For the last 3 1/2 weeks, I’ve been suffering from shingles and postherpetic neuralgia. It is a terrible condition. There seem to be many cures and treatments for it that are either questionable, or in the case of Western medicine, have a potential for adverse side effects. Most people suffer from post-herpetic pain that can go on for weeks, months, or even years.
What Is Shingles?
Shingles is an internal nerve pain from injured nerve endings that mostly affects the temporal nerve on the right side of the body, though it can reach many different parts of the body. It is called “herpes zoster” and is related to the chicken pox virus. Once someone has chicken pox, the virus eventually goes dormant only to emerge later in life purportedly as a result of stress (this is claimed to cause everything, and I did undergo some recent emotional stressful experiences before the shingles just popped up overnight, on my right side, lower back, side, chest, and abdomen).
Shingles is relatively common among those past the age of 50. This is unfortunate because this population has the most difficult time resolving the condition. Fortunately, in most people, shingles itself is not contagious. However, if you never had chickenpox, you can get chickenpox from someone who has shingles. Shingles are bound to affect 1 out of 3 adults past the age of 50. The current vaccine, administered in two parts, is worth getting in my opinion. It is purportedly 90% effective.
Standard Western medical care is antivirals in the acyclovir family and for the subsequent neuralgia, Neurontin (gabapentin). I took the antiviral for a long period and I could see no relief from it. Gabapentin is particularly rife with adverse side effects and I am resolved to not take it. I’d rather use kratom (Mitragyna speciosa) for pain relief. Many people don’t know that besides relieving pain, kratom is also anti-inflammatory and I think it contributes to the healing process. In the realm of anti-inflammatories, I need to include the fact that I’ve also used lots of fine turmeric extract but again with no noticeable effect.
Herbal Treatments that Didn’t Work for Me
For me, many herbs that were supposed to work did not live up to their promise. For example, St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) is considered a near specific for herpetic pain. I applied lots of the oil externally and took large doses of the extract every hour or two internally. It yielded no effect on the nerve pain. I then used high-quality CBD oil, which is currently widely extolled for relieving the condition. It was mildly effective but it tended to make me feel sleepy throughout the day. I also used red-veined kratom which is an opioid-like herb, and it helped me to feel better but I didn’t like, nor do I approve of taking more than once a day and only a few days a week. Kratom made the discomfort much more tolerable but did not completely relieve the pain. It’s still worth keeping it available as part of a wider approach to managing the disease.
Traditional Chinese Medicine considers shingles as a condition of Damp Heat and the main formula for such ailments is Gentiana (long dan cao) Combination. At least in the short term of five days or so, this formula had no effect. Chinese also consider all pain to be caused by blockage and formulas that move Blood and Qi like Fu Zhu Yu Tang and Si Ni San (people can easily Google the ingredients and indications for these formulas). At one period I did all three of these formulas, but they provided no noticeable immediate relief.
Other than the fact that herbs that clear Damp Heat tend to be antiviral, to my mind at present, the TCM theory that shingles are caused by Damp Heat stuck in the interstices of the skin and can therefore be treated by herbs that address Damp Heat, doesn’t really hit the mark that a post-herpetic herpes neuralgia sufferer is desperately looking for.
Apple cider vinegar is another plant-based treatment for shingles much recommended online. It did not work for me.
Of course, such treatments often take time to show effect. however, shingles can also return to latency and seem to go away all on their own, so whether the Western meds or herbs were helping is not always very conclusive. For someone who is suffering from the intractable discomfort and pain of this condition, doing anything to get relief seems to have its own reward. A wise man once told me that the most important thing in healing was to give a patient hope. So in the realm of hopefulness, I continue to take many of these herbal treatments recommended by many of my concerned friends and colleagues.
How About Acupuncture for Shingles?
Acupuncture is one of the most effective treatments for pain. My wife Lesley and I are both acupuncturists and we used a lot of it to try and treat this condition. The standard points for shingles are Spleen 10 (for Blood Heat) and Large Intestine 11 (for itching). We also did auricular treatment: we bled the apex of the ear, indicated for all inflammatory conditions. This did not show any effect to warrant a repeat attempt.
A heroic procedure recommended by a respected acupuncturist as a gold-standard shingles treatment consisted of whacking the tender recently healed over area where the initial shingle blisters were until it bled profusely. This arduous and painful treatment promised immediate and lasting relief from postherpetic neuralgia. I’ve always found that bleeding is the most effective way to immediately resolve inflammation and relieve pain. Fortunately, I took a lot of kratom before and allowed Lesley to perform the treatment. It did not work.
Herbal Treatments that DID Work for Me
Initially, the most effective treatment is very counterintuitive — moxibustion. That clears up the blisters rather quickly. Still, not the blisters but the postherpetic pain is the problem and comes from damaged nerve endings randomly misfiring. It can feel at once, burning, cutting, gripping, etc. After a while, the pain affects every aspect of your life.
One of the most important points I want to share from my bout with postherpetic neuralgia is the accidental discovery of a substance that no one has thus far suggested that amazing brought the most immediate pain relief. It is a cream whose main constituent was the oil from the nut of the famous East Indian Ayurvedic Neem tree, Azidirachta indica. I’ve already written an extensive blog on the remarkable medicinal use of this tree, which occupies a prominent place in nearly every Indian village where it is known as “the medicine tree” because it is good for so many conditions, including the twigs being chewed and used to clean the teeth and heal gingivitis.
I know that neem oil is indicated for every skin disease and even to kill skin parasites. However, I wasn’t sure whether at the stage of the disease I had, it would be effective. Nevertheless, when one is desperate enough, and I got to that stage a few times during the course of this condition, one will try anything. So I applied an excellent neem cream called Theraneem. I usually try not to promote products on my blogs but this was so effective in providing immediate relief that I feel it deserves to be recommended for the thousands of people suffering from this horrible condition, many of whom have it much worse than I. Not one of the therapists, alternative and conventional, who recommended their best treatments mentioned neem, which may be the most effective.
There’s some theory behind the use of neem for those who are interested. One of the downsides of neem oil is the odor which after a while gets obnoxious to those who come near as well as the one who has it on. Theraneem, to my senses, seems to deal with this problem very effectively with the addition of some wonderful fragrant essential oils (not the usual lavender which is also overused), but oils of ylang ylang and orange which seemed just right.
After applying the cream for only five minutes, I felt a cooling and soothing immediate relief of the postherpetic neuralgic pains. I was amazed and proceeded to look up shingles pain and neem oil and found many references for its efficacy for this condition. One in particular describes how “Neem’s ability to surround viruses and prevent them from entering and infecting cells makes it one of the few agents capable of relieving shingles.” This so perfectly explains why neem, with its pain-relieving, anti-inflammatory and unique antiviral properties worked so well for me. I apply it several times throughout the day. Best of all, it was clear what worked and the relief was immediate.
I do think (hope) that my shingles case is gradually lessening with some days being better than others. But I’m seeing longer periods of greatly reduced pain. I hope my discovery of what works for me will help others suffering from this awful condition.