditation program and indulging into such activities every day can lower down the cortisol levels in your blood and improve your sleep and immune system. When we talk about meditation, it need not be as intimidating as following some stringent hour-long daily routine! You can also meditate by finding a silent spot in your home and giving your mind and body complete rest for at least 5 to 15 minutes per day. Other well-known ways of relaxing are focusing on life’s positives, listening to meditation songs or just watching your thoughts and letting go.
- Cut down on your alcohol consumption – Consuming excessive alcohol on a daily basis can have a very negative impact on your body’s immune system and increase your vulnerability to many diseases including the lung infections. An article published in “Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research” in the year 1998 stated that regular alcohol abuse is known to result in immunodeficiency, thereby making you vulnerable to tuberculosis, bacterial pneumonia and other diseases that are communicable in nature. On the other hand, some of the studies have even revealed that drinking moderate levels of alcoholic beverages such as beer or wine can have a beneficial impact on your immune system. Hence, if you love your drink and are also concerned about your immunity levels, you better keep your alcohol intake limited to moderate levels.
- Exercise – Remaining seated at your table throughout the day and skipping all forms of physical exercise can significantly compromise your immune system. Any type of exercise or body movement not just stimulates your lymphatic system (which functions as the sewer for the body) but also enhances the oxygenation process, thereby increasing the leucocytes levels in the body. Leucocytes are the immunity cells which fight all forms of infection. Devote some time of the day, even if 15 to 30 minutes to indulge in some physical exercise such as jogging, walking, jump rope, play with kids or some heavy-duty sex with your spouse at night!
- Wash your hands regularly – Although as explained earlier, shingles is not contagious in nature, you can still keep your immunity levels in check by making sure that you wash your hands regularly. Studies have revealed that people who regularly wash their hands (at least 4 to 5 times each day) enhance their immunity levels and significantly cut down their risk of suffering from diseases.
- Achieve your healthy body weight – You are beautiful, and will remain so, regardless of your body size. But in order to keep yourself healthy and to support your immune system it’s important that you make some critical lifestyle changes and shed those extra pounds. Excessive body weight automatically increases your chances of suffering from conditions like cancer, diabetes and heart diseases. Furthermore, large quantities of fat cells cause the automatic release of inflammation causing chemicals in the body, resulting in chronic inflammation. Such constant inflammation can damage your body tissues and significantly compromise your immune system. Some of the easy changes you can make in your daily life to undergo weight loss are: avoiding refined sugars, consuming plant-based proteins, getting some exercise, eating plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits, avoiding processed carbohydrates, eating lean protein and drinking plenty of water.
- Eat cruciferous vegetables – Consuming cruciferous vegetables like chard, cabbage, broccoli and kale can support your liver in eliminating harmful toxins from your body and boosting your immune function.
- Get enough sleep – Constant fatigue increases your chances of suffering from illnesses. A lab experiment carried out at the University of Chicago revealed that people’s immune systems produced almost half the number of antibodies than normal when subjected to only 4 hours of sleep each day. Just like stress, insomnia also causes a major spike in body inflammation and also a rise in the cortisol levels. Getting at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night is one of the best ways of boosting your immunity.
- Laugh or Smile – Laughing to your heart’s content every now and then has the magical ability of decreasing the stress hormones inside your body, and the release of certain white blood cells which have tremendous infection fighting ability. So, go and catch that comedy tonight and let your growth hormones and endorphins levels get that much needed kick! Just like laughing, the act of smiling (whether real or artificial) also cheats your body into thinking that it is happy. In turn, it impacts and boosts your mood and hence your immune system too. Everyone loves being happy and the easiest way to promote healthy life for yourself and for the people around you is by always wearing a smile on your face.
- Eat lots of garlic and ginger – In its raw state garlic is considered to have a lot of anti-viral, immune boosting and antibacterial properties. It is also highly rich in antioxidants. Ginger on the other hand can warm up your body and help it in breaking down of accumulated toxins inside your organs, especially inside sinuses and lungs. It is used extensively in the Ayurvedic medicine system and its root can cleanse the lymphatic system of the body, thereby keeping it clean and strong.
- Eat oats to lower your cholesterol levels – Any type of improvement in your health can work as an immune booster directly or indirectly. By consuming an oatmeal portion each day in the morning, you can supply your body with lot of soluble fibres, known to reduce the LDL (bad) cholesterol levels.
- Eat food rich in antioxidants – Although you may get plenty of food suggestions from all possible quarters to help you boost your immune system, you should emphasize solely on increasing your fresh food consumption. Fresh foods are rich in antioxidants and including them in your diet can be very good for your immunity. Antioxidants play a key role in neutralization of the free radicals, thereby preventing them from damaging the body from inside. This significantly reduces the risk of suffering from serious conditions like cancer, heart diseases and age-related problems. Some of the best antioxidants for your body are zinc, beta-carotene, vitamin E and vitamin C. The food items you can have to consistently supply your body with these are sweet potatoes, kale, spinach, onions, grapes, apples, citrus, kiwi, berries and more.
- Zinc and Vitamin C – Both zinc and vitamin C are excellent immune boosters. While Zinc is commonly found naturally in sunflower, chicken, pumpkin seeds, red meat, legumes, eggs and fish, you can have vitamin C by consuming fresh vegetables and fruits.
- Spirulina – Actually a blue green algae, spirulina is considered a wonder food owing to its several important benefits including its ability to stimulate the body’s immune system. Furthermore, it is anti-cancerous and has plenty of selenium and iron in it, essential for replenishing the RNA in brain.
- Keep yourself in the company of your loved ones – Spending time in the company of your loved ones and having strong relationships can boost your mental and physical health significantly, and hence your immune system too. Many scientific studies support this idea and have revealed that people who are strongly connected to their families and friends (whether large or small) enjoy stronger immunity levels than those who are not.
- Eat mushrooms and avocados – Regardless of the variety of mushroom you prefer, whether it is oyster, shitake or enoki, Japanese mushrooms have immense immune boosting properties and they are so full of antioxidants! Avocados on the other hand also consist of essential amino acids and healthy fats apart from antioxidants, thereby helping the human body to balance its hormone levels, support its immune system and balance the adrenals.
- Have a lot of sex! – Last but certainly not the least, have sex as often as you can! Even science supports the fact that having healthy sexual relationships has many benefits with regard to the immune system. A study carried out in the year 2004 revealed that people who indulge in regular lovemaking experience significant boosts in their immunity systems. Furthermore, the study found that university students who indulged in sexual intercourse at least once or twice each week had almost 30% more salivary IgA antibody in comparison to the students who had zero or infrequent sex life.