The Epstein-Barr virus is very common and affects nearly all individuals in the United States at one point or another during their lifetime. It can be either acute or chronic, and although there isn’t a cure, lifestyle changes — including your diet — can help relieve symptoms and promote healing.
Approximately 50 percent of children under the age of 5 and 95 percent of all adults in the U.S. have been infected with Epstein-Barr, or EBV, according to the Merck Manual. Most cases are mild, with symptoms similar to a cold; other cases are more severe and can lead to infectious mononucleosis, causing a high fever, swollen lymph nodes and an enlarged spleen.
After the initial infection runs its course, EBV remains in your body for life and can lead to a case of chronic fatigue that may last for months or years. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, states that almost all of patients with chronic fatigue will experience a partial or full recovery within five years. However, EBV can contribute to the development of several uncommon types of cancer, such as Burkitt's lymphoma and cancers of the nose and throat. According to a report on ScienceDaily, EBV has been frequently associated with multiple sclerosis and other autoimmune diseases, and the American Cancer Society points to a link between EBV and an increased risk of Hodgkin disease.
Acute cases of EBV are treated in much the same way as a cold or flu virus. MayoClinic.com recommends drinking plenty of water and fruit juices to help with fever and pain and to prevent dehydration. Naturopath Elizabeth Noble, author of "Nature's Amazing Mononucleosis Cures,” also recommends focusing on vegetable juices, broths, soups and herbal teas. For chronic EBV cases that include fatigue, Noble suggests an immune-boosting diet that should include quality protein foods with each meal, such as chicken, fish, lean red meat, cheese, eggs, whey powder, legumes, tofu and tempeh. Noble adds that up to 80 percent of your diet should come from fresh fruits and vegetables. Other anti-inflammatory foods can include ginger, turmeric, cayenne and essential fats like nuts, seeds, avocados and natural, cold-pressed oils.
One of the possible factors in EBV is a problem with the immune system, such as allergies. MayoClinic.com reports that food allergies affect an estimated 6 to 8 percent of children under age 3, and about 4 percent of adults, and many more may suffer from food intolerances. One way to spot these food allergies is to keep a food diary and then eliminate any suspect foods for a few weeks before adding them back one at a time. The TeensHealth website points to alcohol, caffeine and large quantities of junk food that may trigger or exacerbate EBV, while the CDC adds refined sugar to that list.
Scientists still don’t know a lot about EBV, its causes and how to treat it successfully. Since the symptoms mimic other disease such as Lyme disease, thyroid disease and lupus, if you experience symptoms similar to EBV or chronic fatigue, you should check with your doctor to determine the correct diagnosis for your situation. Also, you should beware of fad diets and products that claim to “cure” EBV or chronic fatigue. A report from the Department of Nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health published in 1993 in the “Archives of Family Medicine” warned that claims these therapies relieve chronic fatigue syndrome symptoms and promote recovery are anecdotal and have not been substantiated by clinical research.
- Merck Manual: Epstein Barr Virus
- “Clinical Microbiological Reviews”; Severe chronic active Epstein-Barr virus infection syndrome; M. Okano, et al.; January 1991
- SelfGrowth.com: A Diet for Epstein Barr Virus (Glandular Fever or Mononucleosis)
- TeensHealth: Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Chronic Fatigue Syndrome