Some people think of chickenpox as a dangerous health condition, especially among children. But it is not life-threatening. In fact, it is actually nature's elegant design to defend you against a more problematic disease – shingles.
According to the National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC),1 shingles is more common in individuals over age 50 who have had chickenpox in the past, although those who are immunocompromised are also at risk. Fortunately, exposing yourself to the chickenpox virus in your childhood years—as well as developing it early on—may significantly lower your risk of developing shingles.
Shingles: A Reactivation of the Chickenpox Infection
Chickenpox and shingles are caused by similar viruses, both belonging to the herpesvirus family. The former is caused by the Varicella zoster virus, which is associated with Herpes zoster, the virus responsible for shingles.
Shingles is characterized by a
painful red, blistering skin rash on one side of the body
When you get chickenpox and recover from it, the virus can remain dormant in your nerve roots for years. The virus may reawaken through physical or emotional stress and resurface as shingles. Certain medications such as steroids (like prednisone), chemotherapy, and radiation may also set off shingles – whether you are over 50 years old or not.
Chickenpox is a contagious mild disease where small round lesions appear on your skin. These cause intense itching. On the other hand, shingles is characterized inflammation of the nerves and a painful blistering rash. Shingles is not contagious, but it can still infect a person who hasn't had chickenpox. When this happens, the virus manifests as chickenpox instead of shingles.
The Vicious 2 to 4 Week Shingles Outbreak
The first sign of shingles is unilateral tingling, itching, or stabbing pain on your skin, on one side of your face or body. This is followed by a painful red, blistering skin rash on your skin. The infection runs its course within three to five weeks. Once shingles clears up, patients may experience numbness, skin discoloration, and permanent scars.
However, in people with weakened immune systems, shingles may progress into severe and life-threatening problems. About 20 percent pf of shingles cases may result to a condition called post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN), where pain may last from 30 days to even years after the rash has healed.
Other less frequent complications that the shingles infection may cause include:
Bacterial skin infections Hutchinson's sign Ramsay Hunt Syndrome (Herpes zoster oticus) Brain inflammation (encephalitis) Bell's Palsy or motor neuropathy Pneumonia Meningitis Hearing loss Vision problems like glaucoma, cataracts, or permanent blindness Bladder impairment Death
A Sweet Way to Treat Shingles
If you're currently struggling with shingles, it is best to avoid the prescription drug route. Normally, physicians prescribe drugs to help treat herpes outbreaks, but oftentimes, medications are followed by adverse effects.
Natural strategies like applying honey on the affected area have proven to be effective against shingles, along with other herpes infections. This sweet food has been used as conventional treatment for infection up until the early 20th century, when penicillin was introduced.
However, not all types of honey are successful in suppressing infections. Some varieties have 100 times more potent antibacterial activity, while others contribute to the spread of microbes. I strongly advise you to avoid processed, refined honey found at most grocery stores, as it will only worsen your infection – whether consumed or applied topically.
On the other hand, raw honey has been approved for medical use because of its healing properties. High-quality raw honey is beneficial in treating wounds because it draws fluid away from the wound and has high sugar content that inhibits the growth of harmful microorganisms.
Bees also secrete a special enzyme called glucose oxidase, which causes honey to produce low levels of hydrogen peroxide when it comes into contact with your wound.
Manuka honey, a high-quality variety that originated from New Zealand, has all of these wound-healing properties, along with antimicrobial qualities. Clinical trials have found that Manuka honey, produced from the pollen gathered from flowers of the Manuka bush, can eliminate up to 250 strains of bacteria – including antibiotic-resistant ones like methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).
I recommend applying Manuka honey in semifluid form directly to the affected area at least four times a day. The goal is to keep the sores constantly bathed in honey.
In addition to honey, here are other natural remedies that work well in treating herpes infections:
- Lysine (an essential amino acid)
- Vitamin C
- Aloe vera
- Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis)
- Lactoferrin (an antimicrobial protein found in colostrum)
Chickenpox: The Natural Way to Build Resistance
After reviewing the information above, it will likely be concluded that contracting and recovering from chickenpox makes you more predisposed to shingles. Surprisingly, it works the other way around.
In a majority of children, chickenpox is a very mild disease without complications. About 3.7 million cases were reported in the United States prior to 1995, with only an average of 100 casualties – 50 children and 50 adults, most of which had weakened immune systems. Half of chickenpox cases occur in children ages five to nine, almost all of which recover without any complications.
Yet, not many know that recovery leaves you with long-lasting immunity. After getting chickenpox, as you age, contact with those who carry the virus asymptomatically fortifies your natural immunity against the infection and, consequently, shingles.
In other words, exposure to the chickenpox virus is like getting a shingles vaccine shot.
Unfortunately, the advent of the varicella vaccine has disrupted this natural process. Although cases of chickenpox have declined, shingles rates have actually increased.
The Questionable Efficacy of the Chickenpox Vaccine
The chickenpox vaccine is made from live, attenuated varicella virus. Produced by Merck, the vaccine provides temporary protection unlike that of the natural long-lasting immunity you obtain upon recovering from chickenpox.
When it was licensed for public use in 1995, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) estimated that the vaccine was 70 to 90 percent effective against chickenpox.2 Later on, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stated that the effectiveness of the varicella zoster vaccine was only "44 percent against disease of any severity and 86 percent against moderate or severe disease."
Several cases show that the vaccine may be even more ineffective. In one investigation involving a daycare center in a small community at New Hampshire, it was found that 25 out of 88 children contracted the disease. The disease was found to have originated from a child who had been vaccinated, who had infected 50 percent of his classmates with no history of chickenpox.3
In another study done in Quebec, Canada, involving 2,000 fourth graders, researchers determined the number of children who needed to be vaccinated in a "catch-up" program. The results showed that in children with negative or unknown chickenpox histories, 63 percent already possessed antibodies against the virus. This finding suggests that children who do not get the chickenpox vaccine may still end up with natural immunity not needing it at all.
Other Issues Associated with the Chickenpox Vaccine
Like with other vaccines, the varicella vaccine comes with the risk of adverse reaction, injury, and death. The federal Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS) received 6,574 reports of side effects after vaccination between March 1995 and July 1998.
Four percent of the reported complications following immunization include shock, encephalitis (brain inflammation), and thrombocytopenia (a blood disorder). Fourteen of those adverse reactions ended in death.
Because of the reported complications, 17 warnings for reactions were added to the product label, such as cellulitis, transverse myelitis, Guillain-Barre syndrome, and shingles – even after the vaccine was being used on a mass basis.
To make matters worse, the chickenpox vaccine puts patients at higher risk for health problems when combined with other vaccines like MMR. According to Barbara Loe Fisher of NVIC:4
"We have been getting reports from parents that their children are suffering high fevers, chickenpox lesions, shingles, brain damage and dying after chicken pox vaccination, especially when the vaccine is given at the same time with MMR and other vaccines."
The Solution According to the CDC and Vaccine Manufacturers
Based on research conducted by Gary S. Goldman, PhD, who participated as a research analyst in the Varicella Active Surveillance Project in Los Angeles County, there was a significant rise in shingles cases in Americans following the government's recommendation in 1995 that all children be vaccinated.
A team at Britain's Public Health Service (PHLS) called for the reevaluation of the mass chickenpox vaccination policy in the US, as well as other nations implementing this practice. According to them, although chickenpox can be detrimental for those with weakened immune systems, lack of exposure to the virus can make the elderly more prone to shingles, whose complications may prove fatal to them.
With the natural "herd" immunity obtained from exposure to the varicella zoster virus threatened, children and adults are becoming less protected against both chickenpox and shingles. This has caused a shingles epidemic to take place, as shown by the following:
Dr. Goldman also presented to the CDC a peer-reviewed research that showed a cost-benefit analysis of the chickenpox vaccination program. He indicated that the vaccine would have to be used for at least 50 years to demonstrate a cost benefit, because of the added medical expenses of a shingles epidemic.
- Incidences of adult shingles have climbed by 90 percent from 1998 to 2003, following the approval of the mass vaccination policy.5
- Prior to the introduction of the chickenpox vaccine, shingles was only seen in adults, but cases in children are starting to grow, as shown by school nurse reports since 2000.6
- Shingles has brought about five times as many hospitalizations and three times as many deaths as chickenpox. It is also the reason for 75 percent of all medical costs related to the varicella zoster virus. 7
In an effort to alleviate the flaws of the chickenpox vaccine and control the growing shingles epidemic, the CDC, along with Merck, unveiled a shingles vaccine. The pharmaceutical company aligned itself with the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and created The Shingles Prevention Study, which soon led to the introduction of the shingles vaccine Zostavax.
Shingles Vaccine – A Case of 'Polypharmacy'?
Zostavax was approved by the FDA in May 2006 for use in individuals age 60 and over. However, this adult vaccination program has been linked to certain issues.
In a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine,8 it was found that the cost is one hurdle manufacturers and consumers have to face when it comes to this vaccine. The shingles vaccine costs 200 dollars, and many older Americans – especially those who struggle with fixed incomes and monthly bills – find it prohibitive.
There is also limited information about the effectiveness of the vaccine. According to the CDC, the vaccine decreases shingles risk by about 51 percent in adults 60 and over, but it is unclear how long the vaccine can protect against the virus. Further studies are needed to be conducted on this and if revaccination is required four years after vaccination.9
Another important issue is the potential vaccine-related effects that the elderly or the immunosuppressed may experience. Clinical trials showed that side effects linked to Zostavax included:10
By August 2011, the VAERS have received over 400 reports of adverse reactions after Zostavax vaccination, including 36 deaths. Other noted serious adverse reactions following immunization are:11
- Pain, swelling, and redness at the injection site
- Shingles-like skin rash
- Muscle and joint pain
- Swollen glands
- Respiratory symptoms
Blocking natural resistance to the chickenpox and shingles vaccine by getting the vaccine is just another case of disease "management" that results in side effects, causing you to take more drugs for treatment. This system does nothing good for you, and simply guarantees the revenue stream of pharmaceuticals. Don't let yourself become a victim of this flawed medical system.
- Joint pain (arthralgia) and muscle pain (myalgia)
- Abnormally swollen glands (lymphadenopathy)
- Shock (anaphylaxis) and other hypersensitivity reactions
9 Recommendations to Bolster Your Immune Function
You may choose to vaccinate yourself and your children against viruses, but strengthening your immune system remains the best defense against sicknesses like chickenpox and shingles.
Exposing yourself to viruses is not enough to create lasting resistance, particularly if your immune system is not functioning optimally. Unhealthy lifestyle choices like regular consumption of processed foods and not getting enough exercise or sleep will compromise your immune function, causing you to succumb to diseases easily.
I recommend you follow these guidelines to strengthen your immune system:
- Limit sugar (especially fructose) and grains – Studies have linked fructose consumption to a wide variety of heath complications, including obesity and metabolic syndrome. Fructose raises your insulin levels to chronically high levels over time, and metabolizes differently from other sugars – it is metabolized as fat. Excessive insulin levels can lead to insulin resistance, which is one of the primary culprits of most chronic diseases.Reduce your fructose consumption to only 25 grams per day. If you're struggling with insulin resistance and diseases related to this, reduce your intake further to 15 grams per day. Avoid drinking soda, fruit juices, and other sweetened drinks. As much as possible, make clean, pure water your primary beverage.
- Focus on eating organic whole foods – Avoid consuming processed foods as much as possible. For those who have still have trouble understanding what processed foods are, these products come in a can, bottle, package, and have a list of ingredients.Ideally, your meals should contain organic and/or locally grown whole foods. A high-fat, moderate-protein, and low-carbohydrate diet is likely to improve the health of most individuals. For more information, check out my optimized nutrition plan.
- Eat more high-quality fat – Contrary to popular belief, eating fat will not make you fat. Instead, it will help satiate you and can be used as an energy source. The best sources of healthy fat include:
- Coconuts and coconut oil
- Olives and olive oil
- Raw nuts, such as pecans and macadamias
- Grass-fed meats
- Raw organic dairy, including butter and eggs
- Unheated organic nut oils
Exercise regularly – There are a wide number of studies that prove how beneficial exercise is to your health. Regular physical activity increases your circulation and blood flow, allowing components of your immune system to fight an illness before it spreads.However, hours-long cardio sessions are not enough to promote optimal fitness. I recommend incorporating a wide variety of exercises, such as high-intensity (anaerobic) exercises, core exercises, strength training, and stretching. To learn more on how to create a well-rounded fitness regimen, as well as other ways to promote physical fitness, read all about my Peak Fitness program.
Optimize your vitamin D levels – The best way to do so is getting appropriate sun exposure. To learn more about this and the many benefits of vitamin D, check out my vitamin D resource page. Try grounding – Also known as Earthing, grounding is defined as placing one's bare feet on the ground, whether it be dirt, grass, sand, or concrete (especially when it's humid or moist). The earth has a large concentration of negatively charged electrons that promote an improved balance of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system.Further, studies have shown that grounding can help improve blood viscosity, heart rate variability, inflammation, cortisol dynamics, sleep, nervous system balance, and stress management. It can also reduce the damage of electromagnetic fields (EMFs).
Reduce your exposure to toxins – Although there are myriads of toxins in the environment, there are steps you can take to reduce your exposure to them. One way would be to throw away toxic household cleaners, soaps, personal hygiene products, air fresheners, bug sprays, and lawn pesticides and insecticides. Replace all of these with all-natural alternatives.For more information on how to avoid chemical toxicities, read my article "Top Three Sources of Toxic Exposures: Traffic, Personal Care, and Plastic Products."
Get plenty of sleep – Lack of sleep has been associated with serious problems like depression, coronary heart diseases, and even cancer. Disrupted circadian rhythms can have a profound negative impact on your health. Manage your stress – Stress can have a profound effect on your physical health and may prevent your immune system from effectively protecting you against viruses and pathogens. Address your emotional issues by using stress management methods, which can be as simple as journaling or exercise.You may also try using the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), a form of psychological acupuncture without the needles. EFT can help you resolve the emotional factor that triggered your immune system to weaken. Once you have resolved any issue, your immunity, along with genes that help fight infection, are reactivated. Your immune system is naturally designed to fight the shingles virus. The natural immunity you receive from exposure to chickenpox virus is proof that getting temporary protection against vaccines is no match against letting nature run its disease-preventing course.