Hi Sandra, I'm in my 70s and recently had a bout of shingles. It was excruciating and my doctor has advised a vaccination which will cut my chances of getting it again by half. I'm wondering if there is anything additional I can do to keep it at bay? I really don't want to go through that again anytime soon. David, Gore

Shingles (herpes zoster) is certainly painful and caused by the recurrence of the varicella-zoster virus which is the same virus that causes chicken pox. Once someone has had chickenpox the virus remains active within the roots of the nerve and can cause future outbreaks, which are called

.

Shingles itself is a sore rash that can clear within five days but the residual pain can last for months to years for some people post outbreak. It is often more common in people over 60-years-old, those who have had chicken pox, people with compromised immunity, those undergoing radiation treatment, people with certain medications or those suffering from chronic long-term stress.

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What I have found effective within my clinical practice has been the coordinated use of both St John's Wort tea and St John's Wort oil in response to a shingles outbreak. The good thing is that St John's Wort (in this form) can safely be taken alongside the Zostavax shingles vaccine.

St John's Wort has demonstrated anti-viral properties in both in vitro and in vivo studies (Braun, 2010) and is able to provide some relief for those suffering neuralgic pain post shingles outbreak.

For those who suffer from nerve pain caused by shingles, the combined effect of both the tea and the oil may be able to help alleviate some of the discomfort, as topical St John's Wort can act as a pain reliever for the nervous system. If people are concerned about scarring or have intermittent nerve pain, the use of the oil alone should suffice.

Shingles can be reactivated when people have lowered immunity or are suffering from chronic or long-term stress. I encourage supporting and boosting your immunity throughout the year using different medicinal herbs, such as olive leaf, echinacea, linden blossom, plantain, elderflower, thyme or sage.

As with anything concerning your health, please discuss what you choose to take additionally with your health provider.

Hi Sandra, I've had a problem with recurrent thrush now for several years. I've had loads of antibiotics but I'm still getting it every few months. Is there anything natural I can take which might help? Caroline, Auckland

Thrush is a common problem for many and can be caused by a certain family of fungus called candida, or in other incidences it is caused by a bacteria. Most people with a healthy immune system can stop the fungus from thrush caused by candida albicans causing an infection, however for those who are run down or unwell they can be prone to reoccurring bouts.

Typical treatment for thrush is a course of antibiotics, antifungals or topical antifungal creams prescribed by your doctor or pharmacist. For those that have taken multiple courses of antibiotics, there is a concern that extensive use may eliminate the normal healthy bacteria that normally reside in the digestive tract, giving the candida room to expand.

Pau d'arco is a great herb of choice because of its anti-fungal ingredients; lapachol, xyloidone and beta-lapachone (Fisher, 2009). Pau d'arco can be boiled into an infusion in which you soak a cloth to be compressed on to the skin externally to assist with clearing internal thrush. A medical herbalist is qualified and able to provide you with a protocol directing the best way to approach this.

Horopito is a New Zealand native herb that has a strong fungicidal and antibacterial activity. The leaves of horopito were used by Maori traditionally to assist with skin and fungal infections, as well as stomach upsets.

The antifungal portion of horopito lies in its active constituent, polygodial, which has been shown to inhibit the growth of candida albicans. Polygodial when tested in vivo studies, was proven to inhibit the growth of candida more efficiently and quickly than the pharmaceutical product Amphotericin B which can be used to treat candida. There are horopito products available that are specifically made for thrush, such as creams and tablets that may be of benefit.

In my experience, a focus on a low sugar and yeast diet can help curb the growth of the candida as it feeds off the extra sugar within the body. A focus on increasing fresh vegetables into your diet will help boost nutrient intake, which will benefit the immune system as a whole. Also, consider adding in a specific urogenital probiotic as it can also help to restore the correct bacteria balance.

For those suffering recurring thrush, I suggest talking to your health professional and working alongside a medical herbalist to help resolve the underlying triggers that may make you prone to it.

- nzherald.co.nz

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