Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV) is a common worldwide infection. It is believed that at least 95% of the population has been affected by EBV. It is structurally and morphologically identical to other herpesviruses. EBV is transmitted by exchange of saliva, for instance, during kissing and drinking out of the same cups. The infection can also occur via close contact in early childhood, but may not show any signs and symptoms. EBV infects B lymphocytes, usually shed in to saliva and spread elsewhere in the body through lymph. In some cases, the young adults may develop infectious mononucleosis (kissing disease) or glandular fever about 4-7 weeks after the infection. This is characterized by fever, sore throat, purpura on the hard palate, lymphadenopathy, splenomegaly, anorexia and lethargy.
Dangerous Facts about EBV
In general, viruses are able to thwart immune defences as the invasion of the tissues and cells is often silent and unlike most bacteria, they hardly form toxins. Hence, as long as they do not cause extensive cell destruction, there is no sign of illness until the onset of immune and inflammatory responses. The virus remains as a latent infection in spite of antibody reaction and saliva often remains infectious for month after clinical recovery. Particularly in EBV, they can infect cells for a long period without adverse effects in cell viability. Although EBV remains silent inside, mold, radiation, pesticides, heavy metals, etc. can trigger and reactivate the viral infection.
EBV is well equipped to evade immune defences. One of the strategies EBV follows is called mimicry. This means, mimicking our antigens as self antigens are not recognized as foreign and hence, avoid the immune attack from our body. When EBV is present in lymphocytes or monocytes, if not damaged or destroyed, these cells will protect and transport the viruses.
EBV causes immune suppression in the B cells in the body. HIV is one of the most spectacular virus to cause immune suppression. In this way, the virus can grow, spread and shed to infect further. EBV also code for proteins that interfere with apoptosis (programmed cell destruction) which permits long-term infection of the cells.
Complications are seen in about 1% and it includes aseptic meningitis, encephalitis, hemolytic anemia, splenic rupture, jaundice, etc.
EBV & Cancer
Studies have done to confirm that EBV is closely Linked with the development of nasopharyngeal carcinorma. It’s also associated with Burkitt’s lymphoma, a tumor of immature B cells. EBV is also associated with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in particularly that seen in childhood and older adulthood. It’s also associated with lymphomas in immunosuppressed people such as in chemotherapy, radiation therapy and AIDS. In immunosupressive patients, hairy tongue (hairy leukoplakia) is also present due to EBV replication in squamous epithelial cells in the tongue.
Furthermore, researchers have found that 30-50% of breast cancer patients had EBV. One of the major cause of breast cancer is “blockage” in women. This could be psychological blockage such as in death of a close family member, issues with the spouse or children, etc. Since there is a psycho-somatic connection, psychological blockage may cause drop down of immunity and reactivate the virus.
EBV is also associated with several autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, autoimmune thyroiditis, etc.
Natural Treatments for EBV
Since EBV affect lymphocytes, lymphatic cleanse is essential. Immune enhancing herbs are also helpful in fighting with EBV. Along with immune and lymphatic herbs, liver and blood cleansing herbs can also be used to support eradicating the virus out of the body. One of the best immuno-protective herbs used in Ayurveda is Guduchi (Tinospora cordifolia). Ashwaganda is also one of the best immuno-supportive herb. Holy basil, licorice, Kalmegh (Andrographis paniculata) are liver and lymph cleansing. They are also considered as antiviral herbs.
Cat’s claw is one of the best antiviral and immuno-protective herbs. St. John’s Wort is also an antiviral herb. Astragalus, turmeric, garlic, ginger are in general immune boosting. Apart from that, turmeric can also be used as a liver cleansing herb. Thyme, lemon balm, are also antiviral aromatic herbs that can be used either fresh or as essential oils.
Dandelion, milk thistle, burdock, golden seal can be used in cleansing liver to eliminate the pathogens and the toxins. Essiac tea can also be used in cleansing lymphatic flow.
Supportive Diet for EBV Infection
Apart from the herbs and supplements, sufficient nutrition, rest and sleep is important to support the proper function of immune system. The diet should include all the six tastes, i.e. sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter, astringent and particularly different, colourful vegetables and fruits rich in antioxidants such as dark green vegetables, carrot, beetroot, purple cabbage, sweet potatoes, artichokes, blue berries, black berries, chia seeds, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, almonds, black sesame. According to Ayurvedic theories, the burden of viral infection inside the body is a causative factor for generating ama. Hence, light, digestive soup, tea, will benefit, cleansing as well as regenerating the body from the damage of EBV infection.
May all beings be Healthy!
Dr. Indunil Weerarathne