Eating nutrient-dense foods when you have shingles may support your body’s immune function. You may want to avoid processed foods and other foods that cause inflammation.

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Shingles, sometimes called herpes zoster, is the reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus that causes chickenpox.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 99 percent of American adults born before 1980 have had chickenpox, but only about 1 in 3 adults develop shingles in their lifetime. The chance for developing shingles increases as you get older.

Shingles typically causes a painful rash on one side of your body or face. The CDC says the rash contains blisters that scab over after 7 to 10 days.

Avoiding foods that impair your body’s immune system may help you shorten the duration of your shingles outbreak.

Some believe that increasing your intake of the amino acid lysine and decreasing your intake of arginine may also help your body clear the virus faster, though more research is needed.

Keep reading to find out which foods you should avoid eating if you’re having a shingles outbreak.

If you’re experiencing shingles, it’s a good idea to avoid foods that can impair your immune function.

High glycemic carbohydrates

High glycemic carbohydrates quickly break down in your body and create a rapid spike in your blood sugar. Spikes in your blood sugar trigger the release of inflammatory molecules and free radicals, which can stress out your body.

Including too many high glycemic carbohydrates in your diet can potentially compromise your immune system and increase inflammation. Even a single high glycemic meal can promote increased inflammation.

Some examples of high glycemic foods include:

  • candies and sweets
  • cakes and baked goods
  • sugary drinks
  • sugary cereals
  • sugary sauces
  • ice cream
  • white bread
  • white rice

Highly processed foods

Highly processed foods are often high in salt, added sugars, and omega 6 fatty acids that may trigger inflammation and weaken your immune system.

Omega-6 fatty acids are essential, but most people get an excessive number in their diet. Omega-6 fatty acids promote inflammation, while omega-3 fatty acids inhibit it.

There’s some research that excessively high salt intake may impair your immune system. In a 2015 study, a group of six men ate:

  • 12 grams of salt for 50 days
  • 9 grams of salt for 50 days
  • 6 grams of salt per day for 50 days
  • 12 grams of salt for the final 30 days

The researchers found that, when the participants ate 12 grams of salt per day, they had higher levels of a type of white blood cell called monocytes in their blood. They also had high levels of IL-23, IL-6 and lower IL-10. Altogether, these markers indicate excessive inflammation and immune response.

Examples of highly processed foods include:

  • sweetened cereals
  • high-fat chips and snack foods
  • sugary energy drinks and sodas
  • cookies, cakes, pies, and pastries
  • high-fat, low-fiber breads and crackers
  • deep-fried foods


Alcohol has the potential to impair almost every aspect of your health, including your immune system.

Most medications used to treat shingles don’t contain specific alcohol warnings. But it’s still a good idea to avoid mixing alcohol and medications as much as possible.

Nutrient-dense foods, especially foods high in zinc and vitamins A, B12, C, and E, can help support your immune system. Consuming lysine may also help inhibit the virus.


Lysine is an amino acid that’s thought to inhibit the growth of some viruses, including herpes zoster.

Some people think eating a diet high in lysine may help treat shingles and other herpes viruses. At this time, there’s not enough evidence showing that increasing your intake of this amino acid can improve shingles symptoms.

More research is needed to understand the effects of lysine on shingles.

Foods high in zinc and vitamins A, B12, C, and E

Eating a well-balanced diet can help you prevent nutrient deficiencies that might weaken your immune system.

The following are particularly important for maintaining a healthy immune system:

Here are some good sources for each nutrient.

ZincVitamin AVitamin B12Vitamin CVitamin E
red meategg yolksclamsguavasunflower seeds
shellfishbeef liversardinesparsleyalmonds
eggssweet potatofortified cerealskiwirainbow trout
oysterscarrotsmilk or fortified non-dairy milklemonsavocado

Complex carbohydrates

Switching simple carbohydrates for complex carbohydrates can potentially help you lower inflammation and improve your overall health.

Complex carbohydrates contain more fiber. And whole grains provide more nutritional value.

Some forms of complex carbohydrates include:

  • whole grain bread
  • brown rice
  • barley
  • quinoa
  • sweet potato
  • whole oats
  • whole grain pasta
  • whole grain couscous

There’s no cure for shingles. Usually, it’s treated with antiviral medications.

The following home remedies may help you manage symptoms:

  • Cold compress. Soak a cloth or towel in cool water and put it against your rash to help relieve itching and inflammation.
  • Oatmeal bath. An oatmeal bath may help soothe itchy patches and moisturize dry skin. Try mixing 1 cup of oat powder with lukewarm water, and soak in it for about 10 to 15 minutes.
  • Essential oils. You can try mixing about 15 drops of an essential oil with soothing properties — like chamomile, eucalyptus, or tea tree oil — with 1 tablespoon of a carrier oil — like coconut oil. Then apply it to your skin. Alternatively, you can add a few drops of essential oils to a warm bath.
  • Witch hazel. Witch hazel may help you reduce itchiness and inflammation. Witch hazel comes in different forms, like creams, gels, and sprays.
  • Calamine lotion. The CDC recommends applying calamine lotion to your rash to help manage shingles pain and itchiness.

Shingles is a reactivation of the virus that causes chickenpox. It causes an itchy rash that’s typically on one side of your body or face.

Eating a balanced diet that’s low in high glycemic carbohydrates and processed foods can help your immune system fight off the virus.

There’s some research that decreasing arginine intake and increasing your lysine intake may help inhibit growth of the virus, but more research is needed.