Nutrition to Prevent Shingles & Cold Sores

August 26, 2017

We’re sharing who gets shingles and who is at risk for developing the painful itching, fever and blisters. In addition we’ll explain exactly what is shingles and more importantly, what you can do to prevent it in the first place!

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DAR: Welcome to Dishing Up Nutrition. I am Darlene Kvist, certified nutrition specialist and host of Dishing Up Nutrition. I am pleased to have Shelby join me today as we talk about shingles and cold sores. Think about that Shelby!

SHELBY: I am just so excited to be in the studio with you. Good morning to our listeners, my name is Shelby Hummel, a licensed nutritionist with a Masters Degree in Applied Clinical Nutrition and basically that just means that I love helping people feel better through simply eating better. One of the things Dar that I hear people say is “It’s just so confusing.” A lot of people are confused about what they should eat to stay healthy. One of the things I share with clients is that I have found my body does better without eating them and one group is gluten grains. I found that when I eat gluten grains, I would feel tired, sluggish and even made my hips feel kind of achy.

DAR: As nutritionists, we understand that not everyone is sensitive to gluten grains, but we also know that processed carbohydrates are often very inflammatory for many people. A lot of people have problems with processed carbohydrates.

SHELBY: That must have been the case for me, to have achy hips at what I consider to be a young age. So it’s funny, when I stopped eating gluten grains, like pasta and bread, it also helped to focus on cutting out a lot of those processed carbohydrates we often talk about. So I noticed that I had better energy, but my clothes were fitting better when I was eating all those vegetables instead of pasta!

DAR: Really listeners, our topic today isn’t about gluten or carbs, it is about how you can use nutrition to prevent coming down with shingles and cold sores.

SHELBY: It should be a good one. If you have had shingles, you know the pain. People who get shingles often experience nerve pain, itching, fever and fluid-filled blisters…definitely not something I want to be dealing with. Shingles typically affects a small area of the body and usually occurs on just one side of the body. Pain is the most common initial symptom of shingles. So listeners take a quick scan of how you’re feeling, if you are feeling hot, itchy, tingling pain, could it be shingles?

DAR: Could be. If you have experienced shingles in the past, you also know it itches and it itches a lot. Shingles can also result in burning and numbness and is very sensitive to the touch. Shingles is something we all want to avoid, if possible.

SHELBY: Absolutely and a shingles breakout is most common on either the left or right side of the torso. Typically I think of right where the pants sit, that’s where people notice it. The other possible place to have shingles is on the face, especially around the eye, which is something I don’t want to be dealing with. 

DAR: And it’s really more dangerous when it’s around the eye, it’s really more serious. So we know that shingles can last between three to five weeks, but there are people who have suffered with shingles for months at a time. Most people will only experience shingles one time in their life, but you may be someone who has had shingles multiple times. Let’s talk about who gets shingles and who is at risk? Because not everyone gets shingles.

SHELBY: Those most at risk are people with a weakened immune system, which used to me with all those chronic ear infections. I think about how weak my immune system must have been growing up.

DAR: Often times people think of themselves as having a weakened immune system, but who would those people be?

SHELBY: One of the first groups I think of right away are people with cancer, or someone who has been ill recently or maybe they’re battling pneumonia or maybe they’re battling an immune dysfunction or even someone with HIV. Or even I think of someone who has just experienced a major trauma. I don’t know if you noticed Dar but there was a big car accident right down the street. Someone who was maybe in a car accident or maybe someone who has death of a spouse, child or parents, those people are also at risk.

DAR: Those are people under a lot of stress that’s for sure. We talk about that, another group of people at risk would be those who are under a great amount of stress. These people are often not sleeping very well or not sleeping enough, we hear four, five hours and people believe that’s enough sleep.

SHELBY: Dar that brings to mind a group of people. Maybe someone who is caring for a spouse. I think of my aunt for example who is carrying for my uncle with Parkinson’s disease. Not only is she doing all the cooking and the cleaning but she’s also working to make sure he’s comfortable. I also think of people who are taking care of their parents.

DAR: Or, people who are taking care of their newborn.

SHELBY: That’s a big group of people!

DAR: We have another group of people, people who just eat poorly. They are at risk. They often live on processed carbs, have no idea what vegetables are, lack protein in their diet and eat bad fats. We often call this the typical American diet. Fast food and pizza are their standard go to foods. We know there are a lot of people like that.

SHELBY: I often joke sometimes that my little pup Nora eats more vegetables than most adults do. I definitely want to talk more about shingles, but we’re going to take our first break.

You are listening to Dishing Up Nutrition brought to you by Nutritional Weight & Wellness. Last week, Brenna and Kate shared research linking alcohol consumption to a higher risk of breast cancer. A new study published in the Journal of American Medical Association has found that the rate of alcoholism in the U.S. rose an alarming 49% in the first decade of this century. It is now 1 in 8 adults who meet the diagnostic criteria for what is called, Alcohol Use Disorder.


DAR: Welcome back to Dishing Up Nutrition. Today we are discussing eating and lifestyle habits you can practice to boost your immune function to help prevent a shingles outbreak or even a cold sore outbreak. But first, this new study that Shelby just reported to us calls alcohol a public health crisis and found nearly one in four adults under the age of 30 met the diagnostic criteria for alcoholism. That’s a whole lot of drinking going on! The Center for Disease Control estimates that 88,000 people die from alcohol-related diseases every year. That’s more than twice the annual death toll of opioid overdoses. That’s interesting isn’t it, but everything in the paper is about opioid overdoses and crises. Almost 17% of men are now considered alcoholic and 15 years ago the rate reported was 10%. Everyone should be asking the question, why the increase in addiction?

SHELBY: I think I have some ideas. That’s a good question.

DAR: We were talking about shingles.

SHELBY: Yes and we were telling listeners that shingles are typically pretty itchy. Blisters on the side of their body, kind of around where their pants sit maybe. It could be on the face. We talked a little bit about what shingles looks like, but what exactly is shingles? Shingles is a virus. It’s the same virus that causes chickenpox. The name of that virus is the Herpes Zoster Virus.

DAR: According to medical experts, once you have had chicken pox, this virus stays dormant in your body. Think back, did you have chicken pox? If you did than you have that virus and it can be reactivated under certain conditions especially when your immune system is in a weakened state. This is when a shingles outbreak can occur.

SHELBY: I remember having the chicken pox. I remember thinking it was so silly that my mom was taking something from the kitchen, oatmeal, and putting it in the tub for me to soak in. Approximately one in five people who have had chickenpox will reactivate the virus, which will then cause shingles. The question is at that point is, “How can you eat and live your life, so you don’t wake up or reactivate that virus?”

DAR: Well listeners, do I have a nutritional surprise for you. As you know, we always say eat healthy fats, such as olive oil, butter, avocados or nuts and nut butters; however, when it comes to eating nuts, you need to be careful. When a number of my clients found out that nuts are good fats, they started overeating almonds and suddenly experienced cold sores along their lip, so what is that all about? It reactive a virus, so what’s going on with the extra almonds?

SHELBY: While a few almonds are okay, too many almonds is not, because almonds and some other nuts contain high amounts of the amino acid called, Arginine. So you can eat almonds as a healthy fat but if you’re eating more and more and more, that amino acid called Arginine can help reactivate the herpes virus.

DAR: If you are going to be eating more than ¼ cup of almonds daily, we recommend taking an amino acid supplement called, L-Lysine as a supplement. It is interesting that L-Lysine is thought to compete with L-Arginine and it seems to be very effective in preventing viral outbreaks.

SHELBY: If I’m hearing you’re correctly, basically, what you’re saying is, if we follow a high lysine and low arginine diet, it will be more difficult for those viruses to reproduce. So listeners you might be thinking “I’m hearing you, what exactly is a high lysine and low arginine diet?”

DAR: As a preventive measure, we suggest choosing foods that are high in lysine, while avoiding those that contain a lot of arginine. Easy to say, but most people have no clue about the lysine or arginine content of foods; although, if I asked what the fat content of certain foods, many of you would be able to give me the answer immediately because we’re so tuned into the fat content of foods. Think of it this way, foods high in lysine are usually animal protein, things like beef, cheese, chicken, pork, fish, shellfish, while foods higher in arginine are nuts, grains, legumes and beans. Some research has found that limiting foods high in arginine, such as almonds in your diet and eating a variety of animal protein may actually help prevent a shingles outbreak, but the research results were not conclusive but they sort of indicated that.

SHELBY: It makes a lot of sense Dar. I know when we teach classes that we talk about animal protein and how it supports the immune system. That’s one thing I think of every time I eat protein at breakfast – it’s self-care because I’m supporting my immune system right from the start of the day.

DAR: We also suggest eating protein, and if you’re going to eat beans with that it’s like a half a cup of beans, it’s not a whole cup and then a whole cup of rice too. Too many carbohydrates.

SHELBY: Too many carbohydrates. So, Dar, I want to talk about another piece of research. Recent research has found that taking an L-Lysine supplement daily as a preventive measure did demonstrate effectiveness. As listeners may be wondering what we, as nutritionists, do clinically to help clients prevent having a shingles outbreak. You’re probably screaming at your radio, “They’re going to talk about food!” And you’re right, there are a lot of things we can do with food, but we can also talk about other lifestyle habits to address. We know that, when you have chicken pox, you will always carry that virus in your system. But we also know that it only becomes a problem when it comes out from hiding. When it goes from a dormant state into the active form of shingles and that’s only if your immune system is being challenged.

DAR: As you know we at Nutritional Weight & Wellness think almonds are good for you, but let’s say, you didn’t prepare a balanced snack which we also think is good for you, so you end up snacking on almonds all throughout the day and that could potentially lead to a problem.

SHELBY: I hear a lot of clients say “I didn’t have time to pack my snack or my protein shake. Or, “I didn’t have time to get a hard-boiled egg, an apple and some peanut butter, so I just went to the vending machine and got some almonds to snack on.”

DAR: Or they bring a whole bag of almonds. Not a small bag, a big bag.

SHELBY: As a good measure of prevention against a shingles outbreak, maybe the best thing for some of you is to simply take an L-Lysine supplement would be helpful. I usually suggest taking two L-Lysine supplements before breakfast to keep the lysine/arginine ratio in balance. I want to talk a little more about some of the other lifestyle and eating habits, but Dar we have to go to our second break here.  

You’re listening to Dishing Up Nutrition, brought to you by Nutritional Weight & Wellness, a company providing life-changing nutrition counseling and life-changing nutrition education. If you are listening to us by podcast, hi mom, I know you’re listening, and you appreciate our message, we encourage you to leave a review on iTunes. If you have a topic you’d like to hear on the show, please let us know. We are always looking for ways we can support our listeners. We greatly appreciate your input!

Questions today? Call us in studio at 651.641.1071.


DAR: Welcome back to Dishing Up Nutrition. I believe many of us realize that we need to eat better to support our immune function, so we have a better chance of avoiding shingles, cancer, heart disease, the everyday cold and viruses and countless other diseases.

As a nutritionist, we do this every day at work, we can tell you to avoid sugar, don’t drink fruit juices, reduce your caffeine intake, stop drinking soda, or leave fried food at the fast food restaurant, those French fries. But…will you just wake up one morning and say to yourself, “This is it! Today my diet is only going to include healthy animal protein, beneficial fat and vegetable carbs. From now on, this is how I will eat every meal, every day!”

Remember we are human, after all, so the popcorn will call your name when you sit down to watch a movie and when someone brings chocolate chip cookies to the office, you’ll say to yourself, “I haven’t had them for so long, so I’ll only have one.” But you just can’t stop with one, so you keep eating them until they’re all gone! Scary isn’t it? But we are human.

SHELBY: Yes we are! And most people when they come in for an appointment or to take a class with us, they say “I want to be healthier.” Most people want to feel better, want their immune system to work better, so how do you leave those old habits behind and star to establish new habits you can put into practice.

DAR: You know Shelby, we read all the time that it takes three weeks to make develop a habit and that’s so untrue. Sometimes it takes three years to develop these habits that support your immune system.

SHELBY: I always tell my clients that I’m practicing at this every day. I know I’m immersed in a culture that prioritizes good food but it still is a practice. When I teach our Nutrition 4 Weight Loss Program or even our Weight & Wellness six-week series, we talk about these habits. I would encourage you listeners to come join me or one of our other great nutrition educators this September to learn a new way of eating. Say goodbye to those old eating habits.

DAR: We often say habits are either moving you forward.

SHELBY: Or holding you back! So if you want to learn more about those classes, I’ll put a plug in for Wayzata because I’m teaching the Wayzata Nutrition 4 Weight Loss class and I’m really excited to teach the six-week Weight & Wellness series starting on September 20, so go to or call the office at 651-699-3438.

DAR: So if you want to take a class with an upbeat teacher, they’re all really upbeat.

SHELBY: You’re so right Dar. So listeners, before we went to break we were talking about keeping that lysine and arginine balanced, taking an L-Lysine supplement on an empty stomach before breakfast. But, Dar, we want to remind our listeners that there is much more, beyond taking supplements to keep shingles at bay.

DAR: I think we can all agree that shingles is clearly no fun. As we mentioned before, according to medical experts, once you have chicken pox, that virus stays in your body and as long as it stays dormant, you won’t have any issues; however, for some people the virus can reactivate, especially at times of weakened immune function and that is when a shingles outbreak can occur.

SHELBY: It it only a people for those over the age of 50? Or are we starting to see shingles occurring much younger, people as early as their late 20’s and 30’s. That kind of brings up a personal story for you listeners you want to share. I actually had a college roommate who had shingles, I think she was probably 23, 24 years old and we had just finished up. She had a lot of stress in her life, she was working full time, she was studying for the CPA exam which I understand is very challenging. So I think she was kind of burning the candle at both ends. Working full time but also studying. And then the kicker is that I think she had some digestive issues. She went to her Dr. and was diagnosed with IBS, or irritable bowel and probably wasn’t digesting food and maybe had some food sensitives.

DAR: And all those things were affecting her immune system. And then virus got reactivated and she got shingles.

SHELBY: Yes and actually one of the things I remember her complaining about is that it was very hard for her to put on work pants because they would rub against those blisters and it was so painful.

DAR: You may be thinking, “Why did a healthy 20 year old get shingles? Kind of like Shelby said, it could be lack of sleep, a poor diet for what she needed, too much stress and probably all those things added into it. So let’s look at lifestyle habits and foods that you can use at any age to boost your immune function to hopefully prevent a shingles outbreak.

SHELBY: Think of it like this, what are the top foods you can eat to support your immune function. As you longtime listeners know, at Nutritional Weight & Wellness we always say, real food first, so we would recommend 12 to 14 ounces of quality protein, options would include options like grass-fed beef, eggs, free range chicken and wild caught salmon like I made this week. Listeners, it may surprise you that meat and fish are not only high in lysine, but also high in B vitamins. I was telling you about our six-week Weight and Wellness class and I love to teach clients that when they have a sufficient amount of the good bacteria called, bifido bacteria and eat animal protein they make their own B vitamins. And then I ask people “Why do we care about B vitamins?” and that’s when I tell them that not only do they give us good moods and energy, but our B vitamins support our nerves and nervous system.

DAR: I believe it is so important to get your immune system off to a good start each and every day. I frequently suggest to clients to scramble two eggs with ¼ cup of full fat cottage cheese, which yields 3 ounces of protein and, of course, cook that in butter on low heat. Then sauté beet greens, spinach or kale in coconut oil and add ½ cup of diced carrots. This is a perfectly balanced breakfast that will kick your immune function into gear to fight off viruses and bacteria. Different kind of breakfast than a lot of people think of.

SHELBY: If you are adventurous like me maybe you’ll throw in some minced garlic or onion to your sautéed spinach or kale and you have just added allicin, which is also known to boost your immune function. What other foods do you think of or immune support do we get from animal protein? I’m thinking zinc.

DAR: Yes, I think of zinc too. But before we go onto zinc, let’s talk about allicin that’s a new word for a lot of people. What is allicin and where do we find allicin?

SHELBY: That’s interesting. If any of you listeners have heard of the term allium, so garlic and onion and spring onions, that whole family of foods is where you’d find that allicin.

DAR: And it fights off virus and bacteria great. It’s used all the time for that.

SHELBY: I actually used to use garlic to prevent swimmers ear when I would teach swimming lessons I would use that because I knew that it kept my immune system strong.

You’re listening to Dishing Up Nutrition. We promised we would also talk about cold sore today. Cold sores come from the Herpes Simplex Virus and they first appear three to 10 days after exposure and can last up to three weeks. Unfortunately, like the shingles virus, this virus also remains permanently in your body in a dormant state until it is reactivated when your immune function is undermined from such things as illness, trauma, stress or even high sugar consumption. Again it’s all about protecting your immune function.

DAR: Welcome back to Dishing Up Nutrition. Next week August 30, 31 & September 1, we are offering three classes at half price – only $12.50 for each of these classes: The Minerals Class, 5 Steps to Boost Metabolism and Eating to Reduce Pain and Inflammation. All of these classes will be held at our Maple Grove office. Call 763.657.1730 to sign up & be a part of them.

SHELBY: So Dar, before we went to break we were talking a little bit about supporting the immune system. We were talking about a balanced breakfast that would keep you feeling satisfied but also keep your immune cells strong. One thing we were talking about was zinc, so tell us a little more about zinc.

DAR: Zinc is certainly an immune builder, keeps your immune system up and running. What foods are high in zinc? We got back to the same kind of foods. Beef, shrimp, oysters, spinach, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds and kidney beans are a few. You might decide to have a beef patty or a small steak with sautéed spinach and ½ cup of kidney beans for breakfast to jumpstart your immune function. Or a lot of people do chili.

SHELBY: Dar, I was just talking to my Grandma and she’s getting ready to have a surgery in the beginning of September and we were talking about nutrition stuff and she said “You know, your Grandpa and I have known since about the 70’s that zinc was really important for our immune system” and she asked how she could be supporting her immune system for good healing. I said “Well, Grandma I think you could make a big pot of chili to have around for whenever you’re feeling hungry. Not only does it have zinc from that grass-fed beef …” But they live out in the Black Hills so they might use bison instead, and then put some vitamin C with those tomatoes and kidney beans in there. SO listeners, what we’re saying is food does matter so when we are speaking about our immune function we have to look at what we’re eating. People who don’t eat meat or seafood may need to consider supplementing to get adequate zinc. If you are getting colds frequently or find your taste is just off, you may be deficient in zinc. Low levels of zinc affect your immune function, your sense of taste, and even your vision. We believe 30 to 50 mg of zinc is ideal. You don’t want too much and you don’t want too little, you want it just right.

DAR: Here’s another clue for a lot of people. When you’re low on zinc often you are someone who has to have that dessert after a meal. They crave a little bit of sugar right after a meal. That’s an indication that perhaps your zinc level is down.

I think most of our listeners know that vitamin C supports immune function. What are the top 10 vitamin C foods? They are oranges, kale, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, strawberries and red peppers. I have a story about red peppers, but first I want to say that it’s best to buy only organic red peppers, because there is high pesticide residue found on conventionally grown red peppers. Okay, here is my story – my little dog, Bella, loves red peppers. Every few days, she will just gobble up a few pieces of red pepper for a treat. She must know food matters and that red peppers are high in vitamin C and good for her immune function.

SHELBY: Nora does know food matters. She has some sense Dar. I can get the coconut oil jar out and I can pull vegetables from the fridge and she sits very politely waiting for her slice of red bell pepper or slice of sweet potato or kale. She loves it!

DAR: Listeners, if your dog goes to doggy day care, you just might try feeding it red pepper or broccoli to boost your dog’s immune function. It’s kind of working for Bella because she’s only had one sick day in three years, so it’s working for her! I bet it works for your dog too.

SHELBY: Yes, she’s at doggy daycare too! We fed her lots of good stuff last night.

Some other foods high in vitamin C are grapefruit, kiwi, guava, and green peppers. Let’s go back to your immune boosting breakfast. You might want to add red or green peppers to your scrambled eggs and a few slices of orange to go along with your eggs. But one thing I want to tell our listeners is that having an orange is not the same as having orange juice. TV nutrition and TV ads tell us orange juice is high in vitamin C, but really it’s just high in sugar. Imagine an eight oz glass of orange juice contains about eight teaspoons of sugar. You wouldn’t just mix that into water would you? Drink eight teaspoons of sugar.

DAR: Have you ever gone to an antique store and seen the juice glasses just like the ones your great grandmother served juice in? Those glasses hold about three ounces of fresh squeezed juice, at the most and it was fresh squeezed them. Today people are drinking at least eight ounces of juice daily (if they drink juice) and sometimes 12 to 16 ounces! 16 ounces of juice has about the same amount as a Pepsi or Coke does, it’s 16 tsp of hidden sugar. It’s no wonder people struggle with immune function. You may be asking, “Why it is advisable to reduce your sugar consumption?” We talk about no sugar, no sugar, no sugar on this show all the time, but why?

SHELBY:  I have some very old, yet very relevant research that I would like to share with you about our phagocyte activity. We have talked about phagocytes on Dishing Up Nutrition before, but let me refresh your memory about what they are. Phagocytes are the part of your white blood cells that go out and attack bacteria and viruses. They are the little pac-man of your immune system. The research reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 1973, nearly 45 years ago, found that phagocyte activity is reduced by 50% for five hours following eating high sugar foods.

DAR: So if you had a breakfast of cereal, toast and juice that’s a high sugar breakfast.

SHELBY: So if after that you get exposed to a virus or your immune system takes a dip from over consumption of high sugar foods, the shingles virus lying dormant in your body can rear its ugly head and you can have a shingles outbreak.

DAR: For example, rather than eating an immune boosting breakfast of eggs, vegetables and good fat, you fall back into your old bad habits and have a glass of juice, a bowl or cereal and an English muffin. We hear that all the once in a while, people will say “I know I shouldn’t eat that, but I just had to.” Guess what? You have just consumed 28 teaspoons of hidden sugar that can negatively affect your immune function and allow that shingles virus to come out of its dormant hiding place and turn into a full-blown shingles outbreak! It’s kind of interesting, sometimes when people are in this weakened immune place, all it takes is maybe not sleeping one night. All it takes is a breakfast like I just talked about, high-sugar, or going to a fast food and having French fries, which is actually high sugar and bad fat, so we never know exactly what is going to cause that shingles or that cold sore outbreak.

SHELBY: Another one I think about stressing the immune system, unfortunately from personal experience, is skipping meals. So maybe you didn’t have cereal for breakfast, or didn’t have anything for breakfast, that’s also putting your immune system at risk.

DAR: We often talk about when you skip meals your blood sugar drops and that is one of the most stressful events you can do to your body. People have a hard time wrapping their head around that.

SHELBY: It’s taken me a long time to practice self-care to eat breakfast to support my immune system.

DAR: It’s a habit moving you forward. Next week we’re having a rerun on pain and inflammation or maybe I’m wrong? I think I’m wrong possibly.

SHELBY: So next week listen to Dishing Up Nutrition, it’ll be a surprise.

DAR: Always our goal at Nutritional Weight & Wellness is to help each and every person experience better health through eating real food. It’s a simple, yet powerful message. Eating real food is life-changing. Thank you for listening and have a good food day! Shelby, thank you for doing the show with me and listeners, thank you for listening. 

SHELBY: Have a good food day! 

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