Naturopathic Management and Prevention of HIV
HIV is a contagious disease affecting many Albertans. Since its discovery in the 1980’s HIV and its associated condition AIDS have affected many individuals. With the advent of Antiretroviral therapy, HIV went from a frequently lethal infection to a manageable condition. Now most people with HIV live healthy and long lives. However, considerable gaps in HIV treatment occur. Naturopathic medicine is capable of covering many of these gaps, and improving the quality of life of those living with HIV.
HIV is a virus that is transmitted through sexual contact, tainted blood products, and sharing needles and medical instruments. HIV in Alberta was present in 0.0057% of the population in 2011 with higher rates among both First Nations and Gay men, and higher rates in Calgary and Edmonton compared with rural areas.
HIV as a virus attacks the immune system, specifically the T helper cells, which are responsible for activating the other branches of immune system, such as antibody production and cell specific immunity. The HIV virus attaches to the CD4 molecule on helper T-cells and infects them through that molecule. Because HIV affects T helper cells so profoundly, usually a count of the number of cells with CD4 molecules is taken as a measure of the immune system’s health in an individual with HIV. Normally a CD4 count is between 500-1200 cells per microliter. When CD4 counts drop below a certain level (usually 200 cells per microliter) they are at high risk for acquiring AIDS defining illnesses. HIV infection is also measure by the amount of virus present in a person’s blood. This is termed “viral load” and is a measure of the success of an individual’s immune system controlling the virus.
AIDS stands for “Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome”. It is a state where a person immune system cannot fend off infections any longer, due to their immune system being destroyed by the HIV virus. It usually occurs in people with CD4 counts below 200. Often individuals with AIDS have a number of diseases that are seen very rarely in healthy individuals, such as Pneumocyctis Carinii Pneumonia (a pneumonia caused by a normally healthy fungus) and Kaposi’s Sarcoma (a very rare skin cancer). Some individuals move from HIV infection to AIDS very quickly, for reasons that remain mysterious in conventional medicine.
Conventional treatment for HIV involves the use of substances called Antiretroviral drugs. These drugs prevent the replication of the HIV virus which allows for the helper T-cells to replicate and resume stimulating and regulating the immune system. HIV has not yet ever been completely cured in the traditional medical literature, though many individuals on medication display levels of HIV in their blood so low as to be completely undetectable by lab studies. Some have received bone marrow transplants from people immune to HIV and have developed extremely low levels of the virus present in their bodies, but such a treatment is unlikely to become widespread due to its cost and the negative side effects of bone marrow transplants.
The prevention of HIV infection is best done by avoiding unsafe sexual practices such as unprotected sex, by avoiding sharing needles, and by testing supplies of blood donation for the virus. Education, the distribution and encouragement of condoms during sex, and clean needle exchanges have all done their part in reducing HIV infections. Condom use is the only birth control method that may prevent HIV transmission. Using condoms with Antiviral spermicides makes this protection even more effective. Individuals with undetectable viral loads are extremely unlikely to transmit the HIV virus during safe sex when condoms are used.
Naturopathic perspectives on HIV tend to focus on the internal environment of the people who become infected by the virus. Over time Naturopathic Doctors have noticed that people with more toxic internal environments, and who suffer from repeated infections, are more vulnerable to infection. Particularly those with histories of other sexually transmitted diseases, such as syphilis, and who have received repeated courses of antibiotics seem to be more prone to infection.
Gaps in HIV care:
In the initial stages of the HIV epidemic in the 1980s, conventional medicine was limited in its ability to treat the disease. No effective therapeutic measures existed, so care was usually limited to hospital monitoring while the individuals died of AIDS associated infections. As such, many infected people, turned to Naturopathic medicine for care.
Mentors of mine, such as Ken Luby, ND and Alex Gellman treated these individuals. When faced with an entirely new disease, these brave practitioners used the methods of Naturopathic medicine, and had some amazing successes. Often these early practitioners, knowing little of the disease (not much being known) were able to prevent the development of AIDS, and lower the HIV loads to undetectable levels. This was done largely by creating a less toxic internal environment, in which the HIV virus is less capable of replicating, through nutritional and homeopathic means.
As Antiretroviral drugs became widely available, Naturopathic care focused on mitigating the side effect profiles of the early HIV drugs (which were often quite terrible). Managing the chronic diarrhea and nutrient depletions and other side effects become more prominent.
Now in an era where Antiretrovirals are far gentler, Naturopathic medicine tends toward emotional support (rarely addressed in conventional care), and health maintenance. Naturopathic medicine can, however, play a far larger role in the management and prevention of HIV, as the following section shows.
Naturopathic management of HIV
In my own practice, I have seen a number of people with HIV. Using Naturopathic medicine I have been able to help them lower their viral load, postpone or even avoid the need for Antiretroviral medication. When individuals are on Antiretroviral medication, I’ve been able to help them manage side effects, and improve effectiveness of the medication.
Furthermore, with Naturopathic methods, I can treat the underlying biochemical environment of the patient. As mentioned above, in Naturopathic medicine it is seen that people with healthier immune systems and less toxic internal environments are less prone to HIV infection, and when infected will progress to HIV much more slowly.
The most effective methods I use to do this are Nutrition, Homeopathy, and Isopathic remedies.
Nutritional support for HIV involves both ensuring a good diet, full of fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, protein, low levels of sugars, and unhealthy carbohydrates. It also can involve specific supplementation of the nutrients that are depleted by HIV medications, such as N-acetyl cysteine, and various vitamins.
Homeopathy helps patients deal with the HIV infection, keeping viral loads down, raising CD4 counts, and assisting in dealing with acute health issues. Homeopathy also helps the body to clear its internal environment of any toxicity which promotes HIV infection and replication. Emotional issues of HIV infection, such as depression, feeling unloved or hated are also addressed very effectively with Homeopathic treatment.
Lastly, to directly control the viral levels, I will often use isopathic remedies. Isopathic remedies are homeopathic remedies that help modulate the bacterial and viral populations of the body. These remedies have a profound effect on viral infections, as well as many latent bacterial and fungal infections seen in many individuals with HIV.
Using these methods in combination with conventional monitoring procedures (CD4 count, HIV viral load) and referrals to conventional HIV specialists, I have seen wonderful outcomes with my patients.
Naturopathic prevention of HIV:
Naturopathic medicine fully endorses safe sex methods, spermicides medical hygiene, using clean needles, and all educational methods to prevent HIV infection.
But Naturopathic medicine also has two special methods to add. Naturopathic medical treatment itself reduces the biochemical and toxic environment that I have observed makes people more vulnerable to HIV infection. It can clear those infections and consequences of chronic antibiotic use that predispose the body to HIV infection.
Secondly, Naturopathic Doctors can use specific Homeopathic remedies to reduce the risk of contraction of HIV. The use of this practice has been established in multiple trials historically and in the present day1. To my knowledge I am the only Naturopathic Doctor offering this program on HIV specifically. Homeoprophylaxis must be completed under supervision of a qualified Naturopathic Doctor to ensure that any reactions to the remedies are dealt with effectively.
Using these methods in combination with more well-known safer sex practices will likely reduce the risk even further, making HIV infection an even rarer event.
Naturopathic medicine can wonderfully manage HIV infection, both alone and in cooperation with conventional medicine. If you or someone you know has HIV, consider adding a Naturopathic Doctor, skilled in Homeopathy to your healthcare team.
Dr. Paul Theriault,
*Dr. Paul Theriault works at the OWC Heritage and Macleod Location
1 For a record of these trials please do visit Fran Sheffield’s summary of the research on Homeoprophylaxis: http://homeopathyplus.com.au/Homeoprophylaxis-Human-Records-Studies-Trials.pdf