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Built To Survive: The Book, The Forum

August 2000

The following article is a review of the book Built To Survive, written by Michael Mooney and Nelson Vergel, both from the Program for Wellness Restoration (PoWeR). On April 2, 2000, the authors presented a workshop on their approach to treating wasting syndrome at an ASP Community Treatment Forum. Videotapes of the forum are available to check out for free in AIDS Survival Project's Treatment Resource Center.

Although HIV manifests itself differently in each of us, there are some common conditions that present themselves in many of us eventually: fatigue, diarrhea, wasting and lipodystrophy. They develop at different times, progress at different rates and evoke different degrees of priority. For these conditions there are a myriad of reasons, theories, causes and treatments, and there are no definitive, proven answers. Every HIV condition is an uncharted adventure. Thankfully, there are some guideposts along the way, but it remains inherently your own unique adventure.

One such guidepost I have discovered is a recently published (1999) book entitled Built To Survive written by Michael Mooney and Nelson Vergel. I purchased a copy of their book at the April AIDS Survival Project Community Treatment Forum where the two authors gave an in-depth lecture and slide presentation concerning their approach to preventing and reversing wasting. This guidepost is aptly subtitled, A Comprehensive Guide to the Medical Use of Anabolic Steroids, Nutrition and Exercise for HIV(+) Men and Women. Although much of their presentation was beyond my immediate comprehension, their logic resonated. I sensed I could glean some information that would enhance my quality of life and survival.

In reading Built To Survive, with a dictionary nearby, I underlined, highlighted and made copious notes in an attempt to extract the essence of their message. They advocate a multifaceted approach to achieving and maintaining a high quality of life and longevity, which includes optimal nutrition, supplementation, exercise and medicinal anabolic steroids. The writers acknowledge the controversy surrounding the usage of steroids, hence the hesitation of some physicians to prescribe. They clearly document the legal right for medicinal use.

Mooney's and Vergel's research is predominantly given to anabolic steroids. Herein begins my confusion -- and intrigue. Because one of the authors, Nelson Vergel, is a chemical engineer and I am not, I rationalized my struggle with the biochemistry terminology. Because I see an incredibly knowledgeable physician (Dr. Molly Eaton), I deferred any final therapy decisions until she and I would confer. With these ready allies, I turned my attention to the test that would be the basis for our decision making.

First, it is vital to get a BIA. This information is indispensable. A bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA) is painless, quick and inexpensive. The body composition information is invaluable. For example, body cell mass (BCM) may decrease while fat and water weight may compensate for that decrease. Thus, while your body weight may not reflect a change, you may be undergoing wasting syndrome. This can be detected earlier with a BIA. Early detection translates into early intervention, ergo possibly longer-term survival. The four main parameters measured by a BIA are:

  1. Fluid (state of hydration). Are you dehydrated? The human body is normally 60% water.

  2. Body Cell Mass. The percentage of muscle and organ tissue. This is also known as energy-producing tissue.

  3. Body Fat. Too much fat can drain your energy.

  4. Phase Angle. The density (healthfulness) of your body tissue. Doctors are now using this measurement to help predict long-term survival from HIV.

It is accepted that to achieve longevity, one of our goals should be to increase our lean body mass (LBM). Hormones that build muscle and LBM are classified as anabolic steroids. Two natural anabolic steroids, produced by both men and women, are DHEA and testosterone. Both of these can be measured by a blood test. Make sure your blood work includes these tests.

The results of these three tests -- BIA, DHEA and testosterone -- should help you determine if anabolic steroids could benefit you. HIV and the resulting conditions are diverse and complex. One book, one recommended treatment regimen, will not address everyone's challenges. But this book is a wonderful resource for exploring possible solutions for some of those common conditions. I've caught myself referring to this guide frequently. I keep it on a bookshelf next to my copy of Healing HIV, by Jon Kaiser, M.D. The authors of these two bountiful books harmonize nicely in their approaches to living with and healing HIV.

(The books Built To Survive and Healing HIV: How To Rebuild Your Immune System are both available in Atlanta through AIDS Treatment Initiative's (ATI), Atlanta's HIV/AIDS buyer's club. ATI can be contacted by phone at (404) 874-4845, or through their website at

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This article was provided by AIDS Survival Project. It is a part of the publication Survival News.
See Also
An HIVer's Guide to Metabolic Complications
More on Treatment for HIV/AIDS Wasting