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.
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 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
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Medical Medium. What’s Potentially at the Root of Medical Mysteries
Epstein Barr Virus Infection. EMedicineHealth.