Varicella Zoster Virus and Shingles: How Essential Oils Can Help
I originally wrote this article for the National Association of Holistic Aromatherapy eJournal back in 2017. Today I was mixing up an aromatherapy blend to help ease the effects of shingles for a client and wanted to share the information in this article on my website as well. If you have questions about aromatherapy vs shingles please contact me. To learn more about NAHA or purchase an ejournal or membership visit: https://naha.org/
Varicella zoster virus and Shingles: How Essential Oil Therapy Can Help
Varicella zoster virus (VZV), also known as herpes zoster, varicella virus, and human herpes virus type 3 (HHV-3) is one of eight herpes viruses known to infect humans. Primary VZV infection causes chickenpox, which most commonly affects children. After primary infection, viruses retreat to dorsal root ganglia of the nervous system, and can remain dormant for decades. In 10-20% of cases VZV reactivates and causes shingles. It’s unclear how the virus remains in the body or reactivates but risk factors include advanced age, poor immune function caused by stress, illness, injury, certain medications, etc., and having the chickenpox before 18 months of age.
Anyone that has had chickenpox may develop shingles. Exposure to shingles will not cause you to get shingles, but a person who has not had chickenpox or a varicella vaccination could develop a primary infection (chickenpox) if they come in contact with the fluid in the shingles blisters. 1, 2
This article will focus on secondary VZV infection (shingles) and essential oil therapy.
What are the symptoms of shingles?
Shingles symptoms happen in stages as the virus moves along nerve fibers, multiplies, and returns to the skin.
Shingles can produce flu-like symptoms, headache, sensitivity to light, dizziness, or weakness. Typically itching, tingling, or pain is present. After a few days a rash may appear in a band or small area, usually on one side of the body. Typically it turns into a cluster or blisters, which fill with fluid and crust over and may take 2 to 4 weeks to heal. Some people get only a mild rash or no rash at all. This progression is typical of shingles and usually distinctive enough to make a correct diagnosis from other herpes infections. The most common complication from shingles is postherpetic neuralgia (nerve pain) and headaches that may continue for months to years.
Allopathic treatment of shingles includes antiviral and pain medications. Antivirals ideally begin within the first 72 hours of seeing the rash to shorten the length of the illness and prevent complications. 3, 4, 5
How can Essential Oils Therapy Help?
Essential oil therapy can support or be used alongside allopathic treatment or used in a preventative manner in at risk populations.
Preventive aromatherapy measures could include emotional, immune, and sleep support as well as measures to manage stress.
Support measures for those presenting with symptoms of shingles would include using essential oils and carriers with antiviral, analgesic, neuroleptic, and skin soothing properties as well as supporting emotional health.
Which Essential Oils Are Most Effective?
Preventative care includes reducing stressors. Adequate sleep, clean fresh air and water, gentle to moderate exercise, wholesome nutrition, and relaxation are important. Essential oils can offer support.
For example essential oils containing linalool demonstrate anti-anxiety, immunostimulant, anti-spasmodic, and sedative properties (among others). Linalool rich oils include lavender (Lavendula angustafolia), basil ct. linalool (Ocimum basilicum ct. linalool), bergamot mint (Mentha citrata), ho wood (Cinnamomun camphora ct. linalool), neroli (Citrus aurantium var. amara), rosewood (Aniba rosaeodora), Ghandi root (Homalomena aromatica), xanthoxylum (Zanthoxylum armatum), and thyme ct. linalool (Thymus vulgaris ct. linalool). Incorporating these oils at low dilutions into personal care products, inhalers, and diffusion supports healthy emotional response, relaxation, and sleep. 6, 7, 8
For shingles outbreak, essential oils and carriers with anti-viral, analgesic, neuroleptic, and skin healing properties are beneficial (with the caveat that any essential oil used be non-irritant and gentle on the skin). 9, 10, 11, 12
A standard treatment option for shingles outbreak is a 50:50 blend of ravintsara (Cinnamomun camphora) and foraha or tamanu oil (Calophyllum inophyllum). Ravintsara acts as an antiviral agent and Calophyllum inophyllum stimulates phagocytosis, a primary pathway to remove pathogens and cellular debris. 13
Application should start at onset of symptoms and applied frequently (4-5+ x/day). Dr. Kurt Schnaubelt has reported “this treatment almost invariably offers stunning relief from the excruciating pain and brings renewed quality of life.” Effects are expected within two days to a week. If pain persists after blisters disappear frequent application of Roman chamomile hydrosol may bring relief. 14
Additional suggested essential oils include Eucalyptus globulus, geranium (Pelargonium x asperum), manuka (Leptospermum scoparium ct. east cape), Melissa (Melissa officinalis), myrrh (Commiphora myrrha), niaouli (Melaleuca quinquenervia ct. 1,8 cineole), and tea tree (Melaleuca alternafolia). St. Johns Wort (Hypericum perforatum) infused carrier is also suggested as an effective anti-viral agent, mood enhancer, and neuroleptic. 15
A 50:50 blend of Ravensara aromatica (a strong antiviral) and tamanu oil (Calophyllum inophyllum) has also been suggested as a treatment option.14. Ravensara aromatic and ravintsara (Cinnamomun camphora) are often confused and currently Cinnamomun camphora appears to be the preferred essential oil for shingles. Ravensara aromatica is purported to be a strong antiviral and nerve tonic. It is particularly rich in monoterpenes. Ravinstsara (Cinnamomun camphora) is rich in oxides and monoterpenes and also considered an effective antiviral and safe nerve tonic as well as being gentle. Thus it is important to verify scientific names to ensure which oil you are using.
In one case study where Cinnamomun camphora and Calophyllum inophyllum were not immediately available the therapist began with the oils she “had on hand” followed by the 50:50 mixture described above.
The client requested more for pain relief and an undiluted application of 40% Eucalyptus globulus, 40% Cinnamomum camphor, and 20% Mentha x piperita 5-6x per day was used for four days.
This was followed by the 50:50 blend 3x per day. With this approach the skin was nearly clear and pain was gone within nine days of the onset of the rash. 16
Essential oils and carrier oils have proven effective against shingles especially when applied at the onset of symptoms. Addressing stressors that can act as triggers to shingles outbreak can be very benficial. Adequate sleep, wholesome nutrition, taking time to relax, and incorporating tonic essential oils into personal products can go a long way towards supporting the health of the body.
Varicella Zoster Foundation http://www.vzvfoundation.org/
6 Natural Treatment Options for Shingles: https://www.healthline.com/health/shingles-natural-treatment#overview1
Shingles Natural Treatments: Foods, Supplements, & Oils https://draxe.com/5-shingles-natural-treatments/
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Gnann, J. M.D. and Whitley, R. M.D. (2002) Herpes Zoster, The New England Journal of Medicine, 347: 340-346 Retrieved from: http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMcp013211
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Linck V de M, Da Silva AL, Figueiro M et al (2010) Inhaled effects of inhaled linalool in anxiety, social interaction, and aggressive behavior in mice. Phytomedicine. 17(8-9): 679-83: retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19962290
Umezu T, Nagano K, Ito H et all (2006) Anticonflict effects of lavender oil and identification of it active constituents. Pharmacology, Biochemistry, & Behavior 85(4):713-72: retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17173962
Antani A., Reichling J, Schnitzler P (2010) Comparative study of the antiviral activity of selected monoterpenes derived from essential oils. Phytotherapy Research 24(5): 673-679: retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19653195
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Greenway F, Frome B, Engels III T, et al. (2003) Temporary relief of postherpetic neuralgia pain with topical geranium oil The American Journal of Medicine, 115(7): 586-587 : retrieved from http://www.amjmed.com/article/S0002-9343(03)00434-0/fulltext
Schnaubelt, K., (2011), The healing intelligence of essential oils. p. 142, Rochester, Vermont, Healing Arts Press.
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