Diet for the Shingles

Fire of saint Anthony

St. Anthony's Fire is an infection caused by the Herpes zoster virus (the same as chickenpox), which affects the nerve endings and surrounding skin.
Saint Anthony's fire affects a very specific area, located in one half of the body (it does not go beyond the median line). For example, it occurs under the left shoulder blade and not under the right one.
The main symptom is the typical blistering, painful rash, manifested by itchy blisters that contain viruses.
St. Anthony's Fire is a sort of "relapse" of chickenpox: after healing from this exanthematous disease, the Herpes zoster virus does NOT disappear, but hides (silently) in the nerve ganglia. During the course of life, any reactivations of the virus will give rise to the fire of St. Anthony.

Diet for the Shingles

Treatment - Medicines and Diet

There is no cure for St. Anthony's fire.
Treatment is aimed solely at relieving symptoms pending spontaneous resolution.
It is advisable to cover the rashes with long, but not tight, clothing. This prevents the blisters from breaking, increasing pain and spreading viruses.
Furthermore, it is possible to:

  • Use anti-inflammatory drugs, such as: acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or codeine, to control pain.
  • Use antiviral drugs to block the replication of the virus (not always necessary).
  • For further information: Medicines for the treatment of shingles

The onset of St. Anthony's fire is not preventable. A vaccine called Zostavax is commercially available; however, this is not always effective.



It is believed that by stimulating the trophism of the immune system it is possible to keep it effective and efficient in the fight against Herpes zoster.
This "preventive method" is based on nutrition and physical activity (the latter, only preventive).
The system does not offer protection from contagion and does not guarantee that a relapse will be avoided. However, it aims to achieve the best possible reaction of the physiological immune system.
Among the various nutritional molecules that can stimulate the immune system, the most important are:

  • Vitamins, idrosolubili and liposolubili
  • Zinc
  • Isoflavones
  • Supporters of the intestinal bacterial flora.

Vitamin Molecules

The fat-soluble vitamin D (calciferol) and the water-soluble vitamin C (ascorbic acid) are very important in the dietary support of the immune function. In short:

  • Vitamin C: ascorbic acid is the molecule most involved in the fight against infections. It is a powerful antioxidant which, in the defensive mechanism, acts above all in opposition to viral proliferation.
    Foods rich in vitamin C are of plant origin. They belong to the VII fundamental group of foods; these are vegetables and fruits such as: chilli, pepper, parsley, citrus, kiwi, apples, lettuce, broccoli, pumpkin etc. Vitamin C is damaged with cooking; for this reason, the diet for St. Anthony's fire is characterized by many raw vegetables and fruits.
  • Vitamin D: Calciferol has been shown to participate in the trophism of the immune system. Good dietary levels of calciferol are preventive against many infectious diseases (including viral).
    Vitamin D is synthesized in the body in the skin, thanks to the interaction with the UV rays of sunlight. It can be introduced with food; the foods that contain the most are fish and egg yolk.

Vitamin A (in the form of retinol and carotenoids) and vitamin E (tocopherols) are believed to exert a positive effect on immune defense. These are two powerful antioxidants which, together with C, counteract the action of free radicals.

  • Carotenoids (pro vitamins A) are typical of the VI food group; abound in: carrots, peppers, melon, apricots etc. Retinol, on the other hand, is particularly present in the animal liver and in certain fishery products.
  • Vitamin E is very concentrated in olives, oil seeds, wheat germ and related extraction oils.

Other Molecules

  • Zinc: In some viral infections, taking zinc is effective in reducing the severity and time of illness. Some foods contain more of it than others; the richest are: oysters, liver, milk and meats. While vitamins and isoflavones (which we will read below) can be sufficiently introduced with food, the optimal zinc concentration may require the use of a dietary supplement.
  • Isoflavones: are antioxidants of plant origin contained in soy, vegetables and fruits. Like vitamins A, C, E, and other types of antioxidants, they hinder the action of free radicals.
  • Probiotics and prebiotics: probiotics are the bacteria naturally present in the intestine; the prebiotics, on the other hand, are the molecules that nourish them. Since there is a positive correlation between the intestinal flora and the efficiency of the immune system, some believe that the Saint Anthony's fire diet should preserve the health of these microorganisms.
    It is possible to increase the dietary quota of probiotics by consuming foods fermented with: lactobacilli, bifidobacteria and eubacteria. Among these, the best known are: yogurt, kefir, buttermilk, kimchi, miso, gherkins and sauerkraut; the market also offers many diet foods and supplements / drugs that contain them. To "feed" these bacteria in the best possible way, the Saint Anthony's fire diet must be rich in soluble dietary fibers and carbohydrates, which perform an excellent prebiotic function.
    In addition, it would be advisable to reduce refined sugars, hydrogenated fats (instead harmful) and maintain a correct breakdown of total proteins and lipids (to ensure the right pH of the stool).

Arginine amino acid: is it harmful?

Arginine amino acid has always been considered a beneficial agent for the immune system.
However, according to WholeHealth Chicago, foods rich in arginine tend to promote the growth of the herpes zoster virus.
Foods which, in addition to having a high content of arginine, also have a low content of lysine, are even more problematic. The latter is also an amino acid; in the body, it performs the function of balancing the metabolism of arginine.
During the St. Anthony's Fire, foods that contain more arginine than average could be avoided; for example, the following are not recommended:

  • Oil seeds, especially peanuts, hazelnuts and almonds
  • Legumes and derivatives, especially soybeans, broad beans, lentils and chickpeas.

On the contrary, foods with an optimal arginine / lysine ratio should be preferred; for example: fish, poultry, beef and lamb. However, the portions of these foods should not be excessive.

Physical activity

Physical activity is another element that can positively affect the immune system.
By practicing motor activity with a medium-high commitment, it is possible to stimulate the natural defenses, pushing them to function optimally.
On the other hand, we must not forget that sporting activity carried out with diligence and at very high intensity could have a diametrically opposite effect.
It is recommended to engage in a motor activity protocol characterized by a frequency of 3-4 weekly sessions, lasting 40-60 'each. The intensity should be adjusted in relation to the number and duration of the sessions.

Causes, Incidence and Complications

Normally, the immune system is able to keep Shingles in check and in silent form. Only in certain cases, this virus reactivates and evolves into St. Anthony's fire.
In healthy people, the causes of the onset of St. Anthony's fire are not yet known.

Some argue that the viral reactivation is attributable to a lowering of natural shields, which can occur:

  • With old age (especially> 70 years)
  • For psycho-physical stress
  • For taking immunosuppressive drugs
  • Due to infections that weaken the immune system (HIV).

The contagion of St. Anthony's fire can only occur when the organism that comes into contact with the virus has NEVER suffered from chickenpox; in this case the organism will develop chickenpox and, once resolved, may eventually develop St. Anthony's fire in the future.
Saint Anthony's fire almost always occurs only once in a lifetime, but relapses are not rare.
Herpes zoster affects ¼ of the world's population, but the incidence of chickenpox and St. Anthony's fire are very different. For the latter, the chances of onset increase with age, while chickenpox is typical of childhood.

Saint Anthony's fire lasts about 2-4 weeks; 1/5 of subjects develop painful post-herpetic neuralgia that lasts longer. Very rarely, if the infection affects the face, visual and / or auditory functions may remain impaired.

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