Using Integrative Medicine as a Tool in HIV Treatments

Woman Receiving An Acupuncture Therapy

Written by Myles Spar, MD, Integrative Medicine and HIV

While anti-retroviral medications are the cornerstone of treatment for HIV and keep the virus at bay, integrative medicine specialists, like myself, work on improving the health of people with this chronic infection. We add to their treatments in order to boost the function of the immune system, countering inflammation, and decreasing side effects from HIV medications. Today’s show features a visit I had with Charlie Sheen, and below you can see more about what we discussed. While in my practice I specialize in treating patients with HIV, a lot of what I do could help just about anyone.    

Boosting the Immune System

HIV affects immune cells – that’s how it causes disease. HIV medications help to kill the virus, but do nothing to help the immune system recover. This is where integrative medicine comes in. Some ways to help improve a damaged immune system include:

  • Supplements such as mushroom extracts, which may boost immune function.
  • Multi-vitamins and N-acetylcysteine, which may boost antioxidant power.
  • Acupuncture, which may help the overall system recover.
  • Managing stress with techniques such as mindfulness practices, journaling, or meditation decreases stress, and stress is toxic to the immune system.

Countering Inflammation

Any chronic infection increases inflammation throughout the body. But inflammation causes damage and contributes to all the diseases we associate with aging, like heart disease and memory loss (brain aging). Integrative medicine is especially adept at countering inflammation, using tools such as:

  • Anti-inflammatory diet (similar to the Mediterranean diet).
  • Chinese or Western herbs such as curcumin, bromelain (from pineapple) and quercetin and fish oil.
  • Moderate exercise to improve overall circulation and clearance of inflammatory chemicals.

Decreasing Medication Toxicity

HIV medications are powerful and necessary, but do have toxicities associated with them. They can affect the kidneys or liver or cause gastrointestinal irritation. There are integrative medicine techniques to counter these side effects.

  • Maintaining a healthy gut with a diet rich in fiber and omega-3-fatty acids.
  • Probiotics (healthy bacteria for the gut) and prebiotics (fuel for gut bacteria).
  • Acupuncture
  • Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, especially cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower).
  • Taking supplements that support clearance of medications from the body such as B-vitamins, quercetin, and citrus bioflavonoids.
  • Minimizing toxins like alcohol, cigarette smoke, and pesticides (eating organic can help).

Integrative medicine is all about taking advantage of the best of traditional Western medicine while adding dietary tools, supplements, stress management, and other modalities to improve the overall impact of the overall treatment program. HIV disease is a perfect target for such an approach.

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