Mononucleosis, or Glandular Fever, Natural Treatment
Practicing naturopathy in my small community has allowed me to watch the local children grow into teenagers. The kids that I once treated for chicken pox are now coming in with problems that seem to affect their older age group. One of these illnesses is glandular fever, sometimes called the “kissing disease” or mononucleosis.
Small children and older people can contract glandular fever as well, however, in small children the symptoms are more commonly mild. Older people may be affected strongly if the immune system is weakened. However, teenagers seem to commonly present with glandular fever.
Glandular fever or infectious mononucleosis is caused by the Epstein Barr virus. It infects the white blood cells of the immune system causing a large increase in their numbers, which can lead to the enlarged glands. It is brought on by symptoms such as sore throat, fever, muscle aches, abdominal pain, dry cough, enlarged spleen, liver inflammation and extreme fatigue.
So why does this illness seem to favour teenagers? I do not think there is any definitive answer to this, yet the spread may be due to exploration of kissing (sharing saliva) at this age. I have heard the term ‘hooking up’ used to describe the act of kissing a new boy or girl—not necessarily a boy or girl friend—just ‘random’, as they say, kissing. Sharing drinks, lip-gloss, eating utensils and, sad to say, cigarettes and recreational drug utensils, leads to the passing of this virus as well.
Stress can lead to lowered immunity, which can then allow infections to take hold in the body. Stressors such as the beginning of high school, physical developmental changes going on with the body, exams and peer pressures, may also contribute to why teenagers are more susceptible to an illness like glandular fever. A blood test and throat swab from your doctor will reveal if your child has glandular fever.
Treatments for glandular fever
As glandular fever is a virus, most doctors will not prescribe antibiotics (unless the throat has a bacterial infection). However, naturopathy utilises many wonderful herbs to deal with viruses and the uncomfortable symptoms that come with them.
Usually the sore throat causes most discomfort, along with the swelling of glands. Using herbs such as thyme (especially if strep throat is indicated), echinacea, poke root, baptisia, (to boost immunity and support lymphatic function) and licorice (anti bacterial and supports adrenal glands).
If there is a fever, using homeopathic belladonna 30 or 200c, or aconite 30 or 200c if the fever comes on very quickly. The herbs yarrow, peppermint, elder flower, linden or boneset can be used for fevers. Ferrum phos 6x can be used for slow low grade fevers.
Many herbs have shown to be useful in fighting viruses with success: elder berry, cats claw, amala, reishi mushroom and St Johns wort (this is best prescribed by a qualified herbalist because it can interact with some medications). A qualified natural therapist can make a blend of herbs to best suit your individual symptoms.
Muscle aches and pains are common in glandular fever. People with symptoms of aching muscles and tiredness, mostly need a lot more magnesium that unfortunately foods cannot supply as our soils are very deficient. Magnesium deficiency is also common because of our stressed, busy lifestyles, where we burn up many of our vital nutrients. Zinc is needed for the immune system and many other actions of healing.
B vitamins are important to feed and calm the nervous system. There are some great high dose magnesium powdered products with the B vitamins in them that are very useful in treating glandular fever. Again, many herbs can relax muscles and ease pain, chamomile boneset, cramp bark, willow bark and Jamaican dogwood just to name a few.
The liver may need support especially if the spleen is enlarged and the liver has an extra load: St Mary’s thistle, dandelion root, schisandra and amala (which is anti-viral, nervine and good for rashes that can sometimes appear).
The fatigue of glandular fever is probably the worst symptom and in some cases can go on for many months. In our region, doctors, pharmacists and naturopaths all seem to agree on one main treatment plan for viruses: rest, rest and more rest. Getting some of our teenage kids to rest and get to bed early is difficult, and yet with glandular fever one must rest and is usually forced to do so, including giving up sporting commitments and definitely no partying.
And of course the diet is important in treatment. Smaller meals, four to five times a day are usually better, especially if appetite is decreased. Provide light, wholesome broths and soups, as well as fresh salads with alfalfa sprouts for extra vitamins and minerals. Make smoothies with fresh fruit and a little protein powder if your child is not eating much. Just stay with whole foods and keep away from processed, packaged foods. Tea, coffee, fizzy drinks and sugary juices should be avoided. Your child should drink herbal teas and lots of water.
Glandular Fever Maintenance
The teenage years need plenty of support for their immune system, nervous system and emotional wellbeing. The immune system can need support for months after glandular fever with continued good diet and lots of water. Herbs such as astragalus, withania, shatavari and Siberian ginseng also help in the maintenance stage. The nervous system can be supported with an ongoing multivitamin, herbs like skullcap, passionflower, schisandra and amala are again good here.
Supporting our teenagers emotionally is probably a whole new article and yet just to mention it is important. Teens are undergoing huge changes in their world—school pressure and hormonal activity is enormous. Try to stop and listen, give them a day out if they need it and remember to watch our expectations of these developing souls. Sing them up, praise them, play with them (if they will still join in, mostly they will). Moderate exercise, lots of time outdoors having fun, building a positive self-image and learning basic meditation techniques all contribute towards reducing stress and bolstering the immune system. Love them back to health.
Published in Kindred, Issue 24, December 07