In Autoimmune Conditions, Functional Medicine

If you have an autoimmune condition you can get better with functional medicine. Here’s why.

Simply put, functional medicine focuses on discovering and treating the root causes or the “why” behind “how” your autoimmune condition developed in the first place.

When you discover and treat your root causes you remove the obstacles standing in the way of your best health. You not only feel better but you get better.

From a functional medicine perspective, the root causes of autoimmune conditions generally fall into just a few categories.

These include: gut imbalances (like a leaky gut), food sensitivities (like gluten), nutrient deficiencies, stress and hormone imbalances, toxins or issues with detoxification and chronic infections (such as viruses — like Epstein Barr virus or EBV, bacteria, Lyme, parasites or mold).

Usually the root causes are multifactorial — meaning it’s not just one thing. That’s why working with a functional medicine healthcare provider can be so beneficial. They are trained to look for all the root cause contributors (and they have solutions and strategies to get you feeling your best).

Chronic infections, such as the Epstein Barr virus, are one of the most frequently considered triggers of autoimmune conditions. There are many types of chronic infections but we’ll just focus on one of them — the Epstein Barr virus (EBV).

Research continues to show that EBV can interact with the immune system in a way that makes a genetically susceptible person more prone to developing an autoimmune condition — like lupus, multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto’s and inflammatory bowel disease (including Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis).

Not only can EBV trigger an autoimmune condition to develop but it can continue to influence your immune system. This makes it hard for your body to heal so you can feel good again. 

Here’s what you need to know about the Epstein Barr virus (and what to do if you think you have it).


What Is Epstein Barr Virus?

Epstein Barr virus (EBV) is the virus that causes infectious mononucleosis, or “mono”. You have likely been exposed to this virus as 95% of those tested show they have been infected in the past.

The CDC suggests that about 1 in 4 people who get infected with the Epstein Barr virus develop infectious mono. So it’s possible you were infected with the virus but never developed mono. 

Typical symptoms of mono include: fever, sore throat, headaches, swollen lymph nodes, fatigue and a body rash. Symptoms can be mistaken for the flu which is why many people may not remember having it. It typically infects children, teenagers and college students.

Unlike many other viruses, the Epstein Barr virus doesn’t leave your body as you get better but it will go latent or dormant in your body. In other words, although the virus will remain in you body for your lifetime it should stay “asleep”.


How Does Epstein Barr Virus Trigger Autoimmune Conditions?

Although there are many theories as to how EBV triggers autoimmune conditions there’s still a lot unknown.

Some believe in susceptible individuals the Epstein Barr virus can “wake up” and become reactivated in your body. This can happen during a stressful time in your life (such as a divorce or traumatic event) but it can also happen if you’re run down from burning the candle at both ends or not taking good care of yourself.

When the virus reactivates, you may feel sick and have a fever, fatigue, or swollen lymph nodes. Or you may not feel anything at all. When it’s reactivated EBV can influence your immune system and possibly trigger an autoimmune condition. 

Another theory suggests that EBV may not need to be reactivated to trigger an autoimmune condition. Studies suggest the “latent” or “sleeping” virus may influence the “autoimmune genes”. In other words, the genes that cause autoimmune conditions to develop may be “under the influence” of the sleeping EBV.

Regardless of the “how” the connection between EBV and autoimmune conditions is strong. If you have an autoimmune condition, it’s important to consider that EBV may be a piece of the puzzle.


How Do You Test for Epstein Barr Virus?

If you’re suspicious that EBV has become reactivated in your body your healthcare provider can order a simple blood test to confirm this.

Your provider must order a complete 4-part Epstein Barr panel (not just a “mono” test) which will tell if you if it’s reactivated. You can also test the viral load in your body which will tell you how active the virus is in your body.

As mentioned above, EBV may not need to be reactivated to trigger an autoimmune condition. So testing negative for reactivated virus does not necessarily rule out that EBV may still be influencing your health (and your autoimmune condition).


How Do You Treat Epstein Barr Virus?

Once you’ve been infected with EBV it never leaves your body so there is no “cure” for EBV but you can put it back into its dormant state where it’s “asleep”.

There are two parts to the treatment. First, you must work to optimize your overall health and second, you’ll want to treat EBV specifically.

You must improve your overall health so your immune system can keep the virus asleep and keep it from reactivating. It’s not enough to just treat or “attack” the virus as it can continue to keep reactivating anytime your body is under stress. That just means you’ll have to keep treating the virus over and over again.

Work with your functional medicine healthcare provider to create a plan for your ideal health. You’ll want to optimize your sleep, stress levels, dietary choices and nutritional status, hormone imbalances, and gut health. You’ll also want to address your mental, emotional and spiritual health. For example, good relationships, connection with community, and self-love will help you feel your best.

Additionally, you’ll need to address the Epstein Barr virus specifically. You’ll want to use targeted supplements or medications that are anti-viral and work on EBV. This’ll keep the virus in check and give you the best chance of keeping it dormant. Common treatments for EBV include: monolaurin, humic acid, and lysine but there are others that are used as well.

You’ll also want to work with your healthcare provider to be sure you don’t have other chronic infections in addition to EBV. 


Some Final Thoughts.

Even though there is a strong correlation with Epstein Barr virus and the development of some autoimmune conditions, there’s still a lot we don’t know. 

Although you likely have EBV in your body it’s not always easy to determine if it’s one of your “root causes”. However, treating it may help you feel better and you may be able to reduce your antibody levels (which can help reverse your autoimmune condition).

If you’re suspicious that EBV is triggering your autoimmune condition work with a healthcare provider that understands the nuances of this virus as well as the limitations with testing and treatment.

Be sure to talk to your healthcare provider about the best way to optimize your overall health so that your body is best equipped for healing.

If EBV is part of the puzzle, you can treat it and get better. And, that means you’ll be back on the road to feeling your best. Sounds pretty good, right?


Would you like to learn more about how functional medicine can help you feel better? Check out my FREE Email Series, 7 Keys to Reversing Autoimmune Conditions, you’ll learn:

  • why reversal and remission are possible for you,
  • what simple things you can do to feel better soon,
  • how to create a lifetime of wellness
  • and, so much more.
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