When most of us hear the phrase “caught a cold” or “dealing with the flu”, it conjures up images of runny noses, fevers, loss of appetite and a general sense of malaise. But not many of us think about the fact that the same pathogens that can cause a cold or give us the flu can also make us fat.
And these pathogens not just make you fat, but also tired and brain dead.
See, it’s not the actual pathogens causing a sickness that make you feel crappy. Pathogens are simply not strong enough to do that. Rather, it’s your immune system’s response to those pathogens that makes you feel crappy, and (as you’re about to learn) fat, tired and brain dead.
The majority of people are harboring a multitude of pathogenic critters that wreak havoc on our health in a much wider variety of ways than simply a temporary infection or inconvenient runny nose. For example – have you ever heard of “mono”, also known as Epstein-Bar Virus, and occasionally as “kissing disease”?
Epstein-Bar Virus is just one example of a large group of “stealth” microbes – pathogens that don’t create overt symptoms like a runny nose or fever, but carry along with them much more insidious signs and symptoms like fatigue, brain fog, inability to recover from exercise, mood swings, and decreased drive (to name just a few).
The goal of this article is to outline some of the most common stealth pathogens, how they impact your various body systems, and what you can do about it. If you’ve been “banging your head against a brick wall” trying to figure out why you’re just looking, feeling or performing the way you want to – and it seems like you’ve tried everything to no avail – then this article is for you.
Why You Can Be Sick But Not Feel “Sick”
We’re all exposed to viruses, yet not everyone gets “sick”.
Why is this? The state of your immune system is affected by a handful of factors, including:
-Vitamin D levels
-Sleep quality and quantity
Viruses typically operate by incorporating their DNA into ours and replicating when our cells replicate. In short, they rely on us.
So if the above mentioned factors are in good status inside your body, these viral replications will be suppressed and the symptoms averted. However, if you consider the toxic load on you from the environment around you, and your daily exposure to heavy metals, pesticides, other immune-suppressing pollutants, you’ll realize how easy it is for viruses to bypass immune detection and wreak havoc on our health.
The most common stealth pathogens people harbor are Human Herpes Virus-6, Epstein-Bar Virus, Coxsackie Virus, Mycoplasma (a weird cell-wall deficient bacteria), and Adenovirus. As mentioned above, we’re all exposed to these pathogens at some point during childhood or early adult hood. If our immune system stays robust, the viruses and bacteria will be relatively unsuccessful at creating problems.
But if these pathogens take hold of someone with a compromised immune system or someone under a large amount of physical, emotional or environmental stress, it can be an entirely different scenario.
What type of symptoms might these stealth pathogens produce? Ever have trouble paying attention? What about achy joints? Have you experienced poor sleep quality or a lack of desire to stay socially connected? While all of those signs and symptoms could have multiple causes, the stealth pathogens are common culprits.
All of those nagging symptoms described above are not caused by the pathogens themselves but by a type of molecule referred to as pro-inflammatory cytokines. Common pro-inflammatory cytokines include interleukin-6, tumor necrosis factor-alpha, and Interleukin-1 beta. These are powerful molecules that have the ability to make you feel as if you’ve been hit by a truck (or two). In addition, these cytokines can lead to atherosclerosis, increased C-reactive protein, joint damage, leaky gut, leaky blood-brain barrier, racing thoughts and even brain cell death. In fact, researchers have created an entire class of drugs to block the effects of one of these pro-inflammatory compounds called TNF-alpha. Since we know that chronic, low-grade inflammation is at the heart of nearly every disease known to man, keeping these substances at a low level is important to say the least.
Of course, the obvious question becomes this: do you yourself have these stealth pathogens, microbes and viruses inside your body and if so, are they active?
The easiest way to test for them is to check your IgG and IgM (both antibodies) level to EBV, HHV-6, Mycoplasma, Adenovirus, and Coxsackie Virus. Traditional – and even many natural, functional medicine – doctors will interpret an elevated IgM as a currently active virus and a high IgG level as a prior infection. But this is incorrect (according to my clinical experience) and to other functional medicine experts who I rely upon for advice.
To get started finding a doctor that can run tests like this, you should consider visiting sites like:
Many individuals may have such poor immune function that they are unable to mount an IgM response pathogens, so they don’t show signs and symptoms of things like colds or flus. But this doesn’t mean the pathogens aren’t wreaking havoc on their health. What I have seen in practice is that as your IgG levels decrease, your health and quality of life increase.
How Stealth Pathogens Can Make You Fat
So based on this, how could a bacteria or virus actually make you fat?
Through a number of mechanisms, actually.
For example, when molecules such as IL-6 and TNF-alpha are released, they damage hormone receptors, especially insulin. This leads to the inability to effectively process sugars, a condition known as insulin resistance or pre-diabetes. In other words, insulin is knocking on the doors of your cells, but the doorbell is broken. Common signs of insulin resistance are constant hunger, sleepiness after meals, weight gain around the mid-section, difficulty sleeping, high blood pressure, and increased inflammation.
In addition, the powerful inflammatory compounds released by immune cells trigger a cortisol response in an effort to reign in any unbridled inflammation. This constant activation of the adrenal glands—and subsequent production of cortisol—also leads to insulin resistance. Keep in mind, this aspect of insulin resistance is independent of diet and exercise. In other words, one can follow a strict diet of good proteins, healthy fats and low to moderate carbohydrate consumption and still develop insulin spikes and insulin resistance. This is why it is so crucial to examine all aspects of the body that may be contributing to a large cytokine load: digestive health, systemic infections, toxicity, etc. The take home message: Inflammation can drive insulin resistance independent of diet and exercise.
How Stealth Pathogens Can Make You Tired
As if packing on pounds to your waistline weren’t enough, these stealth microbes can also disrupt brain and nervous system function. They achieve this by punching holes in the blood brain barrier, the protective shield designed to keep undesirables out of our brains. This means everything from environmental chemicals to heavy metals. There exists a plethora of research behind the dangers of each if allowed into the brain.
In addition, the pro-inflammatory cytokines can activate the microglial cells, the brain’s resident immune cells. During the acute phase, there isn’t much harm in this. Long-term, however, it leads to over-excitation of your neurons and eventually cell death. When the microglial cells are activated, it is common to experience symptoms such as anxiety, depression, memory loss, decreased productivity and racing thoughts. Ever laid down to sleep and you can’t seem to put the brakes on your racing thoughts? There’s a good chance that activated microglial cells played a role (interestingly, the common issue of hypothyroidism also leads to heightened activity of the microglial cells).
You already learned how a pro-inflammatory state leads to constant activation of cortisol release. Now, we need to discuss how this can have downstream effects on other hormones, including the sex hormones. We know that constant activation of the adrenals leads to elevated cortisol and it's consequent negative effects, such as insulin resistance, racing heart, agitation, leaky gut, and an overall catabolic state. Elevated cortisol also inhibits the conversion of T4 to T3, which impacts thyroid function.
More importantly, the existence of a pro-inflammatory state may lead to pregnenolone steal, in which your body utilizes the hormone precursor pregnenolone to produce cortisol at the expense of your other sex hormones. This is one of the major reasons why it is crucial to address adrenal and thyroid function prior to addressing sex hormone function. If your body has a hierarchy of needs, the adrenals and the thyroid are at the bottom, while the sex hormones are closer to the apex.
For example, let’s take a 32 year old female with a number of systemic infections creating an inflammatory state. She goes in for her yearly hormone panel, which shows she is deficient in progesterone. Her M.D. places her on progesterone replacement and decides to re-test her hormones 3 months later. Much to their dismay, the progesterone levels have not budged. Not one bit.
Why? Because of her pro-inflammatory state, her body is using the exogenous progesterone to create more cortisol in an effort to subdue the cytokines. The answer is to address the infections and other inflammatory stressors before replenishing her progesterone levels.
Another example would be a male deficient in testosterone who is given testosterone shots(or cream, pellets, etc.). While he may notice a slight increase in drive, energy, etc., he may also experience the symptoms of excess estrogen—increased fat around the chest, decreased erections, overall weakness, etc. The reason for this is that any type of inflammatory stressor will increase aromatase activity, the enzyme that converts testosterone to estrogen.
How Stealth Pathogens Can Make You Brain Dead
As if the above symptoms weren’t annoying enough, certain viruses have been connected to much more sinister conditions. Many viruses, referred to as neurotrophic viruses, have an affinity for the brain and nervous system tissue. In fact, numerous studies have found a strong association between Alzheimer’s Disease and various certain forms of the Herpes family viruses, such as HSV 1. In addition, there exists a strong link between CMV, another Herpex family virus, and Alzheimer’s Disease. While correlation doesn’t equal causation, the number of studies linking stealth pathogens with various neurological disorders is too great to ignore.
In addition, certain viruses have been linked to various types of cancer, including breast and prostate cancer. On a similar note, these stealth pathogens may lead to autoimmune disease through a variety of mechanisms, namely molecular mimicry. Basically, this means that the viral protein coat and our human cells share a similar structure, which leads to our immune system attacking one or more of our own tissues. A classic example of this would be Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, which is closely connected to the Epstein-Bar Virus.
What You Can Do
At this point, you should be asking: what can I do about these stealth pathogens? Or what can be done to prevent them from becoming active in the first place?
Let’s begin with the broad topic of prevention.
Obviously, eradicating as many stressors as possible from your life would be a great start. And for the stressors that are a necessary evil in your life, I suggest a daily routine of transcendental meditation, along with at least 15 minutes of walking – which is not necessarily for any calorie-burning effect, but instead for the stress-reduction properties. From a more physiological standpoint, you also need to optimize your levels of the following nutrients:
-RBC Zinc: get your blood levels to 1,400 micrograms/dL or higher. You can get this test from your local doc.
-Glutathione levels: there are some labs that will measure reduced versus oxidized glutathione. I recommend aiming to keep your reduced glutathione in the top 25%. DirectLabs will measure glutathione.
-Ensure that you have optimal levels of beneficial gut flora, such as Lactobacillus spp. and Bifidobacteria spp. This can be checked through a test such as the Metametrix G.I. Effects Profile panel 2200 from DirectLabs.
-Optimal levels of DHEA, usually measured as DHEA-sulfate: aim for the top 25% of the range. DHEA is critical for maintaining an optimal number and activity level of several types of immune cells. For this you can use an Adrenal Stress Index test from DirectLabs, which will also test cortisol, a valuable marker to test.
-Sleep: both quality and quantity. A disrupted circadian cycle disrupts pretty much every hormone that we know of, along with our immune system. Specifically, sleep deprivation raises the levels of Interleukin-6, one of those potent cytokines we discussed earlier. You can learn about many sleep tracking tools here.
-You can (and should) also test for IgG and IgM titers (titers are simply your immune system’s response to the pathogens) if you are dealing with constant difficulty recovering from your workouts, decreased drive, blood sugar swings or insulin resistance, brain fog or other nervous system symptoms. DirectLabs has te the IgG and IgM for Epstein-Barr and the IgG HHV-6. You can ask your doctor about these too. If you’re experiencing persistent fatigue, difficulty recovering from your workouts, decreased drive, blood sugar swings or insulin resistance, brain fog or other nervous system symptoms, consider getting your IgG and IgM titers tested to EBV, CMV, HHV-6, Mycoplasma, Coxsackie B virus, and Adenovirus.
But what if you went through a stressful period – you lost your job or you’re in a relationship that is not nourishing to your spiritual side? There are a number of both natural and prescription agents (outlined below) that can lower your viral titers. The major difference between treating bacteria, yeast and viruses is the time component.
In most instances, it is important to stay on an anti-viral (such as any of the ones described below) for at least 6 months. Of course, it is equally important to fortify the immune system during this time, so that when the anti-virals are discontinued, one’s immune system can take over the reins of controlling the viruses. Natural agents that can be used as anti-virals include:
-Monolaurin (I recommend Ecological Formulas brand)
-Lomatium dissectum (I recommend a product called LDM-100)
-GSE (I recommend NutriBiotic)
Larrea Tridentata (I recommend Biogenesis – their product is called Larrea Plus)
Colloidal silver (I recommend Argentyn 23)
Prescription agents often used against viral infections include: Acyclovir, Famvir, and Valacyclovir. Of course, these must be used under the supervision of a physician and monitoring of liver and kidney function.
In the beginning of this article, I told you that microbial infections may be responsible for many of your health-related symptoms that normally aren’t associated with pathogens or immune imbalances.
We covered how some of the most common bugs are creating an inflammatory environment in our bodies that prevents us from healing. In addition, the pro-inflammatory cytokines (cell messengers) that are released can place a constant strain on your adrenals, leading to blood sugar imbalances, insulin resistance, imbalances in downstream hormones, a leaky blood-brain barrier, and even putting you at potential risk for future cancers.
Hopefully, the information I just presented has convinced you that the site of your symptoms – whether it is your nervous system in the form of brain fog, memory trouble, mood swings; your hormonal system in the form of pregnenolone steal and the subsequent depletion of sex hormones; or your immune system or in the form of “autoimmune disorders” like thyroid issues – may not be the actual source or cause of your symptoms.
About the Author
Dr. Tim Jackson, DPT received his undergraduate degree in Health science and chemistry from Wake Forest University in 2003. He completed his Doctorate in Physical Therapy (DPT) from the Medical University of SC in 2009. Realizing that manual therapy and orthopedic care helped only some of his patients, he began studying functional and environmental medicine, as well as digestive health, in an effort to help others achieve wellness.Dr. Tim is educated in nutritional biochemistry, digestive health and its systemic effects, as well as functional endocrinology. He recently completed the Spine portion of the Active Release Technique methodology, a system that addresses musculoskeletal trigger points and helps to expedite the healing process. You can find Dr. Tim at www.healyourbody.org, where you can also download his free e-book “Beyond Green Allopathy”.
Feel free to leave your questions, comments or feedback below and either Tim or Ben Greenfield will reply!
CMV linked to Alzheimer’s: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/20/cytomegalovirus-alzheimers-cmv-_n_3472646.html
Coxsackie B virus and heart disease: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC482880/
Viruses and Breast Cancer: http://www.infectagentscancer.com/content/8/1/32
Viruses and prostate cancer: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/07/120731151739.htm
Cancer-causing virus and epilepsy: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130124123543.htm
Infection linked to depression: http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/infection-autoimmune-disease-linked-to-depression-201306176397
Molecular Mimicry, Bystander Activation, or Viral Persistence: Infections and Autoimmune Disease: http://cmr.asm.org/content/19/1/80.full