Note : None of these treatments has been proven effective as yet for the uses cited above.
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is the virus responsible for AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). This virus progressively destroys or damages cells in the immune system, making its host vulnerable to certain cancers and infections. Opportunistic infections—caused by microorganisms that do not ordinarily cause illness in healthy people—can have serious or even fatal effects in people with AIDS.
Within a month or two of exposure, infection with HIV may cause short-term flu-like symptoms, followed by a symptom-free period lasting months to years during which the virus continues to multiply. After this stage, people with HIV may develop swollen lymph nodes, recurrent herpes sores, diarrhea, weight loss, and/or chronic yeast infections (oral or vaginal)—a state previously called AIDS-related complex (or ARC). Children may experience delayed development or fail to thrive. The infection is called AIDS when the number of immune cells known as CD4+, or helper T-cells, drops below a certain level, or when opportunistic diseases such as Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia develop. Today, both ARC and AIDS are collectively called symptomatic HIV infection. This condition is increasingly rare in the developed world due to the success of pharmaceutical treatments, and, for many people, HIV infection is a manageable, if challenging, chronic illness.
HIV is spread most commonly through unsafe sexual practices or by intravenous drug abuse. Mothers can infect their babies before or during birth, or later through breastfeeding.
The most effective treatment for HIV is called HAART, or highly active antiretroviral therapy. This approach generally involves the combined use of three or more drugs, taken from various families of antiretroviral drugs, including non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NNRTIs), nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs), fusion inhibitors, and protease inhibitors. Taken together, these medications can prevent the development of AIDS indefinitely. HAART, however, causes numerous side effects. Surveys have shown that people with HIV often take natural remedies in addition to conventional medications, in hopes of reducing side effects and enhancing efficacy. If you have HIV, it is particularly important to talk with your doctors about any natural substances you're taking and to be alert to possible interactions. Most importantly, people with HIV should not use
Among the many proposed natural treatments for HIV, none has more than preliminary supporting evidence.
No natural remedies rival the effectiveness of antiretroviral drugs for inhibiting HIV replication in the body. However, preliminary research suggests that an extract of the leaves and stems of the boxwood shrub may have at least some efficacy. 1 Many other herbs and supplements have been proposed as well, but there is little evidence as yet that they work.
When participants started the study, they had no symptoms of HIV and had never taken antiretroviral drugs. They were kept off anti-HIV drugs during the study. (This was before the use of anti-HIV drugs became widespread.) At the end, researchers found that among those taking the lower dose, fewer people developed AIDS, symptomatic HIV, or CD4+ counts below 200 compared with those taking the higher dose or placebo. Additionally, by the end of their treatment period, fewer people in the low-dose group had a large increase in the amount of HIV virus they carried compared to the other two groups.
The researchers had originally planned the study to continue for 18 months (78 weeks). However, as the study progressed, a review committee decided to halt the study early when the average participant had taken boxwood or placebo for only 37 weeks. The review committee felt it was unethical to continue to have some people take placebo, given the positive results among those taking the extract. Nonetheless, further research is necessary to confirm the effectiveness of boxwood extract for HIV, particularly in combination with proven antiviral drugs, which have now become the standard of care for HIV infection.
No severe side effects were reported in this study, and the people taking boxwood had the same overall rate of side effects as those taking placebo.
However, there are some safety concerns with this herb. A substance called cycloprotobuxine is believed to be one of the active ingredients in boxwood.
Note : Only a special boxwood extract has been studied as a treatment for HIV infection. Do not try to use raw boxwood leaf, as it might not be safe.
One of the constituents of the herb
Other substances that have been investigated for possible HIV suppression include
In test tube studies, a number of substances have been found to improve measures of immunity in HIV infection, for example, by elevating CD4+ counts, changing the ratio between CD4+ cells and other immune cells, increasing amounts of other immune chemicals, or enhancing the body's ability to attack invading substances. However, there is relatively little information on whether they can actually help people with HIV infection.
One of the natural substances most widely used by people with HIV in hopes of enhancing immune system function is the antioxidant
NAC is a specially modified form of the dietary amino acid cysteine. NAC supplements help the body make the important antioxidant enzyme
Other natural treatments that are sometimes recommended to boost immunity in HIV include:
However, there is no real evidence as yet that these treatments actually work.
Study results are mixed on whether
Immune support for people with HIV is also discussed in the
Besides the treatments mentioned earlier, a number of natural remedies have been proposed for symptoms of HIV or common opportunistic infections.
DHEA does not appear to provide general benefits for people with HIV, such as improving immunity, suppressing virus levels, or aiding weight maintenance.
In another double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, 68 HIV-infected adults were given either placebo or a preparation of 35 Chinese herbs for a period of 6 months.
Supplemental medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), a particular type of fat, and glutamine may be helpful for this symptom, although there is no definitive evidence as yet that they work.
Fat malabsorption is particularly common in HIV infection and can lead to both diarrhea and weight loss. MCTs medium-chain triglycerides , which are more easily absorbed than ordinary fats (long-chain triglycerides), may help decrease diarrhea and wasting. Two small, double-blind studies have found that MCTs are more easily absorbed than long-chain triglycerides in people with HIV or AIDS.
In both of the studies described above, participants consumed nothing but a special nutritional formula containing MCTs. Taking MCTs in this way requires medical supervision to determine the dose.
People with HIV or diabetes should not use MCTs (or any other supplement) without a doctor's supervision. For more information, including dosage and safety issues, see the full
Another promising treatment for wasting is the amino acid
Another small, double-blind trial found that combination treatment with glutamine,
Several natural treatments have been proposed to treat side effects from various medications used in the treatment of HIV.
Taking AZT can lead to
In one well-designed, double-blind study, use of the amino acid
It has been suggested that the supplement
People infected with HIV may be particularly vulnerable to malnutrition because of decreased appetite, poor absorption, or possibly increased requirements for specific nutrients. Studies have found deficiencies of vitamins
One study evaluated whether use of a
Vitamin A and beta-carotene are described together here because the body uses beta-carotene to produce vitamin A. Substances called
Vitamin A deficiency may be linked to lower CD4+ counts as well as higher death rates among people infected with HIV.
Keep in mind also that excessive dosages of vitamin A can be toxic to the liver. Consult with your physician on the right dose for you. For other dosage and safety issues, see the full articles on
At one point it was thought that vitamin A supplements might decrease the rate of transmission of HIV from a pregnant mother to her newborn. However, it now appears that the reverse may be true: vitamin A may
chance of such transmission.
One double-blind study found statistically weak evidence that use of mixed carotenoids by AIDS patients might prolong life.
An observational study found that HIV-positive men with the highest intakes of
deficiency has been linked to impaired immune function in one study of people with HIV infection.
Excessive intake of vitamin B
can cause neurologic problems.
Consult with your physician on the right dose for you. For other dosage and safety issues, see the full
Massive doses of
However, a double-blind study of 49 people with HIV who took combined vitamins C and E or placebo for 3 months did not show any significant effects on the amount of HIV virus detected or the number of opportunistic infections.
A study of 71 HIV-positive children noted a high rate of
Note : Do not take iron supplements unless you know that you are iron-deficient.
In a double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 450 people with HIV, use of selenium supplementation at a dose of 200 mcg per day appeared to reduce measures of viral load.
Selenium has also been proposed as a preventive or treatment for cardiomyopathy, a disorder of the heart muscle that can affect people with AIDS, but evidence so far is weak.
Some, but not all studies, have found that HIV-positive people tend to be deficient in
Higher zinc levels have been linked to better immune function and higher CD4+ cell counts, whereas zinc deficiency has been linked to increased risk of dying from HIV.
However, other research has linked higher zinc intake to more rapid development of AIDS.
However, one study found that use of zinc supplements could reduce diarrhea symptoms in people with HIV.
Because so many nutrients are affected by HIV infection and treatments,
A double-blind study of 40 people on HAART found that use of a multinutrient supplement improved CD4 counts and possibly improved neuropathy symptoms.
However, as noted above, one study evaluated whether use of a multivitamin tablet might reduce infectivity of African women with HIV, and unexpectedly found the opposite: multivitamin tablets increase the levels of HIV virus present in the genital area.
People using HIV medications should not take St. John's wort
Other possible harmful effects discussed elsewhere in this article include worsening of peripheral neuropathy symptoms by
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