Since I last wrote about this in this column 10 years ago, reliable data have emerged from clinical trials validating a number of non-orthodox treatments for this condition.
Homoeopathic remedies tailored to the individual can help. In one study, 100 HIV patients took either individualised homoeopathic remedies or placebo. Homoeopathy produced a significant increase in T cells, a response not seen with the placebo (Br Hom J, 1999; 88: 49-57).
Blood levels of the amino-acid cysteine are often significantly lower in HIV patients compared with healthy individuals. N-acetylcysteine (NAC), the more stable and active form, can replenish glutathione, important for cellular defence and often deficient in HIV-positives (Proc Natl Acad Sci USA, 1997; 94: 1967-72). Numerous studies show that NAC:
* restores immune-system function (J Infect Dis, 1995; 172: 1492-502)
* inhibits replication of HIV (AIDS Res Hum Retrovir, 1992; 8: 209-17)
* stops or improves the severe emaciation and weakness usually seen in AIDS (AIDS Res Hum Retrovir, 1992; 8: 209-17; AIDS Treat News, 1989; issue no 88)
* retards or even prevents progression of a patient with symptoms to full-blown AIDS (Immunol Today, 1992; 13: 211-4; Pharmacology, 1993, 46: 61-5)
* allows patients with very low CD4 T-cell counts to survive twice as long as those given a placebo (Proc Natl Acad Sci USA, 1997; 94: 1967-72).
Low glutamine, another amino acid, can suppress the immune system (Nutrition, 1997; 13: 728-30). One randomised, controlled trial showed that the severe wasting and
malnutrition in advanced AIDS can be halted by glutamine supplementation - 21 AIDS patients lost no more weight during 12 weeks of taking 40 g of glutamine daily (Nutrition, 1999; 15: 860-4).
Levels of L-carnitine, another amino acid, are also frequently low in AIDS patients. In fact, a typical side-effect of AZT, muscle weakness, is linked to reduced levels of L-carnitine (Ann Neurol, 1994; 35: 482-7). Taking L-carnitine supplements can overcome muscle weakness, improve immune function (including normalising lymphocyte activity), correct cell abnormalities and prevent abnormal fat accumulation, often seen with protease inhibitors, the newest AIDS drugs (J Child Neurol, 1995; 10: 2S40-4; Immunopharmacol Immunotoxicol, 1993; 15: 1-12; AIDS, 1994; 8: 655-60).
Healing has had profound effects on AIDS patients, even over a great distance. In one groundbreaking double-blind, randomised study of 40 patients with advanced AIDS, those receiving healing from healers all across America lived significantly longer and were healthier than the controls (West J Med, 1998; 169: 356-63).
Massage also has been shown to have positive effects on the immune system. In a study of 28 newborns of HIV-positive mothers, those given a 15-minute massage daily for 10 days were noticeably healthier than the controls (J Paediatr Psychol, 1996; 21: 889-97).
Perhaps the best medicine for a patient with AIDS is a change to a healthier lifestyle. In one study, a complex programme was devised for HIV patients that included physical activity, stopping smoking, herbal remedies, stress reduction, a change of diet and emotional support. After 30 months when the outcomes were compared with those of controls, the treated group showed clear differences in T-cell counts (Alt Ther, 1996; 2: 42-6).
Harald Gaier is a registered homoeopath, naturopath and osteopath.