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echinacea for HIV+

Feb 11, 2001

My daughter of 5 is HIV+ but not under treatment. Docs say she still has got a perfect immune system. Can echinacea have a negative effect on her? What would you recommend? Use it or not? Thanks in advance for your advice.

Response from Dr. Cohen

Echinacea is one of the few herbs that has actually been studied a fair amount - more in Europe than here. But enough to have some ideas about it.

Most of the work done shows some possible benefit in decreasing the likelihood of catching a "cold" or upper respiratory infection if taken soon after symptoms start. It is however not something that is recommended for daily use as the impact it has appears to wear off after some short period of time. Thus, it is meant to be used as a stimulant to the immune system to help trigger it to fight a little harder - but if used all the time, the effect just wears out.

Now, just because a cold and HIV are both viruses it is reasonable to think about the role of echinacea in fighting off HIV as well. And sadly, there has been no work I've seen to quantify an impact on, for example, viral load. But since the effect appears to wear off in a week or so, then even IF there is an effect, it will not likely last based on the info we have so far. And, it is disappointing that several studies that have been done already to verify some benefit has usually been disappointing - meaning when it has been used at the early stages of a cold in controlled studies, it has done not much better than a placebo. It study results, it appears to shave a few days off of the duration of symptoms. So while there is some encouraging info, and plenty of stories of support, it is hard to be confident that it is that much better than our own mind's influence on the immune system. But it may help some, so it is reasonable to take for example at the beginning of a cold. I take it just in case it does help - it is pretty safe to use.

There isn't much evidence of harm either - but certainly no good reason to take it for more than a short time. And not much reason to rely on it as a boost to immune function for general use. While we are looking for better candidates for this important role, I'd stick to the known uses of this herb - since chronic use may have some unintended negative consequences.

Hope that helps.


Low viral load and low CD4
to be (on meds) or not to be? - AP

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