Holistic Approaches in HIV Treatment

Essentially, holistic approaches teach – and what mainstream medicine is beginning to embrace in a deeper way – is that we are each complex, dynamic individuals. Even though people may be bonded by sharing HIV+ serostatus, that doesn’t mean the drugs even work the same for everyone. Some people respond better. Some people suffer side effects more acutely.

Indeed, we exist as individuals that have emotional, physical, intellectual and, many feel, spiritual needs. Holistic medicine attempts to address each of these in a very patient-centered way. It’s important to keep this in mind, since part of taking control of your health is making your own decisions based on the best available information and based on your own personal needs. This, of course, is rendered all the more difficult by the fact that mainstream practicing physicians are not trained in these modalities and worse, their time is being drastically limited by the perverse HMO system of care that reduces patient time to a worse-than-bare minimum. (Politics does indeed play an integral–and too often unfortunate – role in our health!)

A variety of specific interventions have been studied among people with HIV. Perhaps the best data concern the use of micronutrients. There is substantial research documenting an early loss of many micronutrients that persists – and often worsens – as HIV disease progresses to AIDS. It is not controversial to recommend that every individual with HIV should take a daily, potent multivitamin, the one caveat being that it may be better to take one without iron if you are having any liver problems.

Let’s take an example of one aspect of HIV disease that underscores two important issues. Evidence published in the spring of 2000 shows that people in the middle stages of HIV disease suffer a serious decline in the body’s sulfur content, primarily being due to depletion of an amino acid (a protein building block) called cysteine. This has led to the idea that the use of N-acetylcysteine (NAC)or whey proteins may be a safe and effective way to offset this loss. Some test tube studies, however, suggest that cysteine may damage neurons. It remains to be seen if people using NAC will suffer any increased risk of neuronal loss.

The first important issue this raises is that there is more to AIDS than just whacking HIV with drugs. The second is the need for accurate and factual information, as underscored above with the SJW example. It is very important that people evaluate the claims made by practitioners and sellers of these products. Information must be balanced, complete, grounded in good quality research, and it must provide a reasonable risk/benefit analysis.