There are limited or only small studies of HIV-positive people using natural therapies for improving HIV health. This is because HIV cannot be effectively treated using natural therapies alone.
Natural therapies are considered as “complementary” therapies in an HIV context, NOT “alternative” therapies, because only HIV drug treatments can effectively treat HIV – by lowering HIV viral load and therefore giving the immune system a chance to build CD4 (T) cells back up again.
Complementary (natural) therapies may only assist in bolstering or adding to immune health, they cannot suppress and treat HIV. That said, many natural remedies can co-assist building general health robustness, although most studies of natural therapies are within the general population (without HIV), not specifically among HIV positive people.
Because some natural therapies may interact with HIV drugs, or they may cause other adverse events (side effects), they may not be considered ‘complementary’ at all. Some natural therapies (supplements and herbs) may prevent HIV drug treatments from working properly, so it is always important to discuss your use of specific natural therapies with your specialist doctor and/or pharmacist.
When any natural therapy you are using is considered safe to use (as advised by your doctor or pharmacist) then the other matter is to consider how effective is the particular natural therapy you are choosing to take?
Many PLHIV use all different kinds of natural therapies which they consider are good for their overall health – so the general advice is first ask if it is doing no harm, then you are best to decide whether it is doing any good.
Some natural therapies are simply nutritional supplements (such as vitamin B tablets), but generally adequate daily nutrition from a well-balanced diet precludes the need for such supplements. See the Australian Dietary Guidelines for more information.
If you intend to take natural therapies, first make sure you are taking them for complementary reasons, rather than alternative reasons, but even complementary use of certain nutrients may be unnecessary beyond a normal adequate diet with adequate nutritional absorption.
Ask a dietician for advice. Also speak to a naturopath or nutritionist skilled in HIV as there may be other reasons beyond diet alone that natural therapy supplementation is right for you.
The choice is individual, but should be guided by good evidence and the seeking of professional advice.
Feel free to contact QPP if you seek evidence and information on complementary therapies. We can also provide referral to a complementary medicine practitioner or dietician.
Note: Articles about complementary therapies in the context of HIV are also periodically contained within our Treatment Update Newsletters and in QPP Alive Magazine, so please have a look in those sections of our website or consider joining our subscription for those publications.
QPP Resources for Complementary Therapies
Web links for Complementary Therapies
The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) is the US Federal Government’s lead agency for scientific research on complementary and alternative medicine. Find sources of information and research studies on complementary therapies and treatments.
Further information about natural therapies can be found on aidsmap’s website (including body therapies and supplemental therapies).
The Australian website My Doctor also has some useful information about complementary therapies.
There are numerous natural supplement manufacturing companies, but we are unable to endorse or recommend one over the other. It is recommended you ask about reputable companies and search their products online or enquire at naturopathic centres or natural health stores. Peers may also be another source of information about natural therapies.
If you have any questions about complementary therapies, please call QPP’s Health Promotion and Treatments Officer toll free from a land-line on 1800 636 241, use the contact form provided or call (07) 3013 5555 (nationally).