Is glandular fever responsible for your thyroid problem?

By naturopath Margaret Jasinska

Viral infections are well known triggers of autoimmune disease, and there’s a specific relationship between glandular fever and the thyroid diseases Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and Graves’ disease.

Glandular fever is a contagious infection caused by the Epstein Barr virus. It’s also known as mononucleosis, and the infection is most common in young adults and the typical symptoms are sore throat, fatigue and swollen lymph glands in the neck. There are no medications that cure the infection. The only treatment is rest and strengthening your immune system through a healthy diet and appropriate nutrients.

Most people recover fully from glandular fever, although the illness can last several months and produce profound fatigue. The virus can affect the liver in some people, and lead to a type of hepatitis. This can cause mild jaundice (yellow tint to the skin and eyes). The Epstein Barr virus can also be a trigger of chronic fatigue syndrome in some people.

Infections are a very common trigger of autoimmune disease, and they can also cause a flare up of an existing autoimmune disease. A lot of research has been done on this topic. Infection with certain bacteria, viruses, fungi or parasites doesn’t cause an autoimmune disease directly, like a virus causes the flu. Instead, these infections are more like the straw that broke the camel’s back. They trigger the development of an autoimmune disease in a person who was at high risk of developing one.

Certain infections have been linked with specific autoimmune diseases. This is probably because certain viruses or bacteria closely resemble specific parts of the human body. Therefore after making antibodies against a specific bug; your immune system gets confused and starts making antibodies against your own body. This phenomenon is known as molecular mimicry and is a leading theory as to why autoimmune disease happens in the first place.

As we travel through life we are exposed to more and more infections; this, coupled with nutrient deficiencies and stress, can make autoimmune disease more likely to develop as we get older. Deficiencies of selenium, vitamin D, zinc and vitamin C leave you vulnerable to infections and make it harder for your body to fight them.

Chronic infections and autoimmune disease

Almost everyone gets infected with glandular fever at some point in their life, but not everyone develops an autoimmune thyroid disease. It really depends on how your immune system deals with the infection. Chronic infections that linger in your body and continually stimulate your immune system are the worst at triggering autoimmune disease. In the case of Graves’ disease and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, the long term presence of the virus in follicular cells of the thyroid gland can lead to the production of high levels of inflammatory cytokines that eventually trigger autoimmunity. A number of studies have shown that people with autoimmune disease just don’t clear viral infections as well. They tend to persist and cause long term fatigue and immune system problems.

Any persistent infections can raise the risk of autoimmune disease in susceptible people. These are subtle, long term infections that may produce very few symptoms, therefore they typically go undetected and untreated. These infections can be bacterial, viral, parasitic or fungal. The infective agent can be present in your body in low numbers, therefore doesn’t produce obvious symptoms. These infections can be hidden in various locations of the body, such as the sinuses, gums, bladder, gastrointestinal tract, lungs, uterus or other areas.

The infections can chronically stimulate your immune system, producing low grade inflammation. The toxins released by these bugs also weaken your immune system and can make you feel generally unwell. Common symptoms of low grade infections include fatigue, aches and pains, foggy head, low mood, poor quality sleep and unrefreshing sleep. Again, the most effective way to address these chronic infections is to strengthen your immune system.

How can you strengthen your immune system? Eating well, getting enough rest and sleep, having fun and spending time with loved ones. It is important to find out if you are deficient in any particular nutrients, as this will make it so much harder for your body to overcome infections. This article will give you some good tips. For more information, see our books Your Thyroid Problems Solved and Healing Autoimmune Disease: A plan to help your immune system and reduce inflammation.


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