Monday, February 13, 2012

How Celebrating Valentine's Day Can Lead to a Shingles Outbreak

What's love got to do with it? Weird as it may sound, the connection between Valentine's Day and shingles is -- chocolate! Chocolate is one of those foods that can trigger a shingles outbreak if you eat too much of it at one time.

I learned this the hard way a few years ago. At the time, I was newly single and, free of the responsibility for making dinner for anyone else, I often just snacked on apples, almonds and chocolate and called it good. Around that time, I started having more frequent, and severe, outbreaks of shingles, so I asked my naturopath what could be causing them.

She explained that there is often a connection between diet and shingles outbreaks. The breakouts are the result of an imbalance in the relationship between two essential amino acids, lysine and arginine, in our diets.

If you have ever had shingles, you know that the illness only affects those of us who have had chicken pox, which is caused by the herpes zoster virus. Even though we recover from the chicken pox, we never completely clear the virus from our systems. It remains dormant in nerve cells for the rest of our lives. If something happens that "wakes up" the virus, we get the painful rash, blisters, fatigue, muscle and nerve pain that we call "shingles."

So what wakes up the virus? The amino acid, arginine. What puts the virus back to sleep? The amino acid, lysine. When our diet supplies a higher ratio of lysine to arginine, all is well. When there's more arginine than lysine, trouble breaks out. And that's how the chocolate, apples and almonds dinners were contributing to my frequent shingles outbreaks.

According to the Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, 1991 edition, (A newer edition is available at Amazon) the amino acid ratio for chocolate is 4,500/arginine and 2,000/lysine. For almonds, 2,730/arginine and 580/lysine. It is easy to see that I needed to change my ways if I wanted to feel better. Which I did. I still eat chocolate, but not as an entree. I eat small amounts, usually after a meal that is lysine rich. I rarely get shingles anymore.

For your quick reference, here are foods high in arginine and low in lysine: chocolate, all kinds of tree nuts and peanuts, sesame and flaxseed. Foods high in lysine and low in arginine include: dairy products, beef, poultry, pork, fish and shrimp.

This is important information for those of us over 60. No one seems to know why, but as we age, shingles outbreaks seem to be more frequent. If we let our food be our medicine, we can avoid discomfort and drugs.

Happy Valentine's Day, everyone! Enjoy those chocolates - but you might want to have a nice salmon dinner first.