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Could the Epstein Barr Virus (EBV) be the biggest driver of your thyroid disease?
If you’ve tried taking herbs, changing your diet, and using other methods to eradicate EBV in the hopes of helping your thyroid get better with no results, you may want to consider if EBV is a fundamental factor for you.
In my book, The Thyroid Reset Diet, I discuss how a diet full of natural foods and micronutrients can help the thyroid.
EBV can wreak havoc on your thyroid health. But poor thyroid function doesn’t necessarily point to EBV.
Most cases of EBV are a misdiagnosis from misread test results. While many people are exposed to EBV – as the lab results show – exposure isn’t the same as having the active virus.
Let’s dive deeper into EBV to explore the science behind this common virus and how it relates to your thyroid disease. We’ll discuss who might need to worry about the virus and when to take action.
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Understanding Epstein Barr Virus and Thyroid Diseases
Learning more about how the virus works helps you understand how and if it relates to your thyroid disease.
What Is It?
If you have a thyroid issue, you’ve probably heard of EBV. Some people call it the “thyroid virus.”
EBV is a common herpes family virus that could cause the symptoms associated with many thyroid diseases. The family includes well-known viruses like herpes and cold sores, as well as others that don’t cause human infections.
Other viruses in the family include:
- Cytomegalovirus (CMV): The leading cause of non-genetic hearing loss.
- Varicella-zoster virus (VZV): The cause of chickenpox and shingles.
- Human Herpesvirus 6 (HHV6): The cause of a rose-colored rash in infants (roseola infantum).
- Herpes Simplex Virus (HS1): Type 1 herpes causes sores around the mouth and lips, called cold sores or fever blisters.
- Herpes Simplex Virus (HS2): Type 2 produces genital herpes, which is considered an STD.
Like the closely related viruses, EBV gets around through bodily fluids like saliva or blood. It can sometimes cause mono too.
Who Gets It?
Your chances of getting EBV are incredibly high. According to the CDC, most people get infected with EBV1. Around 95% or more of the worldwide population has had EBV by adulthood.
The virus often spreads through saliva on a drinking glass or toothbrush.
You might not even realize you have EBV. Most people don’t.
It typically happens in early childhood and isn’t distinct from the common cold or flu. Some people don’t exhibit symptoms at all.
Other people are exposed to EBV for the first time as teens. Many times these exposures include a more significant viral load. These cases can become infectious mononucleosis or mono.
Someone with mono could have symptoms like:
- Swollen glands
The symptoms typically last two to three weeks. Most people make a full recovery.
However, most viruses are not our friends.
They put low-grade stressors on the body that can affect us long-term. People with active EBV or previous acute infections have a greater risk of lymphomas, especially when the virus is not entirely suppressed.
Most of us get EBV early in life, and it’s inconsequential. We suppress the virus until the amount is negligible. It’s still there, but it hangs out without causing any symptoms.
Epstein Barr Virus Symptoms & Testing
Because many people don’t show EBV symptoms unless it turns into mono, especially young children, it’s tough to know if you have it or not. You have to test for it. (Read: 14 Hidden Causes Of Fatigue And Their Solutions).
There are two main tests for EBV. However, the results from both are often misread.
The problem with the first test is timing. As the image above shows, the blood levels for EBV change over various time frames2.
The primary infection takes place upon exposure as a child or teen. During the first few weeks, IgM antibodies called VCA-IgM antibodies are elevated.
But they may not show up immediately. Sometimes these antibodies appear between a week and a month later.
Generally, these antibodies reduce and stay low long-term. That’s not the case for everyone. In some instances, VCA-IgM antibodies remain positive long after the primary infection takes place.
The VCA-IgG antibodies also appear early on and stay high over a longer term. These positive IgG levels are how we know if a person has already had EBV.
Finally, we have the EBNA antigen marker that takes a few months to appear. Once this antibody shows up, it tends to stick around long-term as well.
So, higher antibody levels does not mean the virus is still active. Positive IgG and EBNA antibodies could simply mean that you’ve already had EBV.
Interpreting The PCR Test Results
The other test you can get for EBV is called PCR. It examines the virus’s DNA to reflect how many active viruses are in the bloodstream.
The test is not always helpful for an acute infection, commonly available, or affordable. It may also take longer for a positive reading.
However, the PCR is the best test for a chronic infection. Chronic Epstein Barr Virus happens if you got the virus a long time ago, and it remains in your body.
In my experience, most people with positive EBV tests don’t have the virus.
Critical Insight: Nearly all cases of an EBV infection are a misinterpretation of lab results.
So How Does EBV Relate to Your Thyroid Disease?
We know that EBV has relevance to some thyroid diseases, like subacute thyroiditis.
Subacute thyroiditis (SAT) is a less common type of thyroid disease that’s often self-limiting. It’s the kind of thyroid disease that comes on after an acute cold or viral infection. A SARS-COV-2 infection can also trigger SAT.
SAT causes the thyroid to produce too many hormones, slow down, then normalize over a 2 to 6-week time frame.
Although not the most common culprit, EBV is a trigger associated with SAT. Many people with SAT show positive EBV antibodies.
Critical Insight: In rare cases, EBV may cause SAT.
Is EBV Needed to Maintain AITD?
A much larger body of data dives into how infections tie into autoimmune disease3. People with autoimmune thyroid disease (AITD) are more likely to have herpes virus DNA, so they have genes more relevant to the virus.
Studies also show a strong link between EBV and Graves’ disease. We know that Graves’ disease is more common in people who had severe mono. Graves’ antibodies relate to having EBV early in life.
There are a few other possible links between the virus and AITDs, including Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.
Does EBV Cause AITD or Vice Versa?
So does EBV cause AITD? Does AITD cause EBV? How are they related?
Research shows a link between an EBV infection and autoimmunity4.
The data shows that EBV is not the only factor to drive thyroid disease, but it could be a contributor. We still don’t know if it causes and perpetuates the disease.
When you already have thyroid disease, it’s difficult to tell if EBV was the cause. EBV may cause AITD or vice versa. Or, a third factor could cause both issues.
Even if EBV were a contributor to your thyroid disease, no data shows treating EBV would help the emerging AITD.
Critical Insight: EBV is a contributing factor to AITD, not a cause.
Saying autoimmune disease causes EBV isn’t exactly fair either. Most people are exposed to the virus, but not everyone suppresses it as thoroughly as others.
Because an autoimmune disease causes your body to attack something it shouldn’t, like your body’s own tissues, it may also fail to strike something it should in some situations.
So, the same disease causing your body to attack your thyroid could also cause you to not attack a chronic EBV infection.
It’s also possible that underlying susceptibility could cause you to have higher EBV amounts in your body. You could show higher antibody levels and have a greater chance of it affecting your health.
The underlying autoimmune issue could be behind both as well.
People with autoimmune disease may have more circulating EBV antibodies, but EBV may not be the cause. The same glitch causing the body to attack one thing or another by mistake could show positive EBV test results.
Critical Insight: Studies show that EBV is not the only thing responsible for causing AITD.
The Reason EBV Went Viral
People started thinking of EBV as a driver of thyroid disease due to a book called The Truth about Hashimoto’s, the Autoimmune Confusion, and How to Reclaim Your Thyroid by Anthony William.
The book claims that “Once in the thyroid, EBV drills actively and deeply into the gland’s tissue over time, scarring it and impeding its function.” The idea is that, in this state, the weakened thyroid becomes less effective at producing hormones. The virus harms the thyroid, and its presence is required to perpetuate thyroid disease.
For this reason, the book says EBV is the sole cause of diseases like:
- Meniere’s disease
- Mitral valve disease
- Esophageal spasms
- And more
The book also says that the solution to thyroid disease lies in avoiding foods that “feed EBV” and taking nutrients to “kill EBV.”
The assumption is that the virus depends on certain foods, so you could eat certain foods and herbs to reverse thyroid disease.
It would be fantastic if your diet could reverse thyroid disease. However, it’s not that simple.
So, where did the data come from? The source behind the book is Spirit. To clarify, the author claims that ghosts speak to him.
Unfortunately, a spirit is not a valid reference.
If you got lost in a strange city, would you check Google Maps or ask Casper the Friendly Ghost for help?
In the modern world, we rely on facts. The idea may have started with science grounds, but depending on ghosts for information is not realistic.
So What Does the Research Say About EBV & Thyroid Diseases?
Studies have explored EBV concerning the thyroid and autoimmune system. Research shows that EBV is more common and in higher concentrations in AITD than in control groups.
EBV also has possible links to thyroid cancer5.
However, the role of EBV in thyroid diseases is still unclear. The data available neither proves nor disproves if EBV activity is responsible for chronic illness7.
Would Treating EBV Help Thyroid Disease?
If there’s a connection between EBV and thyroid diseases, could treatment help the thyroid?
Treatment is ideal if EBV is active or chronic. It won’t treat your thyroid.
Who Is Likely To Have Active EBV?
Doctors must be careful when interpreting EBV tests’ data because they don’t prove the pathogen actively causes thyroid disease.
Studies show evidence of EBV or their components in people with thyroid diseases like:
- Graves’ disease
- Hashimoto’s thyroiditis6
However, it’s unclear whether the virus is responsible for thyroid diseases or appears by coincidence. More studies are required to understand the relationship between EBV and thyroid diseases fully.
Risks Of EBV
The data strongly shows that damage to the immune system persists if you already have EBV.
Most EBV cases are asymptomatic. They can also become re-activated later and produce severe symptoms, shutting down the immune system.
In most cases, severe EBV happens to someone with poor or nearly nil immune function. These are cases of very, very poor immunity due to genetic variations or immunosuppressant medications you’d take before an organ donation or cancer treatments.
These people face many of the same acute symptoms as mono, like fevers and swollen glands.
There’s also chronic active EBV, which shows up with the PCR test and only shows up in immunosuppressed populations.
Chronic active EBV is the virus coming back. It’s fatal more often than not8.
If you get chronic active EBV, the virus affects your entire body. You’ll probably lose consciousness and die over a short time – even if you’re not facing immunosuppression in any way.
Critical Insight: The PCR test is the only way to diagnose chronic active EBV, which can be fatal.
Who Should Seek Treatment for EBV?
You should consider treating EBV if you have unexplained symptoms or suspicious lab results.
If you have significant viral symptoms with no reason for them, you may want to consider EBV testing and treatment. Classic symptoms may include:
- Sore throat
- Painful or swollen lymph nodes
- Swollen spleen
- Swollen liver
Your lab results may also show a rise in IgM levels.
If you’ve already had EBV in the past, you may need a PCR test. With a positive PCR test, you probably have acute EBV and require immediate medical care.
However, it’s rarely EBV if you have unexplained symptoms and other signs like elevated IgM but receive a negative PCR test.
Critical Insight: EBV is no joke. If you have it, you need to seek treatment immediately.
Effective Epstein Barr Virus Treatments
How you treat EBV depends on your symptoms.
In the chronic acute form of EBV, there’s not a lot of treatment options. You could get inpatient care or stem cell transplantation.
Milder chronic EBV requires antiviral treatments. The best option is intravenous vitamin C, which shows decent results backed by clinical data. Rest, fluids, and general immune support are beneficial.
Spironolactone, an older diuretic medication, also may have some antiviral properties that can help treat EBV9.
Critical Insight: Antiviral treatments are the best option for mild chronic EBV.
Consider Getting Tested, But Understand They May Misread The Results
If you’re sick with an acute viral infection, consider getting tested for EBV. But if you’re feeling sore, achy, tired, and struggling with your thyroid, it’s probably not EBV.
Even if you had EBV tests with positive IgG markers, you might not have EBV. Most of us show higher IgG levels from getting the virus during childhood.
Don’t think your IgG levels alone mean you have an EBV problem.
Many well-intended doctors misread the lab results because they don’t understand how to read the tests or what the results truly mean.
The Bottom Line: EBV tests are often misread because we all have high IgG levels long after having the virus. But it doesn’t necessarily mean you have EBV.
Don’t ignore your symptoms. If you think your fatigue could be related to EBV, consider taking my Adrenal Quiz (Click Here). Consult a doctor for proper testing and treatment if you show other symptoms.
1 – https://www.cdc.gov/epstein-barr/about-ebv.html
2 – https://www.infectiousdiseaseadvisor.com/home/decision-support-in-medicine/infectious-diseases/epstein-barr-virus-ebv/
3 – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5099387/
4 – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26424654/
5 – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32421991/
6 – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19138419/
7 – https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/00000740.htm
8 – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5770746/
9 – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4822607/
P.S. Whenever you are ready, here is how I can help you now:
1. Schedule a Thyroid Second Opinion with me, Dr. C, Click Here for Details
2. Download and use my Favorite Recipes Cookbook Here
3. Check out my podcast Medical Myths, Legends, and Fairytales Here
Dr. Alan Glen Christianson (Dr. C) is a Naturopathic Endocrinologist and the author of The NY Times bestselling Adrenal Reset Diet, The Metabolism Reset Diet and The Thyroid Reset Diet.
Dr. C’s gift for figuring out what really works has helped hundreds of thousands of people reverse thyroid disease, lose weight, diabetes, and regain energy. Learn more about the surprising story that started his quest.