Ashley Wyckoff, Bachelor of Science
Could a common herbal supplement help those infected with Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV)? The Epstein-Barr virus is a member of the herpes virus family. Individuals with an active infection can experience fatigue, fever, and often non-specific symptoms that are generally mistaken for other common illnesses.1 Stress, illness, or other states of depressed immune system may activate EBV in individuals.2 Since ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) may help relieve stress, reduce cortisol, and improve fatigue, it could be considered a helpful option for managing the main symptoms of EBV and potentially helping to prevent viral reactivation.
Epstein-Barr Virus: Prevalence, Signs, and Symptoms
Roughly 90% of the population is infected with Epstein-Barr virus.3 Many people do not present with any symptoms (i.e. the virus is latent but may activate or reactivate under various conditions). The virus mostly spreads via bodily fluids (saliva, blood, sexual contact).1 There is no treatment or vaccine against EBV. You can help prevent the spread by not kissing, sharing food or a toothbrush, etc. with someone who is sick. If you are presenting symptoms, stay hydrated, rest, and take OTC medications for pain and fever.1 EBV can also cause mononucleosis (mono) and other illnesses. EBV can be hard to diagnose, because its symptoms can be associated with other illnesses.
Common Symptoms of Epstein-Barr Virus:
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Sore throat
What Causes EBV to Become Active?
A weakened immune system can cause the virus to become active. Chronic increased stress hormones like cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine can cause your immune system to weaken. In one study, the participants with elevated cortisol and epinephrine levels suffered from higher rates of acute EBV infection and viral reactivation compared to subjects with normal levels (P 3 After it was observed that astronauts often suffered from depressed immune systems during/after spaceflight, researchers linked EBV reactivation to increased urinary epinephrine and norepinephrine.4
How Ashwagandha Helps Relieve Stress and Fatigue
One of the most widely known supplements, ashwagandha, has been shown to improve stress markers in several clinical trials. In one randomized controlled trial (RCT) with 98 participants, it was demonstrated that ashwagandha extract reduced stress and anxiety scores, serum cortisol levels, pulse rate, and blood pressure.5 In another RCT with 64 participants, it was demonstrated that ashwagandha reduced stress scores and serum cortisol levels.6 Recently, another clinical trial in 60 participants confirmed the anxiety- and cortisol-reducing effects of ashwagandha.7 Ashwagandha may also improve fatigue: in an RCT with 75 participants, ashwagandha (in combination with a multivitamin and relaxation therapy) reduced anxiety scores, fatigue, and improved quality of life more than relaxation therapy and placebo.8
More on ashwagandha:
- Also referred to as Indian ginseng and winter cherry
- May also support memory and cognitive function9
- Can cost as little as $0.22 per day
- Classified as an adaptogen (plants known for helping people adapt better to stress)
- Withanolides, the active components of ashwagandha, can cross the blood brain barrier and may exert neuroprotective effects10
The Bottom Line
There is a need for clinical studies directly linking ashwagandha and EBV, however based on the benefits of ashwagandha, it could prove to be a promising natural way to help relieve stress and fatigue connected with EBV.
About the Author: Ashley Wyckoff, B.S., is a product operation specialist at Life Extension headquarters in South Florida. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Biology from the University of Florida. In her spare time, she enjoys hiking, reading and yoga to keep her mind and body healthy. She believes in equal access to quality healthcare and it is her goal to make it a reality.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV). https://www.cdc.gov/epstein-barr/about-ebv.html. Published 2018. Accessed 1/22/2020.
- Kerr JR. Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) reactivation and therapeutic inhibitors. J Clin Pathol. 2019;72(10):651-658.
- Coskun O, Sener K, Kilic S, et al. Stress-related Epstein-Barr virus reactivation. Clin Exp Med. 2010;10(1):15-20.
- Stowe RP, Pierson DL, Barrett AD. Elevated stress hormone levels relate to Epstein-Barr virus reactivation in astronauts. Psychosom Med. 2001;63(6):891-895.
- Auddy; B, Hazra; J, Mitra; A, Abedon; B, Ghosal S. A standardized Withania somnifera extract significantly reduces stress-related parameters in chronically stressed humans: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study. The Journal of the American Nutraceutical Association 2008;11(1):50-56.
- Chandrasekhar K, Kapoor J, Anishetty S. A prospective, randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study of safety and efficacy of a high-concentration full-spectrum extract of ashwagandha root in reducing stress and anxiety in adults. Indian J Psychol Med. 2012;34(3):255-262.
- Lopresti AL, Smith SJ, Malvi H, Kodgule R. An investigation into the stress-relieving and pharmacological actions of an ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) extract: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Medicine. 2019;98(37):e17186-e17186.
- Cooley K, Szczurko O, Perri D, et al. Naturopathic care for anxiety: a randomized controlled trial ISRCTN78958974. PloS one. 2009;4(8):e6628.
- Choudhary D, Bhattacharyya S, Bose S. Efficacy and Safety of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera (L.) Dunal) Root Extract in Improving Memory and Cognitive Functions. Journal of dietary supplements. 2017;14(6):599-612.
- White PT, Subramanian C, Motiwala HF, Cohen MS. Natural Withanolides in the Treatment of Chronic Diseases. Advances in experimental medicine and biology. 2016;928:329-373.