The Epstein-Barr virus, the virus that causes mono, is extremely common with a prevalence of 90% in humans. As with any virus, once you get it you always have it. Despite this, the virus normally “enters latency” and doesn’t continue to cause any problems unless it becomes reactivated later in life.
When it does get reactivated later in life, the Epstein-Barr virus can cause a number of problems, as you can seen below.
Epstein-Barr doesn’t truly enter latency, it’s not as if it just chills out and hides in the body. Your immune system keeps it in check. Unless, of course, you become immuno-compromised and the virus can replicate to the point it can cause problems again.
A study published late last month indicates that loss of an immune system checkpoint receptor called Programmed Cell Death Protein 1(PD-1) can lead to reactivation of the Epstein-Barr virus. PD-1 normally acts by suppressing the immune system, and protects against autoimmunity by decreasing T-cell inflammation. Blocking PD-1 and the protein that binds to it PD-L1 is currently used to fight cancer, as tumor cells “use” PD-1/PD-L1 to prevent detection.
Another interesting finding from last year is that PD-L1 is regulated by the core circadian clock protein BMAL1. This indicates that the circadian clock may play a role in protecting against both autoimmunity AND Epstein-Barr virus reactivation. This seems like a logical finding in that both autoimmunity and latent viral infections seem to rear their ugly head as we get older and more immuno-compromised.
Circadian disruption is also something that comes with aging. Specifically, the amplitudes of many hormones under circadian control dampens and shifts earlier. However, a short review of studies done in seniors found that a consistently scheduled lifestyle with exposure to many time-setting cues, also called zeitgebers, improved the sleep of seniors, likely by amplifying their circadian rhythms.
Overall this paints a picture that as we get older, we really need to focus on behaviors that help set our circadian rhythms to prevent reactivation of latent infections, and possibly to reverse them when they come back. These zeitgebers start with exposure to outdoor light during the day, blocking blue and potentially green light at night, and setting a regular feeding/fasting cycle.
For some this may be adequate in and of itself. For others, it may be necessary to lock in more zeitgebers to amplify circadian rhythms to fight the decreased amplitude that comes with aging. For those people, I highly recommend my Circadian Retraining Program, which you can check out here.
Based on the above data, optimizing circadian rhythms through exposure to time-setting cues called zeitgebers may be the most effective way of preventing an Epstein-Barr virus reactivation as you get older.