Virtually all past international AIDS conferences have presented important research on trials of natural therapies and HIV. However, very few PLWHA ever hear of this research. This year’s international AIDS conference was no exception.
One of the more interesting natural therapy presentations had been preceded by a report at last year’s 6th International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific (ICAAP) in Melbourne. There, the Indian pharmaceutical company Pharmaveda released results of a successful trial of their main anti-HIV herbal formula. Ninety-four people taking this formula increased their CD4 count by an average of 117 over a 12-month period. Even better results were reported at this year’s 16th International AIDS Conference, held in Barcelona in July, where people with an average starting CD4 count of 329 increased this to 515 (a 52 percent increase) over one year. Combining this herbal formula with AZT and 3TC allowed people to achieve a 91 percent increase in CD4 count, although starting with a much lower CD4 count, over the same period. Pharmaveda’s herbal formula has a main aim of benefiting production of immune cells by the bone marrow and thymus.
Concurrently with the Barcelona conference, the African traditional healers association Prometra announced the results of a six-month trial of a simple herbal formula which, according to Prometra president Dr Erick Gbodossou, costs just pennies. Over 60 people with HIV with an average starting CD4 count of 274 increased this to 546 (an increase of 99 percent). Very significant improvements in illness and infections were also seen. For example, of 42 people who had long-term fevers, 72 percent were measurably improved or cured by the end of the trial. Likewise, 78 percent of people with chronic diarrhoea had a complete cessation of symptoms with a further 22 percent being significantly improved.
Herbal treatments like these become crucial given the fact that over 90 percent of people with HIV in the world have no access to Western anti-HIV medical drugs.
People with HIV in Western countries are also increasingly turning towards herbal treatments with particular interest coming from people newly diagnosed who are trying to postpone starting anti-HIV medications for as long as possible.
Long awaited research on selenium was also released at Barcelona. Selenium is known to be a crucial mineral for maintaining immune function and proper antioxidant levels. Previous research has shown that selenium deficiency is accompanied by a marked increase in death rates among people with HIV. However, does selenium supplementation actually provide a specific benefit for PLWHA? Dr Shor-Posner’s team from the University of Miami, responsible for much of the previous research on selenium and HIV, presented very convincing data showing that PLWHA taking selenium do considerably better than those who don’t.
A two-year, double blind, placebo-controlled trial of selenium supplementation found: among people not using anti-HIV drugs, 10 percent of those using selenium were hospitalised versus 34 percent not taking this supplement; 12.5 percent of people taking selenium had falls in CD4 counts compared to 36 percent of people not using selenium; and viral loads were lower in those taking selenium supplementation. All these differences were found to be statistically significant.
A direct correlation was also found between selenium plasma (i.e. blood without red blood cells or platelets) levels and viral load. People with plasma selenium levels lower than 145 ug/L had higher viral loads than those with selenium levels higher than 145 ug/L. Prior to release of these findings, selenium supplementation was seen as only necessary to prevent or correct a possible selenium deficiency. However, the levels referred to here are well inside the normal selenium range for Australia.
The clear implications from this research are, firstly, that people with HIV have increased requirements for selenium over and above what is considered normal and, secondly, people should consider adding monitoring of selenium blood levels to their regular blood tests. This would allow a check to see if supplementation is needed and to monitor for possible toxicity -“ certainly possible at high selenium intakes.
Some information on selenium, along with loads of other natural therapy treatment information, will be presented at the HIV -“ Integrative Treatments Forum, presented by NSW PLWH/A on Saturday 26 October from 9am to 4:40pm. The Forum will focus on applying natural therapies as part of an overall treatment strategy for HIV. The venue is the Target Theatre at the Powerhouse Museum on the corner of Harris and Macarthur Streets, Ultimo. Cost is $22 or $11 (concessions) and includes morning and afternoon teas plus lunch and a free copy of Healing HIV: How To Rebuild Your Immune System by American doctor and HIV integrative medicine specialist, Dr Jon Kaiser. For more information phone 1800 245 677 or visit the PLWHA website www.plwha.org.au.
If you’re wanting to keep up-to-date on research into complementary therapies and HIV, then subscribing to the free email newsletter COMP_THERAPIES_HIV will definitely assist. You can subscribe via the Victorian AIDS Council’s website, http://www.vicaids.asn.au, by following the prompts to the Comp. Therapies page. And check out back issues under Bulletins or Articles while you’re there.