If you have an autoimmune condition, you want to not only feel better but you want to actually get better.
When you discover and treat the reasons you developed an autoimmune disease — aka your “root causes” — you’ll remove the obstacles standing in the way of your best health.
From a functional medicine perspective, the root causes of autoimmune conditions generally fall into just a few categories.
These include: stress and hormone imbalances, toxins or issues with detoxification, allergens or food sensitivities (like gluten), nutrient deficiencies, gut issues (like leaky gut) and chronic infections (such as viruses — like Epstein Barr virus or EBV, bacteria, Lyme, parasites or mold).
Chronic infections are one of the most frequently considered triggers of autoimmune conditions. And while there are many types of chronic infections we’ll just focus on one of them — the Epstein Barr virus (EBV).
EBV has been connected to several autoimmune diseases such as: lupus (SLE), multiple sclerosis (MS), type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), autoimmune hepatitis, Hashimoto’s, Graves disease and inflammatory bowel disease (including Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis). (1, 2)
Not only can EBV trigger an autoimmune condition to develop but it can continue to influence your immune system — making it harder for your body to heal.
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?
The Epstein Barr virus (EBV) is the virus that causes infectious mononucleosis, or “mono”. You have likely been exposed to this virus as 95% of adults tested show they have been infected in the past.
The CDC suggests that about 1 in 4 people who get infected with EBV develop infectious mono. So it’s possible you were infected with the Epstein Barr virus but never developed mono. (3)
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 don’t realize they actually had mono. It typically infects children, teenagers and college students.
Unlike some 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” and no longer cause symptoms.
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, as is usually the case, 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 the “sleeping” virus may influence “autoimmune genes”. In other words, the genes that cause autoimmune conditions to develop may be “under the influence” of the sleeping EBV. (4)
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 which will tell you if it’s reactivated — your doctor can’t just order a “mono” test. You can also test the viral load in your body which will tell you how active the virus is in your body. Insurance will usually pay for these tests.
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” and no longer causing problems.
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 prevent it from reactivating. It’s not enough to just treat or “attack” the virus as it can keep reactivating anytime your body is under stress. You’ll have to keep treating the virus over and over again.
This is why many people with autoimmune disease never get well — they only treat part of the puzzle. It’s not enough to just treat a root cause or two. If you don’t also work on building a strong foundation of health you’ll likely not achieve the great health you’re hoping for. That’s why we developed The Anderson Approach® — which address all aspects of your health and helps you heal from autoimmune disease.
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.
There are many different supplements and approaches to treating EBV. There’s not one specific protocol to follow or just one approach.
Work with your functional medicine provider to find the best plan for you. Usually, it’s not necessary to use a long list of supplements — often, a few that are best suited for you work great.
Some common anti-viral supplements:
- Humic Acid
- Olive Leaf
- Vitamin C
You’ll also want to work with your healthcare provider to be sure you don’t have other chronic infections in addition to EBV. More often than not, there are several chronic infections that are involved with autoimmune disease.
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 functional medicine 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?