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AIDS Patients are Using Complementary Therapies Without Discarding Conventional Treatment

By Alan R. Gaby, MD

Healthnotes Newswire (September 14, 2000) — A large proportion of people living with HIV/AIDS are using complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapies, according to a survey published in this month’s Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine. However, these individuals are, in large part, using such therapies in addition to, rather than instead of, conventional treatments.

The survey, which was conducted in Australia in 1997, showed that 56% of 925 men and women living with HIV/AIDS had used at least one CAM treatment.1 The most frequently used alternative treatments were nutritional supplements (used by 46% of respondents), massage (24%), herbal remedies (21%), meditation/visualization (20%), acupuncture (10%), and traditional Chinese medicine (7%). Overall, 81% of the respondents were using conventional treatments, such as anti-HIV drugs and antibiotics to prevent infections that commonly occur in HIV-positive patients.

People using CAM treatments were no more or less likely to be using conventional treatments than were people not using CAM treatments. Other studies also have shown that the use of CAM treatments is common among AIDS patients. For example, a survey of HIV-infected men in the United States revealed that 40% of those attending conventional medical clinics also used CAM treatments.2

Some of the CAM treatments that are being used are backed by scientific research. For example, in a preliminary trial, supplementation of HIV-infected patients with selenium (400 mcg per day as selenium yeast) resulted in fewer episodes of illness, better appetite, and positive neurological and psychological changes.3 In another preliminary trial, administration of zinc (approximately 45 mg per day) markedly reduced the incidence of infections and improved certain measures of immune function.4

Nonetheless, the safety and efficacy of most CAM treatments for people with HIV/AIDS have not been scientifically evaluated. For that reason, some doctors have expressed concern that the ready availability and apparent safety of CAM treatments might entice AIDS patients to avoid the conventional drugs that have been shown to be highly effective (albeit expensive and potentially quite toxic). The findings from the present study provide reassurance that people living with HIV/AIDS who choose to use CAM therapies are not abandoning conventional medicine.

References
1. de Visser R, Ezzy D, Bartos M. Alternative or complementary? Nonallopathic therapies for HIV/AIDS. Altern Ther Health Med 2000;6:44–52.
2. Anderson W, O'Connor BB, MacGregor RR, Schwartz JS. Patient use and assessment of conventional and alternative therapies for HIV infection and AIDS. AIDS 1993;7:561–5.
3. Schrauzer GN, Sacher J. Selenium in the maintenance and therapy of HIV-infected patients. Chem Biol Interact 1994;91:199–205.
4. Mocchegiani E, Veccia S, Ancarani F, et al. Benefit of oral zinc supplementation as an adjunct to zidovudine (AZT) therapy against opportunistic infections in AIDS. Int J Immunopharmacol 1995;17:719–27.

Alan R. Gaby, MD, an expert in nutritional therapies, served as a member of the Ad-Hoc Advisory Panel of the National Institutes of Health Office of Alternative Medicine. He is the Medical Editor for Clinical Essentials Alert, is the author of Preventing and Reversing Osteoporosis (Prima, 1994), and co-author of The Natural Pharmacy, 2nd Edition (Healthnotes, Prima, 1999), A–Z Guide to Drug-Herb-Vitamin Interactions (Healthnotes, Prima, 1999), Clinical Essentials Volume 1 and 2 (Healthnotes, 2000), and The Patient’s Book of Natural Healing (Prima, 1999). Currently he is the Endowed Professor of Nutrition at Bastyr University of Natural Health Sciences, Kenmore, Washington.

This article is provided by Healthnotes for theBetterHealthStore. Copyright © 2000 Healthnotes, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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