Shingles Diet

A shingles diet may help improve the immune system in patients with the varicella-zoster virus and reduce the risk of shingles flare-ups.

What Causes Shingles?

Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is a viral infection caused by the varicella-zoster virus which remains in the body after a chickenpox infection. The virus stays inactive within the nervous system and may reactivate years later as shingles. Although it is not a life-threatening condition, it is painful and is accompanied by other symptoms.

Shingles is contagious and can easily transmit to someone who is not immunized against chickenpox. The person will contract the varicella-zoster virus and develop chicken pox but not shingles.

Having chicken pox does not mean you will develop shingles. However, older people with a weakened immune system are more likely to develop shingles due to a prior infection with the chicken pox virus. Shingles further compromises the immune system and make the patient prone to future flare-ups.

Symptoms of Shingle Flare-Ups

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that approximately one million people in the US experience a shingles outbreak each year. Whenever the dormant chickenpox virus reactivates it causes the following symptoms:

  • A painful red rash in the shape of a band that goes around the left or right torso
  • The torso area may itch or tingle a few days before the rash appears
  • The rash may show up on other parts of the body (e.g., legs or arms)
  • Skin of affected area is sensitive to touch
  • Fever or chills
  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Fatigue

Treatment for Shingles

  • Vaccination (preventative treatment)
  • Antiviral drugs (to treat flare-ups)
  • Shingles diet (to maintain a healthy immune system)

Why a Shingles Diet is Important

Recurrent shingles can affect a person’s quality of life, especially since it rash is painful and the other symptoms discomforting. Considering so many people in the US experience shingles each year, people at risk need optional ways to control it.

Shingles can be prevented using vaccination and treated with antiviral drugs. But a good shingles diet plan can be an effective preventative measure and help patients reduce the risk of shingles recurrence.

Eating healthier helps improve the body’s defense mechanism and prevents the activation of the varicella-zoster virus. In addition, maintaining a certain diet may reduce the risk of passing the shingles virus to others.

Some scientific studies conclude that increasing the intake of lysine over arginine (two amino acids) can reduce the severity of the shingles infection. Arginine promotes the growth of the shingle virus while lysine suppresses it by blocking the effects of arginine. Eating high arginine foods would, therefore, irritate the virus and cause the symptoms.

Shingles Diet Plan

A nutritious diet that has a higher lysine to arginine ratio, in addition to a healthy, stress-reduced lifestyle, is believed to be the best diet plan for preventing shingles. These two amino acids compete for uptake in the body.

So increasing lysine and reducing arginine intake creates a balance that protects the body. Lysine and arginine are often present together in many foods. The important factor is to choose those with a high lysine to arginine ratio.

Foods rich in certain essential vitamins and minerals are believed to be helpful in strengthening the immune system.

Foods to Eat

Lysine-Rich Foods: Fish, especially salmon, trout, mackerel and tuna are good sources of lysine-rich foods. Similarly, lean protein from chicken and red meat, and eggs are healthier choices of foods for people with shingles. Milk, low-fat dairy cheese, and yogurt also provide a higher level of lysine. These foods do contain arginine but in a lower percentage. Nuts and seeds that have a better lysine to arginine content are cashews, pumpkin seeds, cashews, and macadamia nuts.

Whole Grains: Whole grains are foods that do not contain enriched or refined white flour and has a higher fiber content. They also have more essential vitamins which can help promote a healthier immune system. These foods include brown rice, whole wheat pastas, bread, and cereals, and oatmeal.

Fruits and Vegetables: Citrus fruits and green leafy vegetables provide sufficient amounts of vitamins and minerals, particularly vitamins A, B-6, C and E, iron, zinc, and folic acid. Spinach, potatoes, legumes and soybeans are excellent sources of these vitamins and minerals. Studies show that people who consume three to four servings of fruits and vegetables containing these nutrients had a lower chance of developing shingles than those who did not. Lysine, vitamin C and zinc helps the body heal faster. Lysine helps the body produce collagen a special protein that helps the body heal faster. Vitamin B rich fruits, especially those rich in vitamin B-6, such as bananas, apples and apricots provide benefits to the nervous system that can help prevent shingles.

Anti-inflammatory Foods: Processed foods and “junk foods” are regarded as foods with a high level of inflammatory ingredients, e.g., saturated fats and sugars, which can reduce the body’s ability to prevent a shingles attack. A shingles diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods, however, may help protect against shingles. A good way to reduce inflammation is to avoid sugars and increase intake of foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids such as fish, grains and certain nuts. Other anti-inflammatory foods are dark chocolate, turmeric, garlic, ginger and fresh herbs such as basil, and celery.

Foods to Avoid

Arginine-Rich Foods: Patients with shingles need to consume arginine but in lower amounts than lysine. This may be a bit tricky, however, since these two amino acids are typically present together in the same foods. The goal is to choose foods lower in arginine. Foods with high arginine content are grain cereals, certain nuts (especially peanuts), gelatin, beer, chocolate and cola. Coconut products such as coconut flour, milk and meat (grated coconut) have a high arginine to lysine ratio and should be avoided.

Saturated Fats: People with shingles or who are likely to develop shingles should avoid foods high in saturated fats. They include junk foods such as potato chips, certain oils, e.g., coconut and palm oils, lard, and butter.

Certain Fruits and Vegetables: Grapes, blackberries, blueberries, and tomatoes should be avoided because they do not have a favorable lysine to arginine ratio.


Caffeine should be avoided because it is known to cause irritability and anxiety in some people. This can create stress on the body and adversely affect the immune system. Notwithstanding, there are no conclusive studies suggesting a direct link between caffeine consumption and shingles activation or reactivation within the body.

Risk Factors

You may be more at risk of developing shingles and suffer recurrence if you had chickenpox in the past and your immune system is weakened due to the following:

  • You have HIV/AIDS
  • You have cancer
  • You are undergoing chemotherapy or radiotherapy
  • You use drugs intended to prevent rejection of a transplanted organ
  • You are taking a corticosteroid such as prednisone in high doses
  • Your first shingles attack was severe with pain that lasted more than 30 days
  • You are above the age of 50
  • You are a woman

Pursuing a healthy diet specifically targeting shingles is all about preventing further weakening of the immune system and reduce the risk of activating the varicella-zoster virus.

It may be far more important for people in these risk groups to practice a healthy lifestyle and maintain a diet plan that can reduce their chances of getting shingles or shingle flare-ups.