Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV), also known as Human HerpesVirus 4, is one of the most common human viruses. In it’s acute form it is responsible for the common infection, mononucleosis. While most cases resolve without any intervention after 2-4 weeks, there are cases where EBV can become more chronic, and others where latent infection can reactive periodically, contributing to ongoing fatigue and possible symptoms such as fevers and swollen lymph nodes. In the allopathic medical community, treatment for EBV is usually time and rest; in naturopathic circles, there are some natural treatments for Epstein-Barr virus that are worth knowing about.
It is thought that the majority of the population is exposed to EBV at one point or another in their lives. I would have to agree that in all my patients I test, very few show no sign of exposure. Some children will be infected with EBV, but it will not be distinguished from other childhood illnesses. Mononucleosis, a common teenage ailment, is characterized by several weeks of fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, fevers, and inflamed throat, and sometimes even an enlarged spleen. Being easily transmitted through saliva, mononucleosis has been nicknamed “the kissing disease”.
Acute mononucleosis is distinguishable on labs by elevated IgM antibodies to EBV. IgM is the antibody that is elevated in active, current infection. Once the acute phase of infection has passed, what is more likely to be elevated, and indeed stay elevated for a long period of time, is the IgG antibody. So an IgG antibody elevation will indicate that a person has been exposed to EBV somewhere along the way, whether or not they actually got acutely ill with the virus, and whether or not the virus is still producing symptoms for them.
In general, once the ‘acute’ or ‘IgM’ phase has passed, the virus is not supposed to cause too much havoc. However, there are some people who experience ongoing fatigue and symptoms as a result of EBV. Certainly in my Lyme patients, almost everyone tests positive for EBV, and almost everyone has fatigue. Sometimes it can be hard to know the possible role that EBV is playing (I will note, however, that Lyme trumps EBV in the fatigue department almost every time, but that’s a different story). Antiviral medications such as acyclovir (generally used for herpes viruses) do not seem to be helpful, and can put quite a stress on the liver.
There are a couple of naturopathic remedies I turn to in cases where EBV seems to be rearing its ugly head. These are equally applicable and appropriate for acute phases too – so they could be used to accelerate recovery from mononucleosis. They can certainly be used in periods of relapsing EBV, or when post-viral fatigue is an ongoing and chronic issue.
(1) Transfer Factor Plas-Myc – transfer factors are molecules that support and regulate immune function. They strengthen our immune system’s response to various pathogens. Some transfer factors are general, meaning they broaden immune response overall; while some are specific for various pathogens. The Transfer Factor Plas-Myc formula has activity against a variety of herpes viruses, including EBV. It can be combined with the more broad-acting Transfer Factor Multi-Immune also.
Lauricidin is a monolaurin product. Monolaurin is a molecule that comes from lauric acid, a constituent of coconuts. It is used to enhance immune response to a range of viruses including influenza and the herpes family of viruses. It works not only to kill virus cells, but also to prevent them from entering their target cells (i.e. our cells!). Not surprisingly, lauric acid is also found in human breast milk – another naturally-occurring immune support for babies. I like Lauricidin brand because it comes in pellet form so the dose is easily adjustable, is very pure, and of very high quality.
(3) Larrea tridentata
This is an herb that grows abundantly in desert areas, it is also known as Chaparral. Larrea tridendata has strong anti-viral qualities, in particular against the herpes family of viruses (which includes herpes simplex 1 and 2, cytomegalovirus and human herpesvirus 6). Larrea was quite hard to find for a while, so I had my herbalist make up an Anti-Viral Formula specifically for this purpose. We included Melissa in it, another herb that has great anti-viral properties. It tastes horrible (don’t say I didn’t warn you!) so it can be tough to get into kids, but for fatigued adults with known EBV, it can be an important part of their health care regimen.
If EBV is a real issue, these three supplements can be combined safely and effectively. All can be used in children, with compliance really being the biggest stumbling block. Transfer Factors come in capsule form and can be emptied into apple sauce, smoothies etc. Lab work for EBV is easy to get – every lab offers IgG and IgM antibody testing. A positive IgM indicates a clear role of EBV in current health issues; a positive IgG might be a little more ambiguous as it can simply mean past exposure and not necessarily a current trouble-maker. A good indicator would be if you have had mono or glandular fever, and you just haven’t felt the same since, with ongoing fatigue and periods of sore throat and swollen glands. Western medicine does not have a lot to offer in acute or chronic cases other than rest, sleep and time (all good and necessary ingredients, to be fair) – but try these natural remedies also, to enhance your body’s recovery and wellbeing.