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Majority of HIV Patients Using Alternative Meds

August 26, 2002

Two-thirds of HIV-positive patients are now using therapies such as herbals, botanicals or other alternative remedies, according to findings presented Thursday by Dr. Mark Vosnick at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association in Chicago. The trend is potentially worrisome, experts say, since possible interactions between these therapies and conventional HIV-suppressing drugs remain unknown.

Interest in traditional or alternative therapies continues to boom among healthy individuals seeking to boost well-being, as well as patients with cancer, arthritis and other illnesses. Until recently, little research had been done into the use of these therapies by people with HIV. In their research, Vosnick and his colleagues surveyed 158 San Francisco-area HIV-positive adults -- nearly half of whom were diagnosed with AIDS -- on their use of alternative therapies. Most of those interviewed were already taking conventional antiviral medications.

According to the researchers, "two-thirds (67 percent) of the participants taking HIV-related medication also were taking an alternative supplement." Fifty percent said they regularly took multivitamins, 17 percent said they used mineral supplements, 12 percent said they used Chinese herbs, another 12 percent said they used botanicals and 7 percent said they took garlic.

Vosnick said most patients were not turning to alternative therapies because they had lost confidence in modern medicine. But he pointed out that even the most powerful antiviral drugs available will not work for everyone. "Perhaps some... are people for whom the medical regimen isn't working. And so they are going for some other way," he said.

The main problem, Vosnick said, is that doctors may not know that their HIV-positive patients are trying herbals or other traditional medicines, which are not subject to FDA scrutiny in terms of safety or effectiveness. "Talk to your physician about any supplements that you're taking, any type of alternative meds," he said. "We just don't have the research that supports a lot of the stuff that's being used now. That's the next step."

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Excerpted from:
Reuters Health
08.23.02; E.J. Mundell

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