Human Endogenous Retroviruses (HERVs) Explanation and Treatment Suggestions
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Human Endogenous Retroviruses (HERVs) Explanation and Treatment Suggestions
What are Human Endogenous Retroviruses (HERVs) and Why Do I Care?
Most people are familiar with only one retrovirus, which is the virus known as HIV. HIV is an infection, but what makes HIV so problematic is its function as a retrovirus.
In health, the oversimplification of understanding what DNA does is that it simply provides a code for creation of proteins and enzymes in our body. DNA does this by creating a copy of itself known as RNA. Through a few more steps, the RNA creates proteins that we need. Retroviruses are appropriately named this because they create DNA FROM RNA, not the other way around. Retroviruses have RNA. When retroviruses enter the human body they create DNA out of their own RNA. When they do this, the DNA of the virus is implanted into our own human DNA, thus affecting us deeply. While most people are fortunate enough not to get the retrovirus HIV, all humans are born with retroviruses, known as endogenous retroviruses. Endogenous simply means from within. [i]
Why are you born with human endogenous retroviruses (HERVs)?
Some readers have probably heard the term “junk DNA.” Junk DNA is a term referring to 8% of our DNA that is made up of endogenous retroviruses. Basically, parents hand down a portion of our DNA that has retroviral DNA woven in. For a long time we thought in medicine that this DNA did not do anything. Now we are learning that environmental triggers can “wake up” this DNA, causing all sorts of health issues.
What are the environmental triggers that can turn on the expression of these viruses?
Inflammation and the creation of proinflammatory cytokines can turn these retroviruses on. This is a BIG topic because so many things can create inflammation. Other viruses, fungal overgrowths, parasites, worms, pathogenic bacteria, microbiome imbalances, pesticides, herbicide, mycotoxins, lyme disease, metals, stress, over exercise, lack of sleep, sugar, nutrient imbalances and more can all create inflammation in the body and should all be suspected as turning on the expression of retroviruses.
What happens when retroviruses are turned on?
When the environmental trigger turns on the dormant retroviruses, the retrovirus wakes up and begins to release a protein known as ENV. The ENV protein will cause an increase in a protein called ICAM, which is on the outside of our cells. ICAM is important because when it is increased, inflammatory molecules are then allowed inside the cells. This inflammatory reaction inside the cells can lead to cellular inflammation and autoimmune responses being initiated. This process has been shown to even lead to an immune reaction against myelin, which has been associated with multiple sclerosis.[ii]
Research is suggesting that retroviruses may be associated with a variety of disease processes including MS, ALS, CFS, Bipolar disorder, Diabetes, schizophrenia, and autoimmune disease.[iii] In addition, animal studies have shown the retrovirus expression may be responsible for the genetic alterations seen with autism.[iv] ADHD and other neurodevelopment disorders have also been shown to have a higher correlation of HERVs than health controls. HERV activation should certainly be considered for all of the above conditions as part of the root cause.[v]
Other disease processes such as Lyme, Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome and multiple chronic infection disease syndrome result in fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, chronic pain and many other symptoms. T
These sorts of infections can be difficult to recover from in part due to the strength of the microorganisms, but also due to the widespread effect they have on the tissues, organs, and glands. We also theorize that one reason why these disease processes may be difficult to recover from is due to the co-activation of retroviral DNA and the subsequent inflammatory effect that they have on the system.
Testing for Retroviruses:
We recommend running a Nagalase test. Nagalase is an enzyme secreted by viral pathogens. Nagalase will turn off macrophage activating factor and is part of preventing our immune system from fighting the virus. For more information on nagalase, please see our blog at: https://medicinewithheart.com/blog/nagalase-testing-nagalase-care/
St. John’s Wort
Hypericum perforatum, commonly known as St. John’s Wort, has been shown to fight the exogenous retrovirus known as HIV. The whole herb appears to be important as an extract of its active ingredient, hypericum (which is what gives the herb its antidepressant properties). An extract will only [vi] work in a light dependent condition that is hard to control internally and is likely only effective in a lab. Therefore, use of whole herb extracts of this plant appear to be important. There needs to be more research on this herb for this purpose. Also St John’s Wort has a lot of drug interactions that require caution when using this herb and taking medications.
Selenium is worth considering as a treatment option. The effect of viruses on the reactive oxygen species pathways is not only clear in research, but has been shown to be part of the viral replication and survival. By increasing oxidative stress in the body, the viral pathogen is more easily able to replicate and survive. Selenium is a key nutrient in the creation of certain proteins known as selenoproteins, which are needed for the production of antioxidant molecules such as glutathione. In HIV patients for example, lower levels of selenium have been correlated with a faster progression of HIV to AIDS.[vii] In addition, selenium deficiency has been shown to lower macrophage count and macrophages, CD4 and CD8 cells, which all help our bodies fight viruses.[viii] In treatment of retroviruses, one should also consider other nutrients that improve oxidative stress such as sulforaphane from broccoli sprouts, copper, and manganese to improve SOD function as well as antioxidants such as vitamins C and E.
Methylation is a hot topic in medicine, but what does it actually mean? Methylation is a process by which certain enzymes in the body only work if they are given what is called a methyl donor (a molecule of one carbon and three hydrogen). By the donation of this methyl donor, enzymes all over the body are turned on or off. Methyl donors largely control the expression of DNA. A proper amount of methylation will help to keep retroviruses in their off expression.
Many people are using methylfolate or methylcobalamin as methyldonors. While these molecules do have methyl groups, they are very weak donors of this carbon hydrogen molecule. Nutrients such as SAMe and creatine are much more effective methyl donors. This is a complicated topic though and demands its own blog to be thorough.
MicroRNA are small RNA nucleotides that mammals have endogenously. They provide the role of stopping various RNA processes in the body, which can include viral replication. Many viruses have developed process to stop the microRNA process from happening in our mammalian cells as part of their replication. More research is needed in understanding many different herbs and nutrients that could positively affect our microRNA and its ability to stop viral replication. Methylation however is one process that has been shown to turn on microRNA function, and may be part of the reason behind why methylation can stop the expression of retroviral DNA. [ix]
Cistus incanus has been shown to have antiviral, antibacterial, and antifungal activity. It is also anti-inflammatory. It has been used as an antiretroviral agent in HIV cases. Another exciting thing about the use of cistus as an antiretrovirus agent is that HIV did not become resistant to cistus in long term use. It works through the mechanism of action of altering the envelope protein of the virus which prevents the attachment of viral particles to human cells. It has also been studied to be effective against Ebola, Influenza A, and Marburg virus, making it a likely candidate for broads spectrum use.[x]
Human Endogenous Retroviruses may be a big factor in chronic, developmental, and neurological disease processes. There is not a perfect test yet for the activation of HERVs, however nagalase is a good test to consider. Using antioxidants, including selenium and sulforaphane combined with cistus, are excellent starts for the treatment of retroviruses. This should be done in context with other functional medicine approaches that look at the full picture of other underlying root causes. Proper methylation is also essential for keeping retroviruses in their dormant state. Homocysteine is a useful marker for evaluation of methylation status. The goal is to have the serum value at 7 or less. Any value greater than this could be a methylation problem.
[i] “Endogenous Retrovirus.” Endogenous Retrovirus – an Overview | ScienceDirect Topics, 2008, www.sciencedirect.com/topics/immunology-and-microbiology/endogenous-retrovirus.
[ii] “Endogenous Retrovirus.” Endogenous Retrovirus – an Overview | ScienceDirect Topics, 2008, www.sciencedirect.com/topics/immunology-and-microbiology/endogenous-retrovirus.
[iii] Küry, Patrick, et al. “Human Endogenous Retroviruses in Neurological Diseases.” The Cell, 2018, www.cell.com/trends/molecular-medicine/pdf/S1471-4914(18)30031-5.pdf.
[iv] Williams, Michael R, et al. “A Retroviral CRISPR-Cas9 System for Cellular Autism-Associated Phenotype Discovery in Developing Neurons.” Scientific Reports, Nature Publishing Group, 10 May 2016, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4861960/.
[v] Balestrieri, Emanuela, et al. “Human Endogenous Retroviruses and ADHD.” The World Journal of Biological Psychiatry , 2013.
[vi] Birt, Diane F., et al. “Hypericumin Infection: Identification of Anti-Viral and Anti-Inflammatory Constituents.” Pharmaceutical Biology, vol. 47, no. 8, 2009, pp. 774–782., doi:10.1080/13880200902988645.
[vii] Guillin, Olivia M, et al. “Selenium, Selenoproteins and Viral Infection.” Nutrients, MDPI, 4 Sept. 2019, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6769590/.
[viii] Hoffmann, Peter R., and Marla J. Berry. “The Influence of Selenium on Immune Responses.” Molecular Nutrition & Food Research, vol. 52, no. 11, 2008, pp. 1273–1280., doi:10.1002/mnfr.200700330.
[ix] Wahid, Fazli, et al. “MicroRNAs: Synthesis, Mechanism, Function, and Recent Clinical Trials.” Biochimica Et Biophysica Acta (BBA) – Molecular Cell Research, Elsevier, 7 July 2010, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0167488910001837.
[x] Rebensburg, Stephanie, et al. “Potent in Vitro Antiviral Activity of Cistus Incanus Extract against HIV and Filoviruses Targets Viral Envelope Proteins.” Scientific Reports, Nature Publishing Group, 2 Feb. 2016, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4735868/.
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