[Editor’s note] This post was originally published in January 2017. It has been updated and republished in May 2019.
The Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) is one of the most common viruses found in humans. In fact, about 50% of children have been exposed at a very young age, and by adulthood, it is believed that at least 95% of the population has been affected.
Along with herpes, shingles, and chicken pox, EVB is part of the herpesvirus family (HHV-4 herpes). EBV can cause mononucleosis (the “kissing disease”) but usually it doesn’t. In fact, that is the problem – most EVB infections aren’t noticeable, even when they are active in the body.
While for most people it poses no serious immediate consequences (other than misery from cold-like symptoms and fatigue), it can pose long-term health consequences…
Once you are afflicted with EBV, it never leaves. It remains dormant throughout life. However, there are many triggers that can provide fuel to viruses and other pathogens in the body so that a dormant virus can take advantage and become reactivated. These triggers include exposure to radiation, pesticides, herbicides, paint fumes, and mold.
They can also be related to nutritional deficiencies, physical injury, toxic heavy metal exposure, and emotional trauma. EBV can get reactivated anytime your immune defenses are down.
Women who have gone through a major life change, such as the death of a spouse or even menopause, may be particularly susceptible to the reactivation of the virus. While reactivation does not always present with symptoms, you may experience fatigue, aching muscles and joints, swollen lymph nodes, and other flu-like symptoms. People with weakened immune systems are more likely to develop symptoms when EBV reactivates.
Epstein Barr Virus & Cancer: What’s the Connection?
What you need to know is that herpetic viruses such as EBV are often behind autoimmune disorders such as lupus, MS, and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. And the EBV could even be fueling your breast cancer.
Doctors rarely look to EBV as a cause of illness as the patient is often asymptomatic of the virus. Yet, a person suffering from a thyroid condition, auto-immune disorder, or cancer likely had a case of mono back in the college days that never really left their system. It just took up a new residence within the body and started causing more serious problems. And it is not just mono, but shingles, herpes, and a myriad of other viruses.
For years, researchers have been linking viruses to the development of cancers such as various lymphomas. Recently, however, the connection to breast cancer has been found to be incredibly strong.
Studies have found that 30-50% of breast cancer patients have EBV, either active or dormant. Others put the number much higher, as high as 90%.
A 2016 study published in the Central European Journal of Immunology reported that EBV shows immunomodulatory and oncogenic effects that inhibit apoptosis (cancer cell death) and control inflammation.
In 2017, researchers at the German Cancer Research Center found that EBV interferes with cell division and reprograms cells into becoming cancer cells. Consistent research shows that EBV leads to changes in gene expression, activation of oncogenic signaling, and increases the risk of cancerous transformation.
According to the American Cancer Society, EBV is implicated with nasopharyngeal cancer, certain types of lymphomas, and stomach cancer. Some research points to the idea that most of the time cancer is caused at least in part by a virus.
Yet all too often, patients are told that EBV or other viruses can’t be the problem. This may be because blood tests show antibodies that indicate a past infection, not a present one, or that doctors just don’t think to look for it. However, a study published in the Journal of General Virology found EBV can initiate cancers or play a stealth role in their development. They reported that viruses can take up residence in host cells without activating the immune system but may disappear from the tumor cells by the time the cancer is detected.1
Other researchers have postulated that just fighting the virus could exhaust or dampen down the immune response, which might help cancer escape immune destruction.
EBV and Breast Cancer
Scientific findings suggest that EBV infection drives the activation of genes that contribute to an individual’s risk of developing breast cancer. A 2016 study published in The Lancet reported that EBV leads to changes in gene expression, activates oncogene signaling, and lowers the guard against cancerous transformation. The researchers referred to these gene expression changes as ‘EBVness’, meaning they were associated with remnant EBV DNA. They concluded that EBV may increase the odds of breast cancer formation.2
The researchers, led by Gerbury Wulf, MD, PhD, of the Hematology/Oncology Division at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, reported that EBV may accelerate the development of malignant breast cancer. They found that breast cells bonded to the Epstein Barr virus and that the virus lowered the threshold for transformation into a particularly aggressive form of cancer.
“We think that if a young woman develops EBV during her teenage years or later, her breast epithelial cells will be exposed to the virus and can be infected. While for most individuals, there will be no long-term consequences, in some the infection may leave genetic scars and change the metabolism of these cells,” explained Wulf. “While these are subtle changes, they may, decades later, facilitate breast cancer formation.”
A study done in 2014 found “a strong association between EBV and breast cancer carcinoma in Sudanese patients, and considerable epigenetic silencing of tumor suppressors that make likely be an outcome or an association with viral oncogenesis.”
The researchers detected EVB in all of the breast cancer biopsies and none in the normal breast tissue biopsies. Breast cancer is the most common cancer in Sudanese women, and interestingly, there is a very low frequency of BRCA mutations in Sudanese breast cancer patients.
Another study published in 2015 found an association between EBV and the development of breast cancer. While the study had inconsistent results, the researchers concluded that EBV and other viruses may play a role at a later stage in the development of breast cancer. They also hypothesized that this could explain elevated IgG levels associated with breast cancer.
Numerous other researchers have concluded that the role of EBV in the development and progression of breast cancer as well as in autoimmune disorders cannot be overlooked and should be investigated further. Cancers have a known cause, and this virus is one of them. Therefore, if your medical team is not aware of this connection, you will need to be your own advocate and take control of your care – which is always a good idea.
What You Can Do NOW to Reduce Your Breast Cancer Risk
Many natural compounds have the ability to suppress viral activation. Scientific research confirms that any food that is considered to be antiviral and/or antibacterial or which can support the immune system and liver can help. Anthony William was at the forefront of substances that target EBV and mentions many foods and substances in his book Life Changing Foods.
For example, according to his book, lemon balm, iodine, lysine, and licorice root are particularly helpful. He says that lysine hinders and stops EBV from proliferating. Doctors have been recommending lysine for numerous years for the prevention of cold sores, so this makes sense. A notable 2005 study presented in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine found that lysine, as well as various probiotics, fruits, vegetables, spices, and other plants support immune function and inhibit EBV.
Some other agents cited are astragalus, bee propolis, and zinc.3
Research shows that licorice root (and its constituent quercetin) is powerfully antiviral and stops viruses from procreating. It also has anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, apoptotic, hepatoprotective, anti-neurodegenerative, and anti-tumor effects.4
Monolaurin, a lipid extract from coconut, has powerful antiviral, antibacterial, and antipathogenic activity.5 It may work against the virus by disintegrating the protective lipid envelope surrounding the virus, facilitating the death of EBV cells.6
Vitamin C stimulates the body’s production of antiviral cytokines and interferon that boost the immune response to viruses and inhibit their cell growth.7
Vitamin D plays a key role in optimizing the function of the immune system and the expression of several genes that may be involved in infection-fighting pathways. A 2017 study determined that high-dose oral vitamin D3 supplementation can improve immune responses against EBV.8
Here are a few beneficial herbs & spices, essential oils, and supplements that you may even have on hand already:
- Cats Claw is powerful against pathogens and viruses.
- Cilantro is fantastic for removing heavy metals. It is also antibacterial and antiviral.
- Lemon balm is anti-parasitic, antiviral, and antibacterial
- Licorice root is powerfully antiviral and stops viruses from procreating. It also pushes the virus out of the body creating an environment inhospitable to hosting such viruses.
- Parsley is a strong pathogen-fighter and targets parasites, bacteria, and fungus.
- Turmeric is the ultimate inflammation fighter, including for inflammation in the brain that occurs as a result of EBV.
- Aloe Vera is antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, and anti-parasitic. Studies have shown it to be useful for targeting the pathogens connected with colon, stomach, and rectal cancers.
- Astragalus, Bee Propolis, and Zinc support immune function and inhibit EBV.
- Burdock root supports the liver so it can remove pathogens and toxins.
- Astaxanathin, lutein, quercetin, and selenium show powerful protection against EBV activation.
- EBV is one of the viruses that trigger NF-kB, and activation of NF-kB has been linked to various cancers. Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA) has been shown to inhibit NF-kB.
- NAC (N-Acetyl Cysteine) is antiviral and offers significant reduction of NF-kB.
- Vitamin D inhibits EBV. And like NAC and ALA, it inhibits NF-kB and reduces the resulting inflammation triggered by EBV. It is important to note that low vitamin D status hinders the immune system response to EBV and cancer. Further, young people with low vitamin D status and high antibody reactivity to the EBV have an increased risk of developing MS.
- Citrus peels have been found to be effective against active EBV. Researchers have found that the d-limonene extracted from the peels suppresses TPA, which is a tumor promoter associated with EBV. Therefore, lemon and myrtle essential oils can also be helpful due to the d-limonene they contain.
- Cordyceps have antiviral, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and antitumor activities that suppress EBV replication and protect the liver.9
- Myrtle is antiviral, anti-inflammatory, and contains other chemo-preventive compounds.
- Olive Leaf has potent antiviral, antimicrobial, antioxidant, and anticancer properties. 10
- Vitamin C hinders viral infection and replication.
- Monolaurin has antiviral, antibacterial, and antipathogenic activity.
- Ginger blocks TPA as well as the expression of EBV antigens, thus blocking viral and tumor activity associated with EBV.
After the initial infection, EBV stays in your body throughout life. It has to be kept dormant, or it can reactivate. And it could well be driving your autoimmune disorder or cancer.
The following foods are considered to be particularly effective against EBV:
- Oranges and Tangerines (including the peel)
- Blueberries and Blackberries
- Cruciferous Vegetables
- Leafy Greens
- Onions and Garlic
- Sprouts and microgreens
- Herbs (oregano, thyme, etc.)
- Cilantro and Parsley
- Lemon balm
- Licorice Root
- Aloe Vera
- Atlantic Sea Vegetables
- Burdock Root
- Nettle Leaf
- Red Clover
- Rose Hips
Things to Avoid to Minimize Your Risk of EBV & Cancer
Just as important as “what to eat” is what not to eat. If you have symptoms or believe you have active EBV, you may need to avoid dairy, eggs, corn, and wheat until the situation is resolved. I typically recommend avoiding wheat and corn regardless as they are typically genetically modified and corn is loaded with aflatoxins.
Always avoid unhealthy fats and cooking oils such as canola and soybean oils. And remember that genetic expression is turned on or off by lifestyle factors. What you eat, drink, do, and think determines genetic expression. Take charge of your health and your body will thank you.
Remember that after the initial infection, EBV stays in your body throughout life. It has to be kept dormant, or it can reactivate. And as it is likely that you have been exposed to EBV, it would be prudent to include the above recommendations into your daily diet. Also imperative is to reduce stress, a major cause of immune system dysfunction. As an empowered person, you can absolutely reduce the risk of EBV wreaking havoc on your health.
Please help bring more awareness about the link between EBV and cancer by sharing this article with your friends and family below.
The Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) is one of the most common viruses found in humans. About 50% of children have been exposed at a very young age, and by adulthood, it is believed that at least 95% of the population has been affected.
Once you are afflicted with EBV, it never leaves and remains dormant throughout life. However, there are many triggers that cause viruses to become reactivated. These triggers include exposure to radiation, pesticides, herbicides, paint fumes, and mold.
For years, researchers have been linking viruses to the development of cancers such as various lymphomas. Recently the connection to breast cancer has been found to be incredibly strong.
In a study published in 2016, researchers reported that EBV may accelerate the development of malignant breast cancer. Numerous other researchers have concluded that the role of EBV in the development and progression of breast cancer as well as in autoimmune disorders cannot be overlooked and should be investigated further.
Many natural compounds have the ability to suppress viral activation. These include any food, supplement, or essential oil that is considered to be anti-viral and/or antibacterial or which can support the immune system and liver.
Here are some of the beneficial herbs & spices, essential oils, and supplements:
- Cats Claw
- Lemon balm
- Licorice root
- Aloe Vera
- Burdock root
- Wild foods (foods found growing in nature without being planted by humans)
- Astaxanathin, lutein, quercetin, and selenium
- Vitamin E and selenium
- Vitamin B12
- Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA)
- Vitamin D
- Citrus peels
If you have symptoms or believe you have active EBV, you may need to avoid dairy, eggs, corn, and wheat until the situation is resolved. Always avoid unhealthy fats and cooking oils such as canola and soybean oils.