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A Deep Dive into Epstein Barr Virus (& My Personal Struggle With the Disease)

What if I told you a virus has infected nearly 95% of the global population, but very few people even realize they have it? Its name is Epstein Barr virus, and it is an opportunistic pathogen, meaning it often waits for the perfect opportunity to strike and wreak havoc on your health. You may think, “Great, another virus to worry about alongside COVID-19”. But this virus had been around long before COVID-19 emerged. In fact, it was first discovered in 1964 and has recently resurfaced in mainstream media. Although Epstein Barr virus is older than COVID-19, recent research reveals that the two viruses are linked. More specifically, an infection with COVID-19 has been shown to reignite the class of viruses that the Epstein Barr virus falls under. 

For many individuals with autoimmune conditions (including myself), viruses like Epstein Barr virus are often the underlying missing link that triggers the onset of disease. Therefore, by understanding what Epstein Barr is, how it affects your immune system, and ways to manage it, you can begin to regain your health.

What is Epstein Barr Virus? 

Epstein Barr virus (EBV) is the fourth of eight known herpes viruses that affect human immune cells. Typically, EBV enters the oral cavity through saliva during kissing or food-sharing. But, it can also be transmitted through sexual contact, blood transfusions, and organ transplants. 

Once inside the body, EBV mainly targets and infects white blood cells called B-cells. Under normal conditions, B-cells help your body identify and fight harmful bacteria and viruses that would otherwise make you sick. However, when EBV attaches to B-cells, they are unable to carry out their normal immune-supporting function to ward off EBV. Instead, EBV uses B-cells to replicate their genetic material in order to make and spread new copies of the virus. This process also transforms B cells into memory B cells, which act as safe places for EBV to hide from your immune system (talk about a stealthy virus!). As a result, these infected memory B cells either move into the bloodstream or become latent (deactivated) until a trigger reactivates the virus—potentially causing symptoms to arise. 

What are the Signs and Symptoms? 

Symptoms of EBV often vary from person to person. For example, young children infected with the virus generally experience very few symptoms, if any at all. It isn’t until adolescence and adulthood that EBV symptoms may become more apparent and persistent. After exposure to the virus, it usually takes anywhere from four to six weeks for the following signs and symptoms to appear:

  • Fatigue, which may become chronic  
  • Sore and inflamed throat 
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Skin rash
  • Fever 
  • Muscle weakness
  • Migraines
  • Enlarged liver or spleen

Once the initial symptoms subside, the virus does not completely go away. As mentioned above, EBV is known to live dormant in B-cells until a trigger (like stress, nutrient deficiencies, hormonal changes, environmental factors, or other infections, e.g., COVID-19) wakes the virus up from its temporary slumber. For those with weakened immune systems, EBV reactivation can lead to the resurgence of symptoms. 

There are also rare instances when individuals with weakened immunity develop chronic active Epstein Barr virus (CAEBV), a condition characterized by the chronic overproduction of white blood cells. Symptoms of CAEBV include liver dysfunction, anemia, enlarged spleen, swollen lymph nodes, decreased platelets, and increased infections.

What Conditions Are Linked to Epstein Barr Virus?

The most common condition associated with EBV is infectious mononucleosis, better known as “mono” or “kissing disease.” Teenagers and young adults are more susceptible to contracting this highly contagious disease through close social contact, kissing, and shared utensils. In fact, many of the symptoms outlined above affect at least one out of every four high school and college students. 

But, because the virus can switch on and off throughout a person’s lifetime, recurrent EBV infections have been linked to several systemic autoimmune diseases, cancers, and other conditions including:

  • Multiple sclerosis (MS)
  • Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE)
  • Sjogren’s syndrome (SS)
  • Rheumatoid arthritis (RA)
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
  • Celiac disease
  • Type 1 diabetes
  • Autoimmune hemolytic anemia
  • Myocarditis
  • Encephalitis
  • Pancreatitis 
  • B-cell lymphomas 
  • Nasopharyngeal cancers
  • Hashimoto’s thyroiditis

From my personal experience, when EBV gets switched on, it reignites my Hashimoto’s, raises my antibodies, and leads to chronic fatigue and migraines. Therefore, I stay on top of the condition by managing EBV flare-ups (more on how I do this below). But, before managing the symptoms, it’s vital to test for EBV to determine whether the infection is acute or chronic.

Testing for Epstein Barr Virus 

When it comes to testing for EBV, your healthcare provider will look for different antibodies (aka immunoglobulins or Ig), which are protective proteins produced by your body in response to EBV antigens. An antigen is simply any foreign substance or toxin that elicits an immune response. And in this case, EBV is the foreign intruder. By assessing the following EBV antibodies in the blood, your healthcare provider can determine whether the EBV infection is recent, past, or chronic. 


EBV Test

Description

EBV IgM Antibody Test

IgM antibodies are the first antibodies your body produces when exposed to new pathogens like EBV. Therefore, this test measures the presence of IgM antibodies against a recent or acute EBV infection.

EBV IgG Antibody Test

IgG antibodies are produced following the initial infection, and your body stores a “blueprint” of these antibodies in the event you are exposed to EBV again. Therefore, this test indicates past exposure to EBV. 

EBV Nuclear Antigen (EBNA) IgG Antibody Test

EBNA IgG antibodies appear around two to four months after the onset of symptoms and remain for a lifetime. Therefore, this test indicates a past or resolved EBV infection.

EBV Early Antigen (EA) IgG Antibody Test

Early Antigen (EA) antibodies are produced during active or reactive EBV infections. Therefore, this test can help reveal if an EBV infection is ongoing or chronic. 

Supplements to Manage Epstein Barr Virus 

At present, there is no known “cure” for EBV. But the good news is there are ways to manage the symptoms and reduce the amount of EBV circulating in the body, which is referred to as your viral load. Upon learning about the connection between EBV and Hashimoto’s, I began to incorporate the following supplements to lower my viral load and support my immune system.

  • Natural Immunogenics Bio-Active Silver Hydrosol  – Colloidal silver is often touted for its excellent antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral properties. For these reasons, it’s one of my go-to supplements to lower the viral load.   
  • Eidon Ionized Zinc – Zinc is an immune-enhancing mineral many of us are deficient in, and it can become depleted when the body is fighting infections. Therefore, I reach for this ionized zinc to strengthen my immune system and protect my thyroid from viral inflammation.
  • Quicksilver Liposomal CThe liposomal form of vitamin C is better absorbed than traditional vitamin C supplements. With increased absorption, this supplement is great for supporting the immune system and flushing out viral toxins from the liver.
  • Pure Encapsulations Lysinel-Lysine is an amino acid that plays a critical role in the body’s immune defenses. In the case of EBV, it can help lower viral load and act as a central nervous system anti-inflammatory.
  • Nature’s Answer Licorice Root ExtractLicorice root extract contains flavonoids, triterpenoids, and coumarins that act as powerful antiviral and antioxidant agents, which may lower viral production. It also contains a key ingredient called glycyrrhizin, which may help your body cope with stress and combat adrenal fatigue. However, glycyrrhizin can also increase blood pressure. Therefore, those with high blood pressure are not advised to take licorice root. 
  • Thorne CurcuminAlthough curcumin is well known for its anti-inflammatory and wound-healing properties, it is also a potent antiviral. 
  • CODEAGE Liposomal GlutathioneGlutathione is one of the most powerful antioxidants in the human body. This incredible compound helps the liver remove foreign chemicals and toxins. 
  • Raw Revelations ColostrumOften referred to as liquid gold, colostrum is the first milk produced by mammals following birth. It is fantastic for supporting immune health and tackling viral infections. 

***

If you suspect that Epstein Barr virus is the underlying cause of your unexplained health woes, I strongly encourage you to get tested. Once you’ve determined whether your EBV infection is acute or chronic, you can begin to manage the symptoms and get ahead of a possible resurgence with my supplement recommendations above. As always, it is best to consult your doctor before adding new supplements to your dietary regime. And if you need help with proper dosages, consider booking a one-on-one session with me here.

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