Did you know, you probably have a virus silently lurking in the shadows and making itself at home within your body? It’s called the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) and an estimated 90 percent of us have it.
Fortunately, for most of us, this microscopic invader lies dormant – like a sleeping giant. But sometimes, something can trigger EBV to reactivate – causing it to rear its ugly head and begin wreaking havoc on your body.
Today, we’re going to explore exactly what the Epstein-Barr virus is, how it impacts your health, and most importantly – what you can do to treat and combat this stealthy viral invader. Let’s dive in.
What Exactly Is the Epstein-Barr Virus and What Does It Do?
The Epstein-Barr virus is part of the herpes family and is also known as human herpesvirus 4. Usually passed through saliva, EBV is the cause of infectious mononucleosis – also known as “mono” or “kissing disease”.Typically, teenagers come down with this condition and first notice there’s a problem when they experience extreme fatigue. Interestingly, extreme fatigue can also cause reactivated Epstein-Barr virus symptoms.1
Though there are many conditions where EBV is the cause or a trigger, extreme fatigue is a unifying symptom that occurs in most cases. Symptoms of an active Epstein-Barr virus, include:2,3
- Extreme fatigue
- Sore throat
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Enlarged spleen
- Swollen liver
- Emotional disturbances and stressors
- Autoimmune diseases, like Hashimoto’s thyroiditis
Now let’s dive a little deeper into how this microscopic virus can trigger a complex condition like autoimmunity.
How Epstein-Barr Virus Causes Autoimmune Disease
Autoimmune conditions are caused when an overactive immune system begins attacking healthy tissue. This immune overactivation and confusion can be set off by an infection – including EBV. You see, CD8+T cells are types of white blood cells your body uses to keep the EBV virus in check.
When there’s an impairment or a deficiency of these cells (which can be triggered by age, estrogen levels, vitamin D deficiency, certain medications and treatments, and poor immune system function) EBV is free to run rampant and throw your entire immune system off-kilter.4,5
So, what can be done to treat Epstein-Barr? If it’s so common, surely there’s a simple explanation or Epstein-Barr virus cure?
Treating the Epstein Barr Virus
There is no known cure for the Epstein-Barr virus. Rather, the best way to tackle Epstein-Barr is actually quite similar to how we deal with an imbalance of gut microbes – by manipulating the environment so balance is restored. The focus of EBV treatment is returning the creature back to its sleeping or dormant state and getting viral levels in check – not necessarily killing it.
And the very best way to accomplish this is by manipulating the condition of your body – the environment where the Epstein-Barr virus lives. When I discover a patient of mine has Epstein-Barr virus, here are the things I consider:6,7,8
- Dr. Jill’s protocol for treating EBV:
- A clean diet and proper nutrition: This reduces inflammation and immune system burden. We eliminate gluten, dairy, and allergens, and start a plant-based Paleo diet. Sugar is one of the most potent immunosuppressives so that must be eliminated at all costs.
- Heal the gut: Healing the gut is a priority for anyone dealing with EBV. Toxins can leak through damaged gastrointestinal lining and cause the immune system to overreact. This process is also known as endotoxemia, driven by LPS.
- Eliminate any infections: Check for any coexisting infections and work to treat these. I often think of it as “infectious burden” and work to decrease the load on the immune system.
- Reduce your toxic burden: We are bombarded by tens of thousands of chemicals every day, so it’s critical to Reduce Your Daily Toxin Exposure.
- Optimize detox pathways: This includes supporting the liver, kidneys, and colon and may be supported by various nutritional supplements and other homeopathic drainage remedies. Learn more about effective detox methods right here.
- Improve your sleep habits: This is essential because so many repairing and detoxification processes occur during the deepest stages of sleep. I advise no less than 8 hours per night or as much sleep as required to wake up refreshed without an alarm clock. If falling asleep and/or staying asleep is a struggle for you, be sure to check out some of my favorite all-natural sleep hacks.
- Reduce stress: Stress is a major cause of immune system dysfunction – it could even be what awakened your EBV in the first place! You must work to reduce stress – your health depends on it. Try prayer, meditation, or spending time in nature. Self-care must be a priority when it comes to addressing EBV reactivation.
- Herbal supplements: Herbs such as Ashwagandha, licorice, St. John’s wort, lemon balm, ginseng, and holy basil may be used for immune system support and for their antiviral and adaptogenic properties.
When viruses diminish due to these treatments it isn’t because any of these things attack the virus, but instead, they help put your body in a state that isn’t ideal for the virus to reproduce. Hopefully, this strengthens your immune system and returns this typically harmless virus back to its benign state.
Ineffective Epstein-Barr Treatments
Though I prefer to offer solutions to health conditions, I want to briefly touch on some treatment protocols for EBV that are not effective because there’s a lot of misunderstanding surrounding this virus. In general, the following treatments only temporarily stop symptoms and only in some people:9
- Antiviral therapy such as ganciclovir and vidarabine.
- Immunosuppressive agents such as cyclosporine and corticosteroids.
- Immunomodulatory therapy such as interferon alpha and interferon-gamma.
- Cytotoxic chemotherapy such as anthracyclines, etoposide, cyclophosphamide, vincristine, and prednisone.
- Infusions of cytotoxic T and lymphokine-activated lymphocytes.
This isn’t to suggest that your doctor shouldn’t temporarily recommend some of these as a tool in treatment. However, it’s important to know that none of these are by any means an Epstein-Barr virus cure and you should proceed with extreme caution.
Find a Functional Medicine Doctor with Experience in Epstein-Barr Treatments
The science surrounding the Epstein-Barr virus is developing daily. If you think you might have a condition due to EBV, it’s important to find a doctor who’s experienced in conditions related to the reactivation of this virus. If you need help finding a functional medicine doctor, I’ve made a helpful guide to get you started – How to Choose a Good Integrative and Functional Medicine Doctor.
The Epstein-Barr virus is a significant condition I wish more people knew about. But fortunately, you are not at the mercy of this pernicious pathogen. By following the steps outlined in this article, seeking the guidance of an experienced practitioner, and supporting your body and immune system to function optimally, it’s more than possible to keep this virus in check.
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In Unexpected: Finding Resilience through Functional Medicine, Science, and Faith, Dr. Jill Carnahan shares her story of facing life-altering illness, fighting for her health, and overcoming sickness using both science and faith so that others can learn to live their own transformative stories.
Dr. Jill’s riveting and compassionate exploration of healing through functional medicine demonstrates how to replace darkness and fear with hope and find profound healing, unconditional love, and unexpected miracles in the process.
- About Mono (Infectious Mononucleosis) | CDC
- Fatigue in Medical Residents Leads to Reactivation of Herpes Virus Latency (nih.gov)
- Emotional repression, stress disclosure responses, and Epstein-Barr viral capsid antigen titers – PubMed (nih.gov)
- The human T cell immune response to Epstein-Barr virus – PubMed (nih.gov)
- CD8+ T-Cell Deficiency, Epstein-Barr Virus Infection, Vitamin D Deficiency, and Steps to Autoimmunity: A Unifying Hypothesis (hindawi.com)
- Optimal Treatment for Chronic Active Epstein-Barr Virus Disease (nih.gov)
- Two cases of chronic active Epstein-Barr virus infection in which EBV-specific cytotoxic T lymphocyte was induced after allogeneic bone marrow transplantation – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Chronic active Epstein-Barr virus infection (CAEBV) successfully treated with allogeneic peripheral blood stem cell transplantation – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Optimal Treatment for Chronic Active Epstein-Barr Virus Disease (nih.gov)
* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The product mentioned in this article are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The information in this article is not intended to replace any recommendations or relationship with your physician. Please review references sited at end of article for scientific support of any claims made.