Postherpetic neuralgia (PHN) is the most common complication of herpes zoster (HZ). The aim of the present study was to compare the nutritional status of PHN patients with that of healthy controls, and then to identify risk factors for PHN using multivariate multiple logistic regressions. In the present cross-sectional study, we prospectively enrolled fifty PHN patients for at least 3 months and fifty healthy controls. We selected nine circulating nutrients including ionised Ca, Zn, retinol, folic acid, vitamin B12, vitamin C, α-tocopherol, γ-tocopherol and lycopene associated with both immunity and the modulation of neuropathic pain, and measured their concentrations in plasma/serum. Concentrations of ionised Ca, Zn, vitamin C and vitamin B12 were significantly lower in PHN patients than in controls after excluding those patients receiving supplements since the outbreak of HZ. The prevalence of either mild/marginal or severe deficiencies for any of the nine selected circulating nutrients in PHN patients (92 %) was much higher than that in controls (46 %) (P < 0·001). Lower concentrations of vitamin C ( ≤ 45·0 μmol/l), ionised Ca ( ≤ 1·05 mmol/l) and Zn ( ≤ 0·91 g/l) were found to increase independently the risk of PHN using binary variable (dichotomy) analyses with both PHN patients and controls in a multivariate logistic regression analysis. No significant correlations existed between the risks of PHN and the concentrations of retinol, folic acid, vitamin B12, lycopene or α:γ-tocopherol ratios. Thus, lower concentrations of circulating nutrients, namely vitamin C, ionised Ca or Zn, are probably a risk factor in Taiwanese patients with PHN.