5 Foods to Avoid With Shingles

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
  • If you’ve had chickenpox, you’re at risk for developing a painful rash called shingles. The two infections are caused by the same virus, called varicella zoster or, sometimes, herpes zoster. After you’ve had chickenpox, the virus stays in your nervous system and can reappear many years later as shingles. It can take weeks or longer to recover, and some people develop chronic pain afterwards. If you want to reduce your risk of getting shingles and help you recover if you do develop it, you need to keep your immune system strong so it can fight off the virus.

  • 1
    Foods High in Arginine

    Arginine is an amino acid that helps the shingles virus replicate. Chocolate, nuts and seeds, canned tuna, and gelatin all contain high levels of arginine. Other arginine-heavy foods to stay away from are tomatoes, wheat germ, Brussels sprouts, and some fruits including grapes, blackberries and blueberries. If you’re already suffering from shingles, some people suggest lowering your arginine intake can speed recovery, though there’s insufficient scientific evidence to support that at this time.

  • 2
    Foods With Lots of Sugar
    soda in glass with ice cubes on table

    Sugar is bad for the immune system. Sugar hinders a main component of our complex immune response, slowing down the white blood cells that attack pathogens in the body. Besides the obvious culprits like sugary sodas, candy and pastries, sugar can hide in many foods that are highly processed. If you want to boost your immune system to help you fight shingles, lower your sugar intake by reading food labels closely.

  • 3
    Refined Carbohydrates

    Refined carbs rate high on the glycemic index. That means your body digests them quickly, expending energy that can drain your immune response. White bread, white rice and processed flour are some of the worst offenders when it comes to refined carbohydrates. Pasta, sugary cereals, and white potatoes are also on the list. As a general rule, stay away from refined carbs by minimizing the amount of processed food you eat. It will help your immune system fend off a shingles attack.

  • 4
    Saturated Fats
    filet mignon on fancy dinner plate with green herbal sauce and butter

    Avoid saturated fats, which are typically fats that are solid at room temperature, by limiting the amount of fatty meat, butter and cheese you eat. Coconut and palm oils also have a high saturated fat content. Choosing low-fat foods or those with unsaturated fat instead can boost your immune response, and that could help your body keep the chickenpox virus from reactivating and causing shingles.

  • 5
    Man drinking pint of beer

    Alcohol slows your immune system, making it more likely you could develop shingles and making it harder to recover from a shingles attack. Alcohol disrupts the microbiome—the “good” gut bacteria that help us fight infection. It also damages certain structures in the GI tract, including the epithelial cells that line the gut, T cells, and neutrophils, which can weaken the barrier between our gut and the rest of our body. Some researchers report that a weakened gut barrier allows microbes, including viruses, to spread into the circulatory system.

  • 6
    Eat Foods High in Vitamin A, C, E and Zinc

    Vitamins and minerals that boost your immune system may also help you ward off a shingles attack and may help you recover more quickly from one. These include vitamin A, which is good for gut health and is found in carrots, eggs and sweet potatoes. Vitamin C can help you form antibodies to fight infection, and is found in citrus fruit and broccoli. Sunflower seeds contain high levels of both vitamin E and zinc. There is some evidence that vitamin B6, folate, iron and selenium can also help your body ward off the varicella virus.

  • 7
    The Bottom Line

    One in three adults over fifty will have shingles in their lifetime. Ask your doctor about vaccinations against shingles and eat a healthy diet with plenty of lean protein and vegetables. Stay away from processed foods and refined carbs. A strong immune system is your best bet when it comes to heading off shingles, and may help you recover more quickly if you do develop it.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Oct 20
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