by Andrew Pacholyk, MS, L.Ac.
The fact that there has to be a “day” for this disorder, saddens me, yet it is appropriate for everyone to be more aware and that is why, as a society, we do this.
HIV is a virus. Viruses infect the cells of living organisms and replicate (make new copies of themselves) within those cells. A virus can also damage human cells, which is one of the things that can make an infected creature become ill.
People can become infected with HIV from other people who already have it, and when they are infected they can then go on to infect other people. Basically, this is how HIV is spread.
HIV stands for the ‘Human Immunodeficiency Virus’. Someone who is diagnosed as infected with HIV is said to be ‘HIV+’ or ‘HIV positive’.
*More than 25 million people have died of AIDS since 1981.
*Africa has 12 million AIDS orphans.
*At the end of 2006, women accounted for 48% of all adults living with HIV worldwide, and for 59% in sub-Saharan Africa.
*Young people (15-24 years old) account for half of all new HIV infections worldwide – around 6,000 become infected with HIV every day.
*In developing and transitional countries, 6.8 million people are in immediate need of life-saving AIDS drugs; of these, only 1.65 million are receiving the drugs.
Ways in which you can be infected with HIV
-Unprotected sexual intercourse with an infected person
-Sexual intercourse without a condom is risky, because the virus, which is present in an infected person’s sexual fluids, can pass directly into the body of their partner. This is true for unprotected vaginal and anal sex.
-Oral sex carries a lower risk, but again HIV transmission can occur here if a condom is not used – for example, if one partner has bleeding gums or an open cut, however small, in their mouth.
-Contact with blood from an infected person.
-If sufficient blood from an infected person enters the body of an uninfected person then it can pass on the virus.
-From mother to child. HIV can be transmitted from an infected woman to her baby during pregnancy, delivery and breastfeeding. There are special drugs that can greatly reduce the chances of this happening, but they are unavailable in much of the developing world.
-Use of infected blood products. Many people in the past have been infected with HIV by the use of blood transfusions and blood products which were contaminated with the virus – in hospitals, for example. In much of the world this is no longer a risk, as blood donations are routinely tested.
-Injecting drugs. People who use illegal injected drugs are also vulnerable to HIV infection. In many parts of the world, often because it is illegal to possess them, injecting equipment or works are shared. A tiny amount of blood can transmit HIV, and can be injected directly into the bloodstream with the drugs.
It is not possible to become infected with HIV through:
-sharing crockery and cutlery
-insect / animal bites
-touching, hugging or shaking hands
-eating food prepared by someone with HIV
Global statistics can be found at: http://www.avert.org/worldstats.htm
Know Your Numbers
Two numbers should be looked at, when discussing HIV infection:
If you are being treated for HIV or AIDS, your doctor uses a number of blood tests to check how you’re doing. One of the most important tests measures VIRAL LOAD, the amount of HIV in your blood. Another very important test counts your CD4 CELLS, sometimes called T-CELLS. CD4 cells are a key part of your body’s disease-fighting defenses, called the immune system.
CD4 cells help to organize your body’s defenses against disease. Doctors can take a sample of your blood and count the number of CD4 cells. Healthy adults and teenagers usually have a CD4 count of at least 800 cells per CUBIC MILLIMETER of blood (a cubic millimeter is a very small amount, roughly one small drop).
HIV attacks CD4 cells, and as time goes by people with HIV often see their CD4 counts drop. The lower your CD4 count, the greater your chances of getting a number of very serious diseases. When your CD4 count is below 200, the risk of illness becomes severe.
Viral load tests, which tell the doctor how much HIV is in your blood, are a very important clue to how quickly HIV is doing harm. These tests go by several different names, like PCR (polymerase chain reaction) or bDNA (branched DNA), but they all work roughly the same way. They count HIV’s genetic material — the building blocks of the virus. People with a high viral load are much more likely to get sick or die of AIDS than people with a low viral load.
Studies have shown that when treatment reduces your viral load, it also reduces your chance of getting an AIDS-related infection or dying. Recently, a group of expert scientists reviewed 18 studies of anti-HIV drugs, which involved over 5,000 patients. Over and over again they found the same thing: The more viral load was reduced, the healthier the patients stayed.
Natural Medicine and HIV
Over the last decade, researchers have identified a number of drugs that slow progression of the virus as well as therapies to treat the many opportunistic infections that attack people with HIV disease.
Although as yet, there is no cure, the key to effective treatment is early detection and intervention. This is done by strengthening the immune system, reduce stress, maintain good nutritional practices and exercise as a way to relieve stress and boost your immune system.
Whether you have been diagnosed with HIV or not there should be an emphasis on improving lifestyle issues. Taking control of or your life and taking an active role in any disorder is an important adjunct to treatment. Consideration of alternative therapies in conjunction with conventional medicine may offer additional opportunities for those living with HIV/AIDS to be proactive in their treatments.
Stress is natural and affects your emotions. It can help you to deal with some situations. However, excessive stress can cause physical symptoms, it can damage your immune system and make you ill. Find ways of managing the stress in your life. Find ways to relax and recharge your batteries. Listen to your body; if you are tired, rest and you’ll be better for it.
HIV can bring anxieties. One way of tackling these are through getting information, by learning about your condition, gaining confidence in it, in yourself and making informed choices for your future.
Boost Your Immune System with Meditation
Fold your hands gently in your lap and close your eyes. Take a few deep breaths. Then just sit. If you have never meditated before, you will probably feel as if your mind is full of thoughts. Don’t try to stop the thoughts, just watch them. Imagine that you are on the bank of a river and that your thoughts are the river going by. Don’t try to stop the river, just watch it. Within a week, you will see the river begin to slow down. You may become impatient, or even bored. That’s okay. If you find yourself complaining, just watch the thoughts pass by. Do this for 5 to 10 minutes. You may find that you fall asleep because you are so relaxed. That’s good because, in many ways, you have begun to let go. Continue at this pace and each day allow just alittle more time for yourself to meditate. Doing this allows you to relax and forget about time.
Consider these alternative therapies: Acupuncture, ayurveda, bodywork & massage, diet therapies, herbal medicine, homeopathy, mind-body therapies, Siddha medicine, traditional Chinese medicine, Unani medicine and yoga.
Herbs, Supplements and Vitamins Beneficial for HIV Infection
Free radicals are atoms or groups of atoms that have at least one unpaired electron, which makes them highly reactive. Free radicals promote beneficial oxidation that produces energy and kills bacterial invaders. However, in excess, they produce harmful oxidation or “oxidative stress” that can damage cell membranes and cell contents. These free radicals cause inflammation.
In human beings, free radicals are the natural by-products of many processes within and among cells. Free radicals are created by exposure to various environmental factors, cigarette and tobacco smoke, air pollution, alcohol, drugs, radiation from televisions and computers, chemicals and a busy, stressful life.
Antioxidants are a classification of several organic substances, which include vitamins C and E, vitamin A (converted from beta- carotene), selenium, alpha lipoic acid, and carotenoids. Together as antioxidants, these substances are thought to be effective in helping to prevent certain cancers, cardiovascular disease, and cataracts. At the cellular level, antioxidants serve to deactivate certain free radicals in turn helping to decrease inflammation. The best source for antioxidants are in fruits and vegetables. Acetyl-l-carnitine: is a molecule that occurs naturally in the brain, liver, and kidney. Natural levels of Acetyl-l-carnitine diminish as we age. Acetyl-l-carnitine is related to the amino acid L-Carnitine, which is a carrier of fatty acids across mitochondrial membranes, where energy is produced within each cell. N-Acetyl Cysteine (N-AC) is protective to Liver tissue and aids in breaking down excessive mucus.
Alpha Lipoic Acid: is a unique antioxidant that is both water and fat soluble, which allows it to enter all parts of the cell to neutralize free radicals. Alpha Lipoic Acid contributes to and is important for the production of energy inside the cell by utilizing sugar to produce energy contributing to mental and physical stamina, reducing muscle fatigue and neutralizes free radicals. Alpha Lipoic Acid recycles and enhances the effects of both Vitamin C and Vitamin E. Alpha Lipoic Acid targets liver protection and is helpful for patients on hepatotoxic medications such as antiretrovirals, antifungals and typically any long-term medication protocols. No known contraindications exist. Possible side effects include skin rash and the potential of hypoglycemia in diabetic patients. People who may be deficient in vitamin B1 (such as alcoholics) should take vitamin B1 along with alpha lipoic acid supplements.
Astragalus: is a Chinese herb that has been used for centuries for its immuno-modulating qualities. There is mixed scientific evidence on its efficacy with HIV, but well documented studies on its ability to stimulate the immune system. This herb is used often used in conjunction with other immune boosters such as reishi, maitake and shitake mushrooms.
Beta-carotene: (Carotenoids), of which beta-carotenes are the most popular, are found in many fruits and vegetables, animals, plants and microorganisms. The body converts beta carotene into Vitamin A. Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin essential for vision, growth, cell division, reproduction and immunity. Among the 600 or more carotenoids in foods, beta-carotene, lycopene, and lutein are well- known leaders in the fight to reduce the damage from free radicals and are helpful with eye health.
Boxwood: has been shown in research to foster immune stimulation and promotion of t-cell activation. This can be found in capsule and tincture.
CoQ10: (Coenzyme Q10) is a vitamin-like compound also called “ubiquinone”. It is an essential component of cells and is utilized by the mitochondria in the normal process of energy production. It helps convert food into energy at a cellular level. Coenzyme Q10 acts as an antioxidant, much like vitamins C and E, helping to neutralize the cell-damaging molecules known as free radicals. CoQ10 is one in a series of ubiquinones, naturally occurring compounds produced in nearly every cell of the body, and was discovered as recently as 1957.
The primary function of CoQ10 is as a catalyst for metabolism. Acting in conjunction with enzymes, the compound speeds up the vital metabolic process, providing the energy that the cells need to digest food, heal wounds, maintain healthy muscles, and perform other bodily functions as a major antioxidant in cardiac tissue and has protective effects on brain tissue. Studies indicate high dosage can be used safely and effectively. Certain cholesterol lowering drugs have also been shown to deplete coenzyme Q-10. Patients on cholesterol lowering drugs should consider adding at least 200mg of CoQ-10 daily.
Echinacea: (see drug-herb interactions) has been documented to stimulate the chemicals that promote t-cell activation and antibody production. It is very effective in lessening the course of the common cold and respiratory infections when used short term. There are some conflicting studies on its use long term as well as a caution that it may briefly increase viral load. Avoid long term (7- 10 days only) use as well as use prior to viral load blood counts. During the acute onset of a cold, 2 to 4 cups of strong echinacea tea or 3 capsules 3 times daily can help limit the course of the illness.
Fiber: helps in regulating lipid levels, removes toxins and provides bulk for healthy bowel habits. The colon requires bulk for it to achieve healthy movement. Optimal intake of fiber is about 25-30 grams per day. The ideal combination of soluble fiber (psyllium husk) and insoluble fiber (flax oil, fiber) helps to absorb water and toxins and adds roughage to bulk up stool and sweep away built up debris in the intestinal tract.
Foods high in fiber are fruits such as apples peaches, raspberries and tangerines. Vegetables such as acorn squash, raw broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, spinach, black-eyed peas, cooked zucchini, kidney beans and lima beans. Also cooked whole- grain cereal, cold (All-Bran, Total, Bran Flakes), whole-grain cereal, hot (oatmeal, Wheatena) and whole-wheat or 7-grain bread.
Powdered psyllium is a quality source of supplemental fiber. Be sure to drink plenty of water, otherwise the fiber will form an obstructing mass, adding to your condition. Start with one rounded tablespoon of the powder stirred well into a glass of water or diluted juice.
Fish Oil: is known for being rich in unsaturated fatty acids and provides rich OMEGA-3 fatty acids, (Pure EPA 360mg/DHA 240mg). Fish Oils are made from natural marine lipid concentrate and may help reduce or inhibit risk factors involved in cardiovascular disease, as well as inflammatory and immune disorders. Long term use of fish oil shelp prevent aging skin, menopausal symptoms, promote better circulation, lower cholesterol, prevent blood clots, reduce heart related risk, and the pain of arthritis. Omega-3 and polyunsaturated fatty acids found in fish and deep sea fish oil help to protect against heart and blood vessel disease. Natural, essential fatty acids are essential to normal human cell and tissue growth and maintenance. If not found regularly in the diet, the diet must be supplemented. These fatty acids are especially abundant in brain cells, nerve relay stations (synapses), visual receptors (retinas), adrenal glands, and sex glands. The most biologically active tissues in the body. Take. 1000mg of fish oil in the morning and 1,000 mg in the evening.
Flaxseed oil: is derived from the seeds of the flax plant. Flaxseed oil and flaxseed contain substances that promote good health and is used as a nutritional supplement. It is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, especially alpha-linolenic acid, which appears to be beneficial for heart disease, inflammatory bowel disease, arthritis, cholesterol and a variety of other health conditions. Flaxseed also contains a group of chemicals called lignans that may play a role in the prevention of cancer. Take 1,000 mg of flaxseed oil in the morning and 1,000 mg in the evening.
Ginger: is helpful in tea or herb form for controlling nausea and vomiting. An anti-inflammatory, ginger has been used in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine as an anti-inflammatory. Taking 6ï¿½50 grams of fresh or powdered ginger per day indicated that ginger might be helpful. Suggested Dosage: 0.5 to 1 mg of powdered ginger daily
Glutamine: is one of the most abundant amino acids in our bodies, found in the gastrointestinal tract. This amino acid is compromised when the immune function is low. Studies have shown that Glutamine is one of the best amino acid supplements in maintaining a healthy gastrointestinal lining and helps to repair gastrointestinal damage. It can also be helpful in managing diarrhea. 1 to 2 grams of powdered glutamine may be mixed in smoothies or water.
Licorice: (Glycerrhiza) (see drug-herb interactions) also has been used as a complementary immune modulator, although it should be avoided in people with hypertension. In my experience the immune modulators work much better when combined together rather than used as singular treatments. Licorice can be consumed as a tea daily and the mushrooms may be included in food preparation or taken in liquid tincture form for a more consistent higher dose.
Pau D’arco and Una de Gato: (Cat’s Claw) are also clinically used to stimulate immune function and may be consumed in tea form daily or liquid tincture either during acute illness or as a preventative measure.
Probiotics: (Acidophilus, Bifidus, lactobacillus spirogenes) help to maintain balance of good and dangerous bacteria and compete for the food the dangerous bacteria need to grow and cause us problems. Lactobacillus acidophilus and bifidus may be found in yogurt with active culture or in supplements and can be consumed freely without known side effects. It should be refrigerated to maximize shelf life. Patients on antibiotic therapy, diagnosed with thrush, diarrhea or constipation should consider taking probiotics 2 capsules 3 times daily with meals. For thrush a capsule can also be opened in some water and used daily as a mouth rinse.
Vitamins A, C and the B vitamins increase the immune function. Minerals such as Selenium help to stimulate immune function and fight infection, while Zinc enhances the immune system and assists in wound healing.
Herb-drug interactions are very common. Some herbal medicines may cancel the effect of a prescription drug, others may reduce it, or even exaggerate it. If you are on HIV medication or medications for associated symptoms or disorders, consider the information below:
Dong Quai: taken for menopausal symptom control. Do not mix Dong Quai with warfarin (anticoagulants), St John’s Wort and some antibiotics such as sulfonamides, quinolones.
Echinacea: mostly taken as an immune boost to prevent cold and flu. Do not mix Echinacea with some heart medications, antifungal medications, HIV medications and anti-anxiety medications.
Ephedra: A powerful decongestant. Contains ephedrine, which can open up bronchial passages. It’s controversial because it’s a powerful stimulant that can raise blood pressure, cause insomnia and high blood pressure. Do not mix with heart medications or if you are being treated for high blood pressure, glaucoma or thyroid problems.
Feverfew: taken to reduce the severity of migraines. Do not take with other migraine medications, as, it may raise heart rate and blood pressure. Feverfew has the potential to react with warfarin anti- coagulants, increasing the thinning of blood.
Ginkgo: increases blood flow and circulation throughout the body, can also help improve memory. May interact with anti-coagulant medications such as Aspirin, Coumadin, heparin and warfarin, causing the blood to thin too much, and provoking a serious bleeding disorder. A recent report in the New England Journal of Medicine describes a case of a man who’d been taking Aspirin to prevent a heart attack and had spontaneous bleeding into the eye from the iris within a week of taking a daily dose of ginkgo. Should not be taken with HIV medications.
Garlic: is thought to help lower cholesterol and prevent the formation of blood clots that could lead to heart attacks. Garlic capsules may increase blood thinning if you are already on anti- coagulants. Do not take with diabetes medication because it may cause a decrease in blood sugars. Use caution with HIV medications.
Ginseng: used to help reduce stress, boost energy and improve stamina, and may also help lower cholesterol. Can cause nervousness and excitation, and overuse can lead to headaches, insomnia and heart palpitations. Can increase blood pressure. Should not be used if you are taking prescriptions for high blood pressure or Coumadin.
Hawthorn: claimed to be effective in helping reduce angina attacks by lowering blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Should not be taken digoxin, a heart medication. The mix may lower heart rate too much.
Kava: is used to treat anxiety. It’s also used to relieve insomnia and nervousness. Do not take Kava if you have a history of liver problems. Also do not mix with antidepressants, sedatives, and do not mix Kava with alcohol.
Licorice: used to treat coughs, colds and peptic ulcers. High doses can lead to increased blood pressure, water retention and potassium loss. Do not use with diuretics or digoxin because it could lead to further loss of potassium, essential for heart function.
St. John’s wort: a natural anti-depressant for mild to moderate depression. Do not take with other anti-depressants, HIV medications, oral contraceptives, some heart/blood thinning medications and Tamoxifen (a cancer drug).
Valerian: a mild sedative with hypnotic effects, used to promote sleep, Should not be taken with alcohol or Valium.
Safe Sex Tips
1. Use latex condom for vaginal and anal intercourse. Use water-based lubricant (K-Y, Astroglide, and Probe); oil-containing products (Crisco, Vaseline, baby oil, lotion, and whipped cream) can destroy latex. A drop of lube inside the condom may increase sensitivity. Don’t use saliva as a lubricant.
2. Other contraceptive devices do not protect against AIDS. Product containing nonoxyno1-9 (a spermicide) can kill HIV and may provide extra protection, but should not be relied on alone. Some studies show that nonoxyno1-9 can cause genital irritation that may promote HIV infection, especially with very frequent intercourse. The effects of ingesting nonoxyno1-9 are unstudied.
3. Blood-to-blood contact is the most direct route of HIV transmission. Sharing needles (for drug steroids piercing or tattooing) razors or any implement that draws blood is dangerous since blood may be left on used implements. Clean needles by rinsing several times with bleach then with water. Avoid contact with blood in s/m scenes. Whips or knives that break the skin should not be used on another person until disinfected with bleach or a cleaning solution.
4. Use an unlubricated condom for oral sex if a man will come in your mouth. For oral sex on a woman or oral-anal sex (rimming) use a dental dam (latex square) a condom or latex glove cut to produce a flat sheet or non-microwaveable food wrap. Rinse powder off dams before use. Use all barrier only once and only on one person.
5. Oral sex on a man without ejaculation or on a non-menstruating woman is thought to be low risk activity. There is a risk that HIV could enter through small cuts of opening in the mouth gums of throat. Avoid brushing your teeth two hours before or after oral sex to minimize abrasions.
6. If you share sex toys like dildos or vibrators put on a fresh condom for each user (and when going from anus to vagina) or guard bleach alcohol or soap and water.
7. Use latex gloves for “finger penetration” or fisting to guard the wearer against infection through cuts on the hand or arm and to guard the partner against injury from fingernails.
8. Touching and kissing are safe. It is safe to get semen vaginal fluid or urine on unbroken skin. No AIDS cases have been traced to kissing, including deep (French) kissing.
9. Precautions against HIV infection can protect you from other sexually transmitted diseases such as gonorrhea, syphilis, chlamydia, herpes, yeast infections, amoebiasis, and hepatitis B.
10. Preventing other STDs can in turn minimize your chances of getting HIV infection, since many STDs cause sores in the genital or anal area or around the mouth which can provide a path for HIV transmission.