HIV/AIDS Alternative Treatments

Written by the Healthline Editorial Team and Valencia Higuera | Published on February 26, 2015
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD, MBA on February 26, 2015

Alternative Treatments for HIV/AIDS

Many people with HIV and AIDS use complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) in combination with traditional medical treatments to improve their health and wellbeing. There is some evidence that CAM treatments can relieve some symptoms of HIV. However, there is no evidence that these treatments can treat or cure HIV.

Just because a treatment is natural does not mean it’s safe. These treatments can affect your medical care. Tell your doctor if you’re interested in using CAM to help manage symptoms of HIV/AIDS.

Interactions Between Supplements & HIV Treatment

Several supplements are known to disrupt the efficacy of HIV treatment.

Garlic Supplements

Garlic supplements can greatly reduce the efficacy of certain HIV treatments. This outweighs any possible benefits of these supplements on the immune system. However, occasionally eating garlic is not known to cause problems.

St. John’s Wort

St. John’s Wort is a popular supplement used to treat depression. However, it can also reduce the efficacy of HIV treatment. People with HIV should not use this supplement.

Alternative Therapy for HIV Symptoms

There is relatively little research on the use of CAM treatments for HIV symptoms and treatment side effects. However, some common CAM treatments have been shown to improve the symptoms of other illnesses.

Body Therapies

Yoga and massage therapy may help reduce pain. They can also improve feelings of overall health.

Acupuncture may help with nausea and other treatment side effects. Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese medical practice that involves placing thin, solid needles into various pressure points on the body. This releases chemicals in the body that can sometimes relieve pain.

Relaxation Therapies

Meditation and other forms of relaxation treatment can help to reduce anxiety. They may improve your ability to cope with the stress of an illness.

Herbal Medicine

Herbal medications should be used with caution. There isn’t enough evidence to support the use of these drugs for treating HIV. However, certain herbs may boost immunity in people with HIV. These include echinacea, ginseng, and bitter melon. Other herbs may interact with conventional HIV treatments.

Tell your doctor if you’re using herbal medications. That way they can monitor you for side effects and drug interactions.

Medical Marijuana

Loss of appetite is common with AIDS/HIV. Some antiviral medications can upset the stomach and make it harder for you to keep up with scheduled doses. Marijuana can reduce pain, control nausea, and increase your appetite.

There’s no evidence to suggest that medical marijuana will interact with medications. However, you should consult your doctor before using marijuana to treat your symptoms. Your doctor will monitor you for possible drug interactions or pulmonary complications.

Supplements

Use supplements with caution. Talk to your doctor about what vitamins and minerals you should take to improve your health. Some supplements that may be useful in people with HIV include:

  • calcium and vitamin D to improve bone health
  • fish oil to reduce cholesterol
  • selenium to slow the progression of HIV
  • vitamin B-12 to improve the health of pregnant women and their fetuses
  • whey or soy protein to help you gain weight 
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