Natural remedies to relieve shingles pain include cold compresses, calamine lotion, cool starch baths and oatmeal baths, and the use of emollients and anti-inflammatory creams.
Natural treatments for shingles have been suggested in various forums, including the use of colloidal silver and proteolytic enzymes. The latter, found in papaya and pineapple, amongst other foods, are thought to strip away the head and outer layer of the virus and trigger the death of the organism.
There have been a couple of studies carried out comparing the use of proteolytic enzymes with conventional acyclovir treatment for shingles, including a German study which found similar pain relief in both the conventionally treated patients and the enzyme-treated patients over the fourteen day protocol, although the latter group had fewer side-effects from treatment.
This double-blind study involved 190 people with shingles but, unfortunately, did not include a placebo group (which would have been ethically problematic). The enzyme-treated patients reported less postzosteric neuralgia as well as better pain relief than the acyclovir group.
How Proteolytic Enzymes May Help Shingles
A second study, this time involving 90 patients, also saw one group treated with the proteolytic enzymes and one with acyclovir, through injection and then with oral medications for a week. This time there were significantly less side-effects reported by the enzyme group but no differences in pain between the two groups.
The hypothesis is that this natural treatment for shingles works by lowering inflammation and modulating immune system reactions to the virus. Another researcher, Mikazans, compared the use of proteolytic enzymes with oral acyclovir and found that patients responded more quickly to the enzymes when administered topically and orally, with less postherpetic neuralgia in the enzyme-treated group.
Proteolytic Enzyme Risks
Proteolytic enzymes do appear beneficial in cases of shingles but further research is desirable and patients should note that, in rare cases, topical applications of papain can trigger allergic or hypersensitivity responses including blisters and rashes that could confound a shingles diagnosis.
Some pancreas-derived enzymes can affect folic acid absorption meaning that long-term pancreatic enzyme supplementation should be accompanied by folate supplementation. Other proteolytic enzymes such as serratia peptidase has been seen to cause oesophageal ulcers and is associated with subepidermal bullous dermatosis, paralysis, and acute eosinophilic pneumonia.
Dangers of Proteolytic Enzymes for Shingles
Other proteolytic enzymes used to treat shingles naturally have the potential to increase the effects of certain medications. Bromelain, for example, potentiates some sedatives and antibiotics and may change heart rate and blood pressure, especially in those with high blood pressure.
Serrapeptase can also slow heart rate and cause drowsiness and some enzymes affect the coagulation of the blood and should not be used with warfarin, aspirin or coumadin, or in those with haemophilia, who are pregnant, breastfeeding or who have severe liver dysfunction.
Alternative Remedies for Shingles Treatment
Although proteolytic enzymes have not been approved for use in shingles, capsaicin cream has been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for postherpetic neuralgia treatment. Other popular remedies that remain untested in clinical trials and, therefore, unapproved by health authorities, include:
- Aloe vera gel
- raw honey
- leek juice
- apple cider vinegar
- peppermint tea
- vitamin E oil
- baking soda with water as a compress.
Shingles can cause severe nerve damage and even paralysis so it is important to seek immediate medical attention if the viral infection is suspected.