The Epstein-Barr virus is a member of the herpes family and is considered one of the most common viruses on the planet. Epstein-Barr is found all over the world, and most people will contract the virus sometime during their life. The National Institutes of Health report that approximately 95 percent of the population has been infected with the virus.
Most people become infected with the virus during infancy or early childhood. The Epstein-Barr virus is typically spread through bodily fluids like saliva and causes a number of illnesses, including infectious mononucleosis. Unlike other viruses that are destroyed by the immune system, the Epstein-Barr virus can remain dormant for years, and then suddenly reactivate.
Symptoms of Epstein-Barr Virus Infection
When you have been infected by the Epstein-Barr virus, you may experience symptoms similar to strep throat or the flu, which includes fever, sore throat, body aches, skin rash, enlarged spleen, headache, swollen tonsils, swollen lymph nodes, and fatigue. Typically, the Epstein-Barr infection resolves itself; however, some individuals can experience more serious symptoms that affect their nervous system, brain, and spinal cord.
Once you have been exposed to the Epstein-Barr virus, it remains inactive in your body for the rest of your life. Certain individuals will experience a reactivation of the virus, which typically does not cause any symptoms; however, certain individuals can experience a host of issues due to Epstein-Barr reactivation. When your immune system is healthy, it creates specialized immune cells, including T cells and CD4 cells that keep the Epstein-Barr virus dormant. If your immune system becomes compromised, it can allow the virus to reactivate. Oftentimes, individuals with weakened immune systems will experience the following symptoms.
- Abdominal pain caused by an enlarged spleen
- Autoimmune disorders, including multiple sclerosis, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, etc.
- Cancer, including lymphoma
- Chronic joint pain
- Chronic muscle pain
- Parkinson’s Disease
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Tinnitus (ringing in your ears)
Causes of Reactivation of Epstein-Barr Virus
When your immune system is not functioning properly, the risk of Epstein-Barr viral reactivation substantially increases. There are many reasons why your immune system may not be functioning properly. Let’s take a look at these and what you can do to improve your immunity and decrease the risk of a reactivation of the Epstein-Barr virus.
- Illness – Your immune system is designed to activate when there is an infection or disease in your body. If you are suffering from a chronic illness, your immune system can become overtaxed and unable to fight as well as it should, thus increasing your risk of reactivation. Maintaining good health through supplementation, a nutritious diet, and an exercise program can help boost immunity.
- Stress – Stress impacts every aspect of your life, including your mental, physical, and spiritual health. Learning how to counteract the effects of stress on the body and mind can help reduce the risk of a compromised immune system. Stress relief practices, including daily exercise, meditation, and journaling can help reduce the effects of stress on the immune system.
- Hormonal Imbalances – Your body is intrinsically designed to run smoothly. Unfortunately, hormone imbalances caused by menopause, an unhealthy diet, a sedentary lifestyle, and poor sleep habits can increase your risk of illness. Your functional medicine doctor can help balance your hormones using a combination of bioidentical hormone replacement therapy, anti-inflammatory diet, daily exercise, and stress management techniques.
- Nutritional Deficiencies – If you are not giving your body the nutrients that it needs to maintain optimal immune health, you are at an increased risk of experiencing a reactivation of the Epstein-Barr virus. Some of the top vitamins and minerals needed to boost immunity include vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin E, folic acid, iron, selenium, and zinc. Taking a vitamin and mineral supplement and eating foods rich in antioxidants can help to improve immunity and reduce the risk of an Epstein-Barr reactivation. A licensed integrative nutritionist can help with your nutrition needs.
- Toxin Exposure – Toxins are found in our soil, the air we breathe, our foods, and our water sources. If the body is not healthy enough to detoxify, these toxins can build up in your body, weaken your immune system, and increase inflammation. Eating an anti-inflammatory diet, drinking plenty of fluids, exercising daily, and getting the recommended amount of sleep can help the body detoxify.
- Leaky Gut – Leaky gut syndrome happens when the lining of your intestines develops holes or cracks. These cracks allow undigested food particles, microbes, and toxins to enter your bloodstream, causing inflammation. As inflammation in the body increases, immunity decreases. As the immune system is no longer able to fight off infections as well, the risk of the Epstein-Barr virus reactivating increases. Take a probiotic supplement, increase your high fiber food intake, reduce stress, and reduce your consumption of refined carbohydrates.
Functional Medicine Approach to Epstein-Barr Reactivation
Epstein-Barr viral reactivation can be confirmed using a blood test that will look for specific antibodies. Unfortunately, the majority of adults have Epstein-Barr antibodies due to a past infection. An integrative medical provider may run a variety of tests to determine whether or not the antibodies are elevated. If the antibodies test confirms an elevation, this is indicative of a reactivation of the Epstein-Barr virus.
There is no cure for the Epstein-Barr virus; however, integrative medicine can help return the virus to its dormant state. Here are some ways functional medicine addresses Epstein-Barr reactivation.
- Reduce Systemic Inflammation – Inflammation can be caused by making poor food choices like processed foods, drinking too much alcohol, and exposure to chemicals like artificial sweeteners. Functional medicine embraces whole food nutrition to reduce inflammation throughout the body and promote healing.
- Reversing the Effects of High Blood Glucose Levels – High glucose levels will damage the lining in your blood vessels as well as damaging your mitochondria. Reducing blood sugar levels through dietary management and daily exercise helps strengthen the body to actively fight the Epstein-Barr virus.
- Embracing Good Sleep Hygiene – Your body requires between seven to nine hours of sleep each night. During this time, the body repairs itself, and the immune system resets. If you are not getting enough sleep, it is important to practice good sleep hygiene that includes going to bed at the same time each night, waking up at the same time every day, turning off electronics before bedtime, and preparing your bedroom for sleep (turning down the temperature a couple of degrees, using room darkening curtains, and a white noise machine).
- Quelling Stress – Stress impacts every aspect of your health. When you experience chronic stress, your adrenal glands will pump cortisol into your body. Cortisol causes increased inflammation throughout the body and reduces inflammation. Chronic stress also alters the microbiome of the gut, which can increase your susceptibility to infections, including the reactivation of the Epstein-Barr virus.
How Can We Help?
When it comes to treating reactivated Epstein-Barr, the first thing you must do is to stop the virus from replicating. This can be accomplished by enhancing the immune system through nutritional supplementation, a healthy diet, exercise, and rest. Finally, probiotic supplementation along with stress relief will reduce inflammation. Our integrative providers can create a personalized treatment plan for overcoming fatigue and other symptoms that accompany Epstein Barr Reactivation.