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Why The Epstein Barr Virus Can Create Havoc In the Body

Updated: Nov 1, 2023

Epstein Barr Virus (EBV) is found all over the world, it is a gamma-herpesvirus and is a member of the herpes family. It is claimed that it infects more than 90% of the world population. (1) Most people get infected with EBV at some point in their lives. EBV spreads most commonly through bodily fluids, primarily saliva. EBV can cause infectious mononucleosis, also known as glandular fever. (3).

Initial onset symptoms of EBV include:

  • fatigue

  • fever

  • inflamed throat

  • swollen lymph nodes in the neck

  • enlarged spleen

  • swollen liver

  • rash

Many people become infected with EBV in childhood and will usually cause no symptoms; or symptoms are mild, non distinguishable and brief. People who get more pronounced symptoms are usually teenagers or adults and it can take a 2-4 weeks to recover. However, some people may feel fatigued for several weeks or even months. (3)

EBV is thought to be spread by saliva through:

  • kissing

  • sharing drinks and food

  • using the same cups, eating utensils, or toothbrushes

  • having contact with toys that children have drooled on (3)

  • rarely through semen or blood, e.g. through organ transplantations and blood transfusions. (4)

EBV and its impact on the immune system

EBV is a clever virus because it is able to use normal B cell biology to infect, persist, and replicate in B cells. B Cells are types of white blood cells that form part of our adaptive immune system and are responsible for producing antibodies.(1)

Following the the initial infection of EBV, there may be a short term increase of B cells in human hosts. The infection is usually self-limited and controlled by the strongly elevated T cell immune response. T cells are responsible generating a specific attack on a specific virus as well as supporting and directing other immune cells. If the infection occurs in adolescence or adulthood, up to 50% of T cells in the host can be specific to EBV. EBV then persists latently in the host within long-life memory B cells. (1) The virus can be reactivated periodically and infect new hosts through shedding in saliva. (3)

During latency, EBV effectively remains dormant or "silent" within our genes, however, during the latent phase, EBV reactivation is possible.. Viral gene expression of EBV is generally only observed in immunocompromised patients (1), but can be triggered by either, certain cytokines, (which are small proteins that have a specific effect on the interactions and communications between cells) or steroid hormones (which include cortisol, testosterone and oestrogen). (2), (7).

EBV and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Symptoms of reactivated EBV can include severe chronic fatigue, chronic aches and pains, chronic sore throat and irritation of mucous membranes, swollen lymph nodes, and a range of debilitating neurological symptoms. Symptoms can come and go for years. Given the high rate if infection within the population and the initial symptoms, it is no surprise that EBV has been implicated in the development of this condition.

The below table shows the generally accepted category and characterisation of the condition:

EBV and Autoimmune Conditions

Based on present studies, EBV has the ability to modify the immune system. EBV infection can cause autoimmune diseases, such as systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), multiple sclerosis (MS), rheumatoid arthritis (RA), Sjögren’s syndrome, and autoimmune hepatitis. The EBV has also been reported in patients with autoimmune thyroid disorders. (2), (4).

EBV is considered to be a causative factor of autoimmune diseases because of the following:

  • EBV is a common pathogen responsible for the worldwide prevalence of autoimmune diseases

  • EBV stays in the body throughout life, which explains the chronic course of autoimmune diseases that are often accompanied by exacerbations of symptoms;

  • EBV modifies the host immune response (2)

EBV and Cancer

EBV is remarkably associated with the development of certain cancers in particular lymphomas; the pathogenesis of EBV-associated lymphomas involves a complex interplay between different patterns of viral gene expression and cellular genetic changes (5). Moreover, EBV is equipped with a set of genes known to cause growth activation within cells. Since EBV typically infects B-cells, it is believed that the growth activation genes can turn an infected B-cell cancerous. However, what is unclear is the exact mechanism of action for lymphomas (6).

What does seem clear at present is that EBV alone is generally not enough to cause cancer, however recent understanding of the development or lymphoma in both the immunocompetent and immunocompromised people is a highly researched and ongoing topic (5).

How to Promote Viral Silencing

There are number of strategies that can be adopted to effectively support the silencing of viruses at an epigenetic level (targeting the environment to switch off the DNA replication of viruses)

You must always work with a qualified practitioner to develop a programme that is personalised to you are you symptoms, however some of these key practices I have adopted in many of my clients:

  • The use of herbs, for instance Liquorice Root and Lemon Balm (be careful if on thyroid medication or have high blood pressure)

  • Zinc has a direct antiviral effect on the body

  • Lysine is an amino acid that Is famous for its suppression of herpes infections, because EBV is part of the herpes family there is rationale to use this

  • Papaya has been found to modulate inflammation in cancer and autoimmune conditions

  • Methylators such as vitamin B12, betaine, folate and B6 help to support DNA to prevent viral replication from occurring

  • Vitamin D3 helps to reorganise the pattern of methylation and gene expression.

  • Stress management is vital for down-regulating cortisol expression may increase the reactivation of EBV

  • Support lymphatic system because the lymphatic system is the waste disposal unit of the immune system and constantly needs clearing

  • Support kidney function and clearance to get rid of the waste from the lymphatic system

  • Avoid chemical, environmental toxin and unnecessary drug exposure

Research is ongoing so I will continue to update my blog on this subject. However if you wish to contribute with your own stories then please feel free to contact me.

Yours in Health




(1) Chen M. R. (2011). Epstein-barr virus, the immune system, and associated diseases. Frontiers in microbiology, 2, 5.

(2) Dittfeld, A., Gwizdek, K., Michalski, M., & Wojnicz, R. (2016). A possible link between the Epstein-Barr virus infection and autoimmune thyroid disorders. Central-European journal of immunology, 41(3), 297–301.

(4) Houen, G., & Trier, N. H. (2021). Epstein-Barr Virus and Systemic Autoimmune Diseases. Frontiers in immunology, 11, 587380.

(5) Shannon-Lowe, C., Rickinson, A. B., & Bell, A. I. (2017). Epstein-Barr virus-associated lymphomas. Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological sciences, 372(1732), 20160271.

(7) Sausen DG, Bhutta MS, Gallo ES, Dahari H, Borenstein R. Stress-Induced Epstein-Barr Virus Reactivation. Biomolecules. 2021; 11(9):1380.


About Rachel

Rachel originally trained for 3 years with The College of Naturopathic Medicine gaining a diploma in Naturopathic Nutritional Therapy in 2010. She went on to do a Degree in Nutritional Science which she converted to an MSc in Personalised Nutrition with Middlesex University. Her research project on "The Role of the Gut Microbiome in Calcium Oxalate Stone Formation" has been accepted for publication and her work has been presented to peers and upcoming nutrition students. Rachel has attended many workshops and post graduate event.. She is trained in Functional Medicine and Life coaching.

Having suffered with and recovered from a serious autoimmune condition, Rachel has personal insight on how nutrition and lifestyle interventions helped diminish symptoms in order to live a life free from medication. Her knowledge and passion for health has enabled her to support thousands of clients over the years and also her son through his year long post sepsis recovery. Since the start of the pandemic she has immersed herself fully within the research on immune health and has adapted her clinic to become a complete TeleHealth service enabling her to support people all over the world.

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