Of All the Nerve
Most of us have memories of coping with a bout of chicken pox at a young age. At this point, all I remember about my experience is that the welts itched and I got to stay home and watch TV while my sister went to school. Sweet!
And what we’ve always heard about chicken pox, of course, is that once you’ve had it, you’re done with it. And while that’s true – chicken pox almost never recurs – there’s an additional threat associated with these fowl pox that may lie in wait for decades after the last welts have disappeared: herpes zoster; better known as shingles.
Today’s e-Alert was prompted by an e-mail from an HSI member named Margi who has shingles. Margi writes: “I’ve been suffering for 10 weeks now and using conventional medicine without much luck. I would appreciate anything you might have that is new and interesting.
I only wish Margi had written to us sooner, because there are several natural therapies she can use to help reduce shingles pain and shorten the healing period.
“Ten weeks! I had it for a week and about died.”
That was the response from HSI Panelist Allan Spreen, M.D., when I told him about Margi’s request. In the e-Alert “Rain on My Parade” (5/12/04), Dr. Spreen mentioned that he’d had “many chances to recommend B-12 for shingles (for which it works well).” When I asked him to elaborate on this vitamin B-12 regimen, he explained: “The key is that the virus inhabits the nerve root, activating during some onset of stress. B-12 goes to the nerve sheath, directly, as a nutrient, and is the best attack I know.”
But Dr. Spreen’s B-12 regimen is a little more involved than just popping a few sub-lingual B-12 tabs. To begin with, he suggests that as soon as a case of shingles is diagnosed, the patient should take 1 mg (1000 mcg, or 1cc) of B-12 by intramuscular injection per day for a week, then once each week until symptoms are completely gone.
Intramuscular injection may not seem too appealing, but Dr. Spreen notes that it’s not as bad as it sounds: “It’s easy to teach a person to inject themselves, especially since it’s cheap and they have quite an incentive if they have shingles. At first, the injections are pretty important (as I’ve seen nothing else work as well or as fast). They cause crusting to occur much faster.
“It is possible to use sub-lingual B-12, which allows for the use of methyl-B-12 form, which is the most powerful, and nearly impossible to get by the intramuscular route, but I like starting with a few shots to ‘prime the pump’. 1-2 mg of the sub-lingual form daily should work pretty well after that.”
In addition to vitamin B-12, Dr. Spreen offers these suggestions: “To shorten the duration of shingles, I’d add alpha-lipoic acid, several hundred milligrams per day, along with vitamin C (of course), at least 1000 milligrams three times/day. Anything to enhance the immune system will shorten the misery.”
The misery may also be shortened by a topical application of geranium oil.
A case of shingles may last less than 10 days, but it’s the post- herpetic neuralgia (PHN) that can hang on and cause considerable pain for long periods. In a study published in The American Journal of Medicine, researchers divided 30 adults suffering PHN into four groups. One group received topical treatments of geranium oil, while two groups received a mix of geranium oil and mineral oil (at ratios of 1 to 1 and 1 to 10), and a fourth group received only mineral oil.
All of the subjects who received any amount of geranium oil reported pain reduction, and those who received treatments containing 100 percent geranium oil experienced the greatest pain relief. Little or no relief was reported by the placebo group. Some subjects experienced a slight irritation from the geranium oil, but these irritations subsided within an hour or so.
Dr. Spreen tells me that he’s never heard of using geranium oil to address shingles, but says, “I like the idea of anything topical and non-toxic. If there’s anything to it, washing the area first with a non-chemical soap, then applying some DMSO before the geranium oil would cause it to absorb deeper into the area (though there’s a garlicky taste to put up with for awhile).”
In addition to Dr. Spreen’s vitamin regimen and applications of geranium oil, Margi might give acupuncture a try.
In the e-Alert “100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall” (4/26/04), I told you about an e-mail I received from an HSI member named Jacqueline who wrote: “Recently, I suffered a severe attack of shingles and my acupuncturist eliminated the virus in a matter of about three weeks, whereas I have a friend who is still suffering from this very unpleasant condition after two years of conventional treatment.”
Conventional treatment for shingles is limited to anti-viral medications that sometimes take days to work, and often don’t work at all. And while Margi and others may find pain relief and faster healing through Dr. Spreen’s vitamin regimen or by using geranium oil, they should talk to their doctor or naturopathic healthcare professional before beginning any natural or over-the- counter treatments.
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“Temporary Relief of Postherpetic Neuralgia Pain with Topical Geranium Oil” The American Journal of Medicine” Vol. 115, No. 7, November 2003, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
“Geranium Oil Effective for Post-Shingles Pain” Darin Ingels, N.D., Healthnotes Newswire, 12/18/03, pccnaturalmarkets.com