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Complementary Therapies and HIV

February 2013

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Mind-Body Techniques

These activities enhance the mind's ability to affect bodily functions and symptoms. Mind-body techniques often include patient support groups, prayer, and therapies that use creative methods such as art, music, or dance. Practices such as biofeedback, hypnosis, journaling, and meditation are considered mind-body techniques.

Achieving a deep state of relaxation is one way to help ease stress and renew the body. Techniques for deep relaxation include meditation, mindfulness, guided visualization, progressive muscle relaxation, certain types of yoga, or Chinese exercises such as Qigong (Chi Kung), and Tai Chi. You can also use audiotapes or attend classes/workshops to guide you in accessing deep states of relaxation. Recent studies suggest that mindfulness meditation may prevent CD4 cells from decreasing when an HIV+ person is under stress.

Herbs and Dietary Supplements

These therapies may involve the use of herbs such as echinacea, garlic, goldenseal, chamomile, and Chinese herbs. Health professionals may also prescribe foods and vitamins as part of a biological-based therapy. Multivitamins often contain antioxidants, such as vitamins A, C, and E, which combine with particles called free-radicals to make them inactive and unharmful. Free-radicals are natural by-products of the body's functions that can cause damage to cells and lead to disease.

Because echinacea and other supplements affect the immune system, they may interact with your HIV drugs. St. John's Wort, which is an herbal treatment for depression, has been shown to affect how protease inhibitors and non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors act. As a result, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends that St. John's Wort not be taken by people who also take any types of HIV drugs. It is important for you to discuss any herbs or supplements with your health care provider before taking them. For more details about supplements, please visit our Vitamins and Supplements page.

What Kind of Complementary Treatment May My Health Care Provider Suggest?

When recommending complementary therapies, the health care provider makes decisions based on the patient's condition and other factors such as the patient's strengths, lifestyle, medical history, support systems, and all other factors relating to the patient's health and wellness. This enables the provider to knit together a program tailored for each patient and may involve the following:

  • Diet change: Replacing refined/simple carbohydrates with whole grains, fresh vegetables, and fruits for overall health. Your health care provider may also suggest choosing low-to-moderate fat sources of protein such as turkey, chicken, and fish and limiting dairy and red meats.
  • Vitamin and mineral supplements: Your health care provider may prescribe multivitamin/mineral supplements that include Vitamins A, D, E, and C (these are antioxidants), B-vitamins, calcium, magnesium, copper, zinc, manganese, potassium, chromium, and selenium (for more information, see our Vitamins and Supplements page).
  • Herbs: A variety of herbs support body functions. These include garlic, Echinacea, goldenseal, and myrrh. Your health care provider may prescribe Chinese herbs, such as astragulus, ganoderma, atractylodes, and schisandra, which support immune function and have anti-microbial properties.
  • Digestive health treatments: Herbs such as barberry, ginger, goldenseal, peppermint, and parsley support digestive functions. Acidophilus and other 'healthy bacteria' help you to maintain a strong digestive system that absorbs nutrients as efficiently as possible.
  • Physical activity and exercise: Each day, one half-hour of enjoyable exercise that causes sweating and removes waste from the body may help keep your viral load low. Cardiovascular fitness can strengthen the heart and circulatory system. This is done by increasing one's heart rate about 20 percent more than resting heart rate, and keeping it up for at least 30 minutes, at least five times per week.
  • Stress reduction: Deep relaxation practice two times per day for 15-20 minutes can reduce many health risks and maintain one's focus on practicing good health and wellness.

Remember, since HIV and the drugs used to treat HIV affect the immune system, it is important to talk to your health care provider about any complementary treatments before you use them. This gives your provider a full picture of what you do to manage your health and makes sure the treatments you choose are safe and helpful for you.

More and more, the medical community recommends complementary therapies for many types of conditions. Since complementary treatments have become more common, The National Institutes of Health has developed a department called The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) that is dedicated to the study of these treatments. You can learn more about complementary therapy at the NCCAM website,

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This article was provided by The Well Project. Visit The Well Project's Web site to learn more about their resources and initiatives for women living with HIV. The Well Project shares its content with to ensure all people have access to the highest quality treatment information available. The Well Project receives no advertising revenue from or the advertisers on this site. No advertiser on this site has any editorial input into The Well Project's content.
See Also
Beyond Medications: Basics

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