Epstein-Barr and Cancer

Through extensive research scientists have found out how viruses reprogram healthy cells into becoming cancer cells, lupus cells, and otherwise disease-forming cells. It has become apparent that the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) is behind most cancers, especially for those who have impaired immune system (for anyone diagnosed with a chronic disease, that could be the case). It seems that a protein component of the virus itself promotes the development of cancer. EBV infects B cells of the immune system and can reactivate to produce viral offspring that infect nearby cells.  As a result, these cells have a greater chance of transforming into cancer cells and otherwise disease-promoting cells.                           

                        Immune Deficiency


     Autoimmune  Epstein-Barr   Cancer 

                                     ⇓                 ⇓          

             Mononucleosis       Thyroid Disease


Epstein Barr Virus (EBV) is one stealth virus that may potentially lead to cancer. Along with herpes, shingles, and chicken pox, EBV is part of the herpes virus family. Over 95% of adults worldwide harbor lifelong latent EBV infection and will test positive for this virus.  Most children are infected as well. Once a person is infected with EBV, it remains dormant in the body forever, often asymptomatic. For some, this will not be a problem. For others, it can result in life-threatening, long-term consequences, including changing healthy cells into cancer cells. EBV leads to changes in gene expression, activation of oncogenic signaling, and increases the risk of cancerous transformation.

Scientific findings suggest that EBV infection drives the activation of genes that contribute to an individual’s risk of developing various disease conditions. Once the virus inserts itself into to a specialized immune lymphocyte (B cell), it hijacks the DNA to take control of the cell. Essentially, EBV invades B cells, re-programs them, and changes the way they function. If not deactivated, the virus will continue to modify the host’s DNA, disrupting the critical process of apoptosis (programmed cell death). Unfortunately, EBV often evades recognition and destruction by cytotoxic T cells. In patients who have impaired T-cell immunity and are unable to control the proliferation of EBV-infected B cells, the virus will then provoke various disease conditions.

Conditions that are EBV-related include various cancers, such as Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Non-Hodgkin lymphoma, Burkitt’s lymphoma, nasopharyngeal carcinoma, as well as breast, colon, prostate, and other cancers. EBV is also linked to autoimmune disorders such as multiple sclerosis, lupus, Hashimoto’s, rheumatoid arthritis, and Graves’ disease, Chronic fatigue syndrome, mononucleosis, thyroid disease, meniere’s disease, type 1 diabetes, lyme disease, and numerous other conditions. Chronic Active Epstein-Barr Virus (CAEBV) is very often implicated in chronic illnesses which elude diagnosis. In short, EBV is a very dangerous virus, yet not one most clinicians discuss with their patients.

EBV actually has the ability to change healthy cells into cancer cells, protect infected cells from detection, and initiate or promote many chronic diseases.

What this means to you is that each time this virus comes out of dormancy, it significantly raises one’s risk of cancer as well as the progression of the disease.  It is imperative that one take measures to deactivate this virus and to reduce viral load.

Reactivation of EBV

Emotional and physical stress are two of the biggest reasons EBV comes out of dormancy. Emotional toxins are toxic material. Further, when you’re under high stress the body releases cortisol, which decreases your immune system, so it is less able to knock down the virus. When you get chapped lips or the shivers while being over-exposed to the elements, you experience physical stress. Extreme physical or emotional stress such as running marathons (at work or on the pavement) can re-activate the virus.

EBV often starts as mono, but not always. If you have had, chicken pox, cold sores, shingles, know that these are all related to EBV. Importantly, often times EBV has presents no symptoms at all.

However, environmental toxins are also involved. More and more studies connect environmental factors (such as pesticides and preservatives) to viruses such as Epstein-Barr and link them to the development of cancer and autoimmune disorders (EBV is one of the most frequently considered environmental factors involved in autoimmunity).

If you have cancer, an autoimmune disorder, or any of the diseases listed above, you might consider getting tested for EBV, with a full range of markers tested. These include ENBA AB IgG,  EBNA IgG, VCA IgG, EA D IgG, and VCA IgM. It is important to remember that most of us have been infected and will have VCA-IgG and EBNA-IgG antibodies.  However, EBNA antibodies may be absent in immuno-suppressed patients or those with severe immunologic defects.

  • The presence of VCA IgG antibodies indicates that an EBV infection has occurred at some time recently or in the past (VCA stands for viral capsid antigen).
  • The presence of antibodies to EBNA (Epstein-Barr nuclear antigen) means that the infection occurred in the past. Antibodies to EBNA develop six to eight weeks after the time of infection and are present for life.
  • The presence of VCA IgM antibodies and the absence of antibodies to EBNA means that the infection has occurred recently.
  • The presence of antibody to the early antigen (EA) of Epstein-Barr virus indicates that it is actively replicating.
  • The most important tests for signs of reactivation are EBNA IgM and EA D IgG∗. 
Possible Results–also request EBV EA D IgG, see below
VCA IgG VCA IgM EBNA IgG Interpretation
No previous exposure
+ + Recent infection
+ + Past infection
+ See note*
+ + + Past infection

*Results indicate infection with EBV at some time (VCA IgG positive). However, the time of the infection cannot be predicted (ie, recent or past) since antibodies to EBNA usually develop after primary infection (recent) or, alternatively, approximately 5% to 10% of patients with EBV never develop antibodies to EBNA (past).

∗Epstein-Barr Epstein Virus Early Antigen D Antibody (IgG)- Infection with EBV can cause lymphoproliferative disorders including tumors. IgG recognizing Early Antigen D typically appears within a month after clinical presentation and is transient, lasting only 3-4 months. Persistently elevated levels suggest reactivation or persistence of EBV infection.

As per the CDC:

Interpretation of EBV antibody tests and diagnosis of EBV infection is summarized as follows:

  • Susceptibility to infection
    People are considered susceptible to EBV infection if they do not have antibodies to the VCA.
  • Primary (new or recent) infection
    People are considered to have a primary EBV infection if they have anti-VCA IgM but do not have antibody to EBNA. Other results that strongly suggest a primary infection are a high or rising level of anti-VCA IgG and no antibody to EBNA after at least four weeks of illness. In rare cases, people with active EBV infections may not have detectable EBV-specific antibodies.
  • Past infection
    The presence of antibodies to both VCA and EBNA suggests past infection (from several months to years earlier). Since over 90% of adults have been infected with EBV, most adults will show antibodies to EBV from infection years earlier. High or elevated antibody levels may be present for years and are not diagnostic of recent infection [which is why a full panel of tests is suggested].

Estrogen and EBV

Estrogen levels are inversely proportional to cytotoxic CD8-T cell levels. Specific immune cells known as CD8+T cells are needed to fight EBV. The higher the estrogen levels in a woman (or a man) the lower the cytotoxic CD8-T cell levels. When estrogen levels are lowered, CD8 levels rise. This could be one of the mechanisms by which aromatase inhibitors (AIs) work for some people, but AIs also come with many harmful side effects and can be ineffective in the long run (please see my articles on aromatase inhibitors).

What You Can Do Now

  1. Read this article: What You Need to Know About the Epstein Barr Virus, Cancer, and Autoimmune
  2. By all means, lower stress now. While we cannot eliminate stress completely, it is important to disengage from toxic people and circumstances. This means it is best to avoid stressful situations and people. Let me repeat. Get rid of stressful people in your life.
  3. Engaging in mind-body therapies such as meditation, yoga, Tai chi, Reiki, sound therapy, and walking in nature can make a significant reduction in stress levels. Moderate, daily exercise is recommended, but no “weekend warriors’ please as excessive exercise is quite stressful to the body.
  4. For additional information about strategies for supporting adrenal health and reducing stress(ors), the following books are worth reading: Adrenal Fatigue, by James L. Wilson, N.D., D.C., Ph.D.; The Cortisol Connection, by Shawn Talbott, Ph.D.; The End of Stress as We Know It, by Bruce McEwen; and Awakening Athena by Kenna Stephenson, MD.
  5. For supplements for stress management, please see the Stress and Adrenal section on my SHOP page.
  6. Environmental toxins such as heavy metals, pesticides, solvents, plastics,  petroleum, and other chemicals and pathogens feed the virus and therefore should be avoided and detoxification methods utilized.
  7. EMF exposure is believed to reactivate EBV, perhaps because they disrupt the way our cells function and clog detoxification pathways in the body.  Please read my articles for  suggestions on reducing risk.
  8. Learn more. Read my article published in the Journal of Cancer Biology and Treatment, Etiology of Chronic Disease: A Discussion on Epstein-Barr Virus.
  9. There are numerous plants and dietary supplements that help deactivate EBV and reduce viral load:

Plant Foods: (listed alphabetically, not in regards to efficacy — all are important as they play different roles) 

  • Aloe Vera
  • Apples
  • Apple Cider Vinegar
  • Artichokes
  • Arugula
  • Asparagus, especially thick ones
  • Atlantic Sea Vegetables
  • Avocados
  • Bananas
  • Basil, cilantro, parsley, oregano, thyme, etc. (herbs)
  • Berries
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery
  • Coconut
  • Cruciferous vegetables
  • Cucumbers
  • Essiac tea
  • Fennel
  • Figs
  • Flaxseed
  • Garlic
  • Ginger
  • Grapes
  • Hemp seeds
  • Kale
  • Lemons, limes, oranges, tangerines,and other citrus fruits
  • Lettuce
  • Leafy greens
  • Mangoes
  • Maple syrup
  • Nuts
  • Onions, shallots, chives, leeks, and scallions
  • Pears
  • Pomegranate
  • Potatoes
  • Radishes
  • Raw honey
  • Sesame seeds
  • Spinach
  • Sprouts and microgreens (especially the sulforaphane)
  • Squash
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Tomatoes
  • Turmeric
  • Watercress
  • Wild blueberries

Supplements: (click on the highlights for brand recommendations)

Important Note: Check with your doctor before taking any supplement or herb as there can be interactions with medications and certain medical conditions (RED indicates a brand recommendation).

This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to treat, cure, prevent, or diagnose any disease or condition. This page and the information on this website does not represent medical advice nor should it be considered to be medical advice or a replacement for medical advice.  I encourage you to discuss this information with your integrative oncologist, naturopathic doctor, or conventional oncologist or physician.  The information provided is from my research and not to be taken as scientific evidence. 

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