I was recently stricken with shingles , the debilitating and excruciatingly painful virus that appears as a blistering rash on one side of the body (or even the face) that sometimes transforms into a maddening itch when it heals. The sneaky disease is actually caused by the reactivation of the Varicella Zoster virus that remains dormant in the body after the recovery of chickenpox. The sleeping virus is suddenly awakened by a jolt of stress or other triggering factor, usually when the immune system is depressed.
Most adults over age 50 have contracted chickenpox, and one in three can expect to develop shingles within their lifetime. Currently 1 million people in this country every year, including younger adults will be clobbered with the disease despite the vaccine meant to prevent its occurrence. If life's stresses have got the best of you, and you've picked up shingles, here's a diet to help wallop the virus and shorten its duration.
Best warriors are probiotic powerhouses loaded with beneficial gut-bacteria that dial up digestion along with the immune system. Be a culture vulture with luscious yogurts brimming with lactobacillus or acidophilus. Goat dairy typically has an added dose of probiotics, while kefir, a fermented dairy beverage that's slightly sour and refreshing is endowed with antioxidants and billions of colony-forming units. Drink it straight up or blend with fresh berries and a drizzle of honey. For savory palates, indulge in a heap of sauerkraut and sour dill pickles or spicy kimchi, a Korean staple of fermented cabbage, one of the highest probiotic sources on the planet.
Crank up consumption of foods with a rich store of vitamins, especially A, B, C, D and E, along with folate, zinc and iron. Stress-balancing Bs are vital to a shingles diet since the virus tinkers with nerve endings causing severe pain. Get cracking with eggs of all manners, along with milk and chicken, packed with B12s, while bananas, brewer's yeast and potatoes have an abundance of calming B6s.
Oranges, pineapple, kiwi and lemons are loaded with the mighty C soldier, or for less acidic choices do broccoli, bell peppers and cabbage. Leafy greens give a shot of Vitamin D to ward off invading viruses, while pomegranates and blueberries are dual-purpose weapons protecting cells from oxidation, along with revving up the precious immune system. At last, seaweed, an oceanic treasure with a slew of vitamins (especially B complex) and minerals has been found to shove shingles under the bus.
Herculean garlic chock-full of allicin, a potent sulfur compound as well as Vitamins A, B6 and C, selenium, magnesium, potassium, calcium and zinc make this "stinky rose" a powerful antioxidant and immune system's best friend. Crush raw in vinaigrette dressings or yoghurt dips (recipe provided), sauté with broccoli rapini and olive oil, simmer in soups and sauces, or roast whole and use as a spread on toast, a topping for baked potatoes or roasted roots to heal blisters quicker.
One of the most potent shingles busters can be found in foods brimming with lysine, an amino acid that puts the skids on the cellular growth of the zoster virus. So lysine up with wild-caught, deep-sea fish and seafood, lamb, turkey, beans, dairy products, along with dried apricots, raisins and figs.
And remember to drink plenty of water to flush toxins through the body.
• Foods to avoid:
Foods that have been found to exacerbate the shingles virus should be avoided where possible. The worst culprits contain the amino acid arginine that actually stimulate the herpes virus to replicate, such as, nuts, seeds, soy products, oats, coconut, flour (white and whole-wheat), and alas, chocolate. Also ban booze, which tinkers with the body's immune responses, along with caffeine products (coffee, black tea and colas) that cause jittery nerves.
Fatty, as well as cloyingly sweet, empty calorie and processed foods are no-no's for shingles sufferers.
Finally, steer clear of extreme temperatures in foods like scalding soups or icy treats that are jarring to the nervous system. Foods should be served like Baby Bear's porridge — not too hot, not too cold — just right.
Recipe: Tzatziki Garlic Dip
Ingredients: 1.5 cups plain Greek yoghurt; 2 garlic cloves, crushed; 2 Persian cucumbers, diced; juice and zest from one Meyer lemon; 1 tablespoon each fresh dill and mint, chopped; 1 tablespoon olive oil
Method: Blend ingredients in a glass bowl. Chill. Serve as a dipping sauce for fresh vegetables, drizzle on burgers, pitas or kebobs.
— Catharine Kaufman can be reached at email@example.com