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by Dr. Will Cole
Some of the top health issues that I coach people around the world with are thyroid problems, autoimmune conditions, and brain issues like anxiety, depression, and fatigue. So, it is my passion and life’s mission to get to the root issues that impact these problems so that I can better help my patients.
I have written in the past how microbiome problems such as leaky gut syndrome , toxins , poor diet , and stress can be pieces of the puzzle to chronic health problems. I haven’t directly talked about another piece of the puzzle until now: the viral connection.
Viral infections can range from the common cold to HIV and hepatitis. Viruses are oftentimes the underlying missing link to triggering many health conditions. I am not talking about acute viral infections like the flu (influenza virus) although it could be the case. What I am speaking about are chronic viral infections. Long standing infections that wreak havoc on your health months or years later in life.
The viral infections that I see most are actually part of the same family: The herpes family. When most people hear the word herpes they think of the sexually transmitted disease (STD) or cold sores. There are actually eight identified members of the human herpes virus family so far, though many in the integrative health world consider there to be more varieties. This is also the group of viruses that cause chickenpox and shingles! Herpes is one rough family.
The four members of the herpes family that I see being an underlying trigger with seemingly unrelated health problems are:
- Varicella zoster virus (VZV) /Human Herpes Virus (HHV)-3
- Epstein-Barr virus (EBV)/ HHV- 4
- Cytomegalovirus (CMV)/HHV-5
- Human herpes virus type 6 (HHV-6)
Almost all of us have one or more of these viruses in our bodies, so the variable is not IF we have it, but will it be triggered and when? The name herpes comes from the Greek word ‘herpein’ or ‘to creep’ and that’s exactly what these viral infections do. They can stay dormant for years until an opportunity to strike occurs. A stressful time in your life, leaky gut syndrome, candida overgrowth , adrenal fatigue , or Lyme disease can all be the perfect time for the sleeping, latent viral infection to rise up, reactivate, and wreak havoc throughout your body.
1. Depression and anxiety
Depression and anxiety are two of the top disabilities worldwide. Multiple studies including one in 2014 found an association between anxiety and depression with CMV, although we still don’t understand exactly the mechanism of how it does so. Similar studies have linked EBV with forms of anxiety such as panic attacks and attachment disorders. The virus is also implicated in Lyme disease.
2. Chronic fatigue
Epstein-Barr is the cause of “Mono” (mononucleosis) which causes extreme exhaustion, but it doesn’t stop there. More than one million Americans have Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). These viruses have also been implicated in this debilitating condition.
1. Autoimmune thyroid problems
The most common cause of low thyroid dysfunction in the west is autoimmune reactivity against the thyroid. The most common is Hashimoto’s disease or autoimmune thyroiditis. Hashimoto’s disease or autoimmune thyroiditis. Hashimoto’s is also the most common autoimmune disease in the world. One 2015 study hypothesized that latent EBV hides in the thyroid tissue, and once reactivated, stimulates the immune system to attack the thyroid.
2. Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE)
A Journal of Clinical Rheumatology study found that CMV was a possible trigger for Lupus.
3. Inflammatory Bowel Disorders (IBD)
A study out of the Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology actually found that the higher the level of HHV-6 and CMV that was found, the higher the severity of Inflammatory Bowel Disorders such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.
4. Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
This neurological autoimmune disease affects 2.5 million people worldwide, and millions more have unexplained neurological autoimmune reactivity . EBV is clearly seen in the medical literature as a potential trigger to MS. According to the Journal of Infectious Diseases, a shingles outbreak can nearly quadruple the risk of MS!
5. Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS)
Another neurological autoimmune disease is Guillain-Barré. A Clinical Infectious Diseases study found CMV triggering GBS although the other herpes viruses have also been implicated. Underlying Herpes zoster (shingles) can also be the culprit for other cases of unexplained nerve pain (neuropathy).
6. Alzheimer’s disease (AD)
Researchers have also looked at the viral connection with yet another autoimmune-inflammatory neurological disease, Alzheimer’s. They found an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease with CMV.
What to do next
Again, since the majority of us have these viruses within us, the variable is our own genetic tolerance to them and the number of other stressors our body is under. We are all different with different tolerances to viruses and the other factors I mentioned. Those of us with genetic changes such as MTHFR mutations and other methylation impairments can’t necessarily handle as much as someone who doesn’t. I suggest getting a full viral screen if you have these or other unexplained health problems.
A comprehensive approach to healing is then needed. Healing your gut , dealing with any nutrient deficiencies such as vitamin D, starting an elimination diet to strengthen the immune system, and supporting methylation pathways are all good foundational tools. Natural anti-viral support such as astragalus, olive leaf, larrea tridentata, bee propolis, Melissa officinalis, L-lysine, zinc, and vitamin C can also be effective in the healing process.
If you want to learn more about your own health case please check out our free health evaluation. We offer in person as well as phone and webcam consultations for people across the country and around the world.
I originally wrote this article for Primal Palate.
The information on this website has not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration or any other medical body. We do not aim to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any illness or disease. Information is shared for educational purposes only. You must consult your doctor before acting on any content on this website, especially if you are pregnant, nursing, taking medication, or have a medical condition.
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Research Articles and Papers on:
The role of Epstein-Barr virus infection in the development of autoimmune thyroid diseases.
Janegova A, Janega P1, Rychly B, Kuracinova K, Babal P.
Endokrynologia Polska Sep 2015
Autoimmune thyroid diseases, including Graves’ and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, are the most frequent autoimmune disorders. Viral infection, including Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), is one of the most frequently considered environmental factors involved in autoimmunity. Its role in the development of AITD has not been confirmed so far.
MATERIAL AND METHODS:
Surgical specimens of Graves’ and Hashimoto’s diseases and nodular goitres were included in the study. The expression of EBV latent membrane protein 1 (LMP1) was analysed by immunohistochemistry, with the parallel detection of virus-encoded small nuclear non-polyadenylated RNAs (EBER) by in situ hybridisation.
In none of the Graves’ disease specimens but in 34.5% of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis cases the cytoplasmic expression of LMP1 was detected in follicular epithelial cells and in infiltrating lymphocytes. EBER nuclear expression was detected in 80.7% of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis cases and 62.5% of Graves’ disease cases, with positive correlation between LMP1 and EBER positivity in all Hashimoto’s thyroiditis LMP1-positive cases.
We assume that high prevalence of EBV infection in cases of Hashimoto’s and Graves’ diseases imply a potential aetiological role of EBV in autoimmune thyroiditis. The initiation of autoimmune thyroiditis could start with EBV latency type III infection of follicular epithelium characterised by LMP1 expression involving the production of inflammatory mediators leading to recruitment of lymphocytes. The EBV positivity of the infiltrating lymphocytes could be only the presentation of a carrier state, but in cases with EBER+/ LMP1+ lymphocytes (transforming latent infection) it could represent a negative prognostic marker pointing to a higher risk of primary thyroid lymphoma development.
The full paper is available to download as a PDF here:
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Epstein-Barr Virus Symptoms and Thyroid Connection
When it comes to thyroid health and particularly autoimmune thyroid conditions such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, there are many things in the body that can trigger this autoimmune response. One of the many triggers includes chronic infections such as the Epstein-Barr virus. The connection between the Epstein-Barr virus and thyroid health is pretty strong, and I am going to break down exactly why and talk about the most common Epstein-Barr virus symptoms so that you can uncover if this virus may be affecting your thyroid health.
Before we dive into that, let’s explore what exactly this virus is and how it affects your body.
What is the Epstein-Barr Virus?
You may be familiar with this virus and its link with mononucleosis which is a virus that commonly affects children and young adults. This virus which is commonly referred to as “mono” can cause symptoms such as fever, sore throat, and swollen lymph nodes. Epstein-Barr can cause mono. However, not everyone who is infected with Epstein-Barr will develop mononucleosis.
While Epstein-Barr can cause mononucleosis, it can also lead to more serious disease which we will talk about when we discuss the connection between the Epstein-Barr virus and thyroid health.
The problem with this virus is that once present in the body, it can persist for life. Epstein-Barr can also become reactivated which can cause symptoms, but at other times it may not cause any symptoms at all. Reactivation can become particularly problematic for those whose immune systems do not work as they should such as in the case of autoimmune conditions.
There is also quite a bit of confusion surrounding this particular virus. While modern-day medical practitioners know what the Epstein-Barr virus is, it is not as understood that there are over 60 varieties of this virus. Many doctors may diagnose this condition thinking that it’s a short-lasting thing, but often times it’s a long-term issue that can cause chaos in the body if not addressed appropriately. This virus can lead to problems such as thyroid disease, and chronic fatigue syndrome which is not something many medical practitioners talk about when addressing this virus.
Epstein-Barr Virus Symptoms
Some of the most common symptoms associated with Epstein-Barr include:
- Sore throat, usually severe
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Swollen tonsils
- Loss of appetite
- Body aches
Keep in mind that while these are some of the most commonly seen Epstein-Barr virus symptoms, some people experience symptoms not as commonly associated with Epstein-Barr which can easily lead to misdiagnoses which can ultimately make it difficult to feel better and get to the source of the problem if not working with an experienced health professional.
How Do You Contract the Virus?
So, we now know some of the symptoms of Epstein Barr, and we know that it is much more complicated than many medical professionals may know, but how exactly does someone develop Epstein-Barr?
One of the very first ways someone can contract the virus is if a mother had Epstein-Barr while pregnant, her baby could get it. Secondly, you can get the virus through blood transfusions infected with the virus, but you can also get it by just coming in contact with someone who is infected with this virus if they are in the infected stage. Keep in mind though that if someone has Epstein-Barr, it doesn’t mean that they are contagious at all times. It all depends on the stage the virus is at within the body which is what I am going to review next.
The Stages of Epstein-Barr
As if the virus wasn’t confusing enough, it actually works in different stages. There are four stages to the virus.
In stage one, you just caught the virus, and it’s possible that it is in its initial dormant stage where it just hangs out in your bloodstream while it quietly works to gain strength and then waits for the opportunity to cause an infection. This can occur if you are stressed out, burnt out, overworked, or maybe aren’t feeding your body right. If you let your body become too depleted the virus could become opportunistic and strike at this time. The virus may also take advantage during periods where your body may be going through some hormonal changes such as during pregnancy or for teenagers, during puberty.
The thing about stage one of the Epstein-Barr virus is that you can contract the virus, but it can hang around and wait for the perfect moment to strike for a long time, sometimes years.
Stage two is when the virus has decided to strike and can turn into mono as we spoke about before. Mononucleosis is considered to be stage two of the Epstein-Barr virus, and you have probably heard of this being referred to as the “kissing disease.” Stage two is when you would be the most contagious.
At this stage, symptoms will vary from person to person. Some people may go through this stage with only a mild sore throat and just some fatigue while others may experience more severe symptoms such as debilitating fatigue and a severe sore throat. Some people may even develop a rash. The length of time someone will experience these symptoms also varies. Some may only be down and out with the virus for about a week while others may be battling the symptoms for months.
Stage two is also the time where the virus may be targeting one or more than one of your organs to hang out in. Often times the EPV (Epstein-Barr virus) will choose the liver or the spleen as these two organs are home to certain toxins that the virus loves.
During stage three, things are a little bit different. The virus may have chosen its organ or organs of choice to call home, and if you were to get blood work, then lab tests may show antibodies which doctors would mark as having a past EBV infection. This is where the problem comes in. If your doctor is reading your lab work as if the virus is no longer active but you have not taken any steps to ridding your body of the EBV then the virus could very well be active in the body and still causing issues. The virus can go undetected as being active during this stage because chances are it is hiding out in one or more than one of your body organs. We will talk specifically about this and thyroid health coming up.
When the Epstein-Barr virus lives in one of your organs, it can cause inflammation, and it can do so without triggering your immune system since the virus is literally hiding. After stage two, your immune system may stop attacking the virus thinking that it has already ridden the body of the infection when in reality, EBV is just a very smart and tricky virus that knows how to hide in the body and not be detected.
In the final stage of the Epstein-Barr virus, its end goal is to affect your nervous system. If the virus invades your thyroid during stage three, there is a good chance you may begin to experience some unwanted symptoms such as nerve pain and just feeling achy throughout your body.
Unfortunately, during this stage blood work would not necessarily detect any sign of the infection so it can be very difficult to be diagnosed properly if you are not working with a health professional who has experience with this condition and its various stages.
Once it attacks your nervous system, you could experience things like ongoing fatigue, insomnia, and numbness in your extremities. It is during this stage that many people are misdiagnosed, and many people are given inappropriate medications or are thought to have hormonal imbalances because lab tests are not able to pick up on the infection.
How is the Epstein-Barr Virus Diagnosed?
Often times, this virus is diagnosed during stage two of the virus when symptoms are at their worst. Many people will head to the doctor complaining of a sore throat and fatigue, and their doctor will run blood work. It’s common that during stage two, the virus will show up as a type of mono.
After stage two, it can be very difficult for the virus to show up on lab tests and even when it’s still active in your body, doctors often miss a diagnosis. It is not as simple as one would think, with four stages and the ability for the virus to hide out in your body for long periods of time you have to work with someone who knows the virus well to give you the proper diagnosis.
The Connection Between the Epstein-Barr Virus and Thyroid Health
We have talked about how the Epstein-Barr virus can affect different areas of the body, but I want to talk specifically about its effect on thyroid health. The connection between the Epstein-Barr virus and thyroid health occurs during stage three of the virus.
If you remember, stage three is when the virus has decided which organ or organs it wants to call home, but it can also leave its organ of choice and begin attacking other organs or even your thyroid when your immune system is out of control dealing with the virus.
The Epstein-Barr virus can actually cause Hashimoto’s disease as once the virus is in your thyroid, it can kill thyroid cells. Now, remember when I said that the Epstein-Barr virus is incredibly smart? Well here’s just another example, while your immune system would normally be able to ward off an infection like this the EBV is very smart in the sense that it can confuse the immune system due to neurotoxins it can create which can literally throw your immune system for a loop. This can make it very difficult for your immune system to number one, find the virus that may be hiding out in your thyroid, and number two go after it.
This virus specifically goes after the thyroid as a way to disrupt the endocrine system as a way to get closer to affecting the nervous system which generally occurs in stage four of the virus.
As awful as this virus sounds, there are things that you can do to support your body and keep the virus at bay if it is something you have been infected with which is what I am going to talk about next.
Steps you can Take Today
The first step you need to take if you suspect Epstein-Barr virus is to work with a Functional Medicine Practitioner who understands how EBV works. If you suspect this is something affecting you, you can contact me here for an initial consultation to talk about an individualized approach to getting to the bottom of your health concerns.
On top of working with a skilled Functional Medicine Practitioner, there are other steps you can take to support your body.
- Enjoy healing foods such as coconut oil, garlic, parsley, cilantro, and sweet potatoes
- Add curcumin to your diet
- Reduce stress
- Get enough sleep
If you are suffering from weight gain, fatigue, hair loss and more, click here to schedule a phone call with me, so I can find out where you’ve been, where you want to get to, and how I can help you get there.
I know exactly where you are because I’ve been there myself…I remember being so tired that I could barely function. I gained 30 pounds out of nowhere and had a severe case of brain fog. I also started to get severe anxiety and panic attacks. I was driven and motivated…until I wasn’t. I didn’t know what was happening to me. All I wanted was to get my life back…
Finally, I learned about functional medicine and found a practitioner that I hoped could help me. They ran specialized tests that were far different than I had ever had before. When I got the results back, it turned out I had candida, parasites, high cortisol, the Epstein Bar Virus and many food intolerances. I also had an issue with my thyroid that no one found before because they were using the conventional medicine lab ranges which are way too broad….which I now know is one of the leading causes of hypothyroid misdiagnosis.
I went through treatment of all of these things and it completely changed my life. I immediately lost the 30 pounds I had gained plus more, I had a lot more energy, and my brain fog was gone. I felt amazing and knew that I wanted to help people find the underlying causes of their symptoms and disease.
If you are not ready to make an appointment but would like more information? Try my new book, The 30-Day Thyroid Reset Plan ,where I walk you through a step-by-step plan to support your thyroid as much possible..
Medical Medium. What’s Potentially at the Root of Medical Mysteries
Epstein Barr Virus Infection. EMedicineHealth.
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September 3, 2017 at 5:18 am – Reply
Hi Dr Becky
My name is Victoria and as a teenager I was diagnosed with Epstein Barr Virus . And it recently flared up again after several years. Now it is affecting my thyroid and have now been diagnosed with hyperthyroidism . I am also pregnant and have been given the drug Propylthiouracil I’m a little concerned for my baby’s sake and wondering if anything else can be done ? Your advice would be very much appreciated.
October 5, 2017 at 8:25 am – Reply
Hi Victoria! I would concentrate on things to support the immune system like vitamin C, cod liver oil, zinc, elderberry etc. while you are pregnant.
- Jane Frahm
October 27, 2017 at 12:11 am – Reply
I have been diagnosed with hashimotos 3 years ago. But not epstein-barr. I am on Nature-thyroid, also am on low dose naltraxone. I am somewhat better, but still deal with terrible fatigue, daily headaches could this be because of undiagnosed epstein-barr? I don’t easy access to a functional medicine doctor and local Dr’s just don’t even know what hashimotos is let alone epstein-barr.
December 11, 2017 at 4:25 pm – Reply
It could be EBV but it could also be related to something else like adrenal fatigue, gut infections, heavy metal toxicity, food sensitivities etc.
October 31, 2017 at 5:40 pm – Reply
What test needs to be done to see if EB is responsible for my Hashimoto thyroidism and symptoms of fatigue, weight gain, muscle and joint pain, etc.?
December 11, 2017 at 4:23 pm – Reply
The testing won’t specifically tell you if it is responsible for those things but it can tell you if you have had it in the past or currently possibly, not always. I would do the early antigen EBV panel. This can usually tell you if you have had reactivation of the virus but often times the virus is hard to detect on labs since most people have had this at some point.
May 23, 2018 at 1:29 pm – Reply
I was wondering if my issues with my thyroid is going undetected because every time my physician runs labs to check me for hypo or hyperthyroidism my labs are always in normal range. What tests should be ran to check my thyroid other than the normal labs?
July 31, 2018 at 12:53 pm – Reply
It’s also about the reference ranges that your doctor is using. Conventional medical doctors tend to use a very wide range with the thyroid so things can go undetected until it’s a huge problem. You need a full thyroid panel including the antibodies tested. I talk about this and give the reference ranges to follow in my book “The 30-Day Thyroid Reset Plan”. If you would like me to take a look at your labs, contact my office to set up a consultation : )
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DR. BECKY CAMPBELL
Hi, I am Dr. Becky Campbell. I work with men and woman who’ve had a health set back and are willing to do whatever it takes to reach optimal health so they can perform their best in their careers and be fully present with their family again