Many people living with HIV choose to explore non-conventional therapies to ease the symptoms of HIV and side effects of the medications. Some alternative treatments can complement a person’s standard medical care, but others are not safe.
Many people living with HIV use alternative therapies. According to one source, over 70 percent of people with HIV in the United States have tried alternative treatments, and many people use them regularly.
Certain health insurance plans may cover some alternative medicines, such as chiropractic and acupuncture therapy.
While alternative treatments do not cure HIV, they may relieve symptoms and can improve a person’s quality of life. However, not all alternative medicines are safe. Some alternative treatments may have side effects or interact with medications. Always talk to a doctor or healthcare provider before trying alternative medicine.
Read on to find out more about the possible benefits, risks, and drug interactions associated with alternative treatments for HIV or AIDS.
Can alternative therapies help?
When used alongside traditional medication, alternative treatments may help relieve some of the symptoms of HIV or AIDS.
Physical therapies may help improve a person’s movement, help them relax, and enhance their overall health. While other therapies, such as Reiki, aim to help restore a person’s energy flow. Like meditation, this therapy treats the whole person but does not directly target HIV.
Some healthcare providers support the use of alternative therapies to complement conventional treatment while others do not.
Alternative medicines cannot cure or stop the progression of HIV, and most of the evidence presented is anecdotal. No major research studies support the use of any alternative therapies to directly treat symptoms of HIV.
Alternative treatments are not disease-specific. This means that an alternative therapy treats the whole person, not just the illness. For example, meditation may help a person with HIV relax and reduce stress. This can have a positive impact on the person’s overall health, but it does not specifically target HIV.
Alternative therapies and natural treatments
There is a range of natural treatments a person can try to ease HIV symptoms and medication side effects and to make them feel better, overall.
Many people do experience positive results from using these therapies. However, there is little research into their safety and effectiveness, and they are not a substitute for medical treatment.
Alternative treatments include:
Meditation is a relaxation technique that can help to reduce a person’s anxiety. Many people living with HIV have higher anxiety and stress levels compared with the general population. Meditation can help alleviate some of the anxiety associated with HIV.
Physical therapies can help a person to relax, de-stress, and improve movement.
According to one source, people living with HIV have higher rates of mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression, than the general population. This can significantly affect a person’s quality of life. Physical therapies can help boost people’s mental and physical health.
Physical therapies include:
- sports or medical massage
- chiropractic care
Having a massage may promote relaxation, which can help alleviate anxiety and stress often associated with HIV.
A small-scale 2016 study provides some evidence that yoga might help to reduce depression and improve CD4 counts in people with HIV who were also receiving antiretroviral therapy. However, this study lasted just 1 month and had only 40 participants, so its results are limited.
Acupuncture involves inserting very thin needles into specific points on the body. Practitioners believe that these needles release pressure points, which may help a person’s body produce chemicals to reduce pain.
Herbal medication and supplements
Herbal medications and supplements are available to buy over the counter. Although some manufacturers claim that their products have healing properties, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) do not regulate supplements, and few scientific studies support their effectiveness.
People should exercise caution before purchasing herbal supplements and medications as they can be dangerous. This may be because of a person’s preexisting health complications or because they interact with HIV medications.
There is very little evidence to support the use of herbal medications and supplements. When research does exist, it is often funded by companies or organizations that have a specific interest in promoting the products. Always speak to a healthcare provider before using any herbal supplement or medication.
Medical marijuana is not legal in all parts of the U.S. However, some people who have access to it find it helps to improve appetite, alleviate pain, and reduce nausea associated with HIV medications, particularly older antiretroviral drugs,
People should talk to their doctor before using marijuana as an alternative treatment for HIV to ensure it will not interfere with any of the other drugs they are taking.
Studies on the use of medicinal marijuana on people with HIV have produced a variety of short-term outcomes. However, there is not enough long-term data to know the safety and effectiveness of its use to treat symptoms of HIV or AIDS. It may not be suitable for some people, including those with prior substance use disorders.
Some therapies provide virtually no risk. Some of the safest therapies include:
Before taking any additional supplements, a person should always speak to their healthcare provider about any potential issues with their HIV medications. It is essential to remember that just because something is natural does not mean it is safe.
Taking herbal remedies and supplements can be particularly risky because:
- there is not enough scientific research into their safety and effectiveness
- unlike usual medicines, the FDA do not regulate them for ingredients and doses
- dosage and strength can vary greatly between manufacturers
- they are not designed to treat specific illnesses, such as HIV
Some supplements can interact with medications for HIV and other medical conditions.
People should avoid St. John’s wort, as it affects the liver and can change how HIV and other drugs affect the body, including protease inhibitors and NNRTIs.
Other supplements that may interact with HIV medications include:
- garlic supplements
Some people find that alternative treatments and natural therapies can complement HIV therapy. Use caution and speak to a doctor or the care team before starting alternative treatments.
Alternative therapies, such as acupuncture, yoga, meditation, and massage can help a person to relax, manage pain, and improve mental and physical health.
There is no evidence that alternative therapies can cure or stop the progress of HIV, so always use them alongside conventional anti-HIV treatment.
Medically reviewed by Daniel Murrell, M.D.
Written by Jenna Fletcher