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Introduction

Part of A Practical Guide to Herbal Therapies for People Living With HIV

2004

A Practical Guide to Herbal Therapies for People Living With HIV: Introduction
Herbal medicine: The use of plants or plant-based materials to treat illness.

Taken as a group, herbal medicines are probably the complementary therapy most widely used by people living with HIV/AIDS (PHAs). Why are they so popular? What can these therapies offer for people with HIV? And how can people living with the virus learn about herbal therapies and choose ones that will enhance their health? These are some of the questions examined in this guide.


The History and Popularity of Herbal Therapies

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Herbal therapies have been used since ancient times. Neanderthals were buried with collections of plants that we now know have medicinal properties. Early peoples must have discovered these benefits through a centuries-long process of trial and error. With each generation, a community's body of knowledge about herbal medicines grew. Such knowledge continues to grow today in areas of the world where indigenous cultures have survived the destructive influences of modern society.

In other areas of the world, information about herbs was written down and organized into large treatment texts -- called pharmacopeias -- which specified how each herb should be prepared and how it could be used in treatment. Which herbs were selected and how their uses were explained depended on a particular community's understanding of illness. For example, Mediterranean people used garlic to ward off the evil spirits that they believed caused diarrhea, while the Chinese used garlic for illnesses they described as disorders of the spleen and kidneys.

Today, people are attracted to herbal therapies for many reasons, the most important reason being that, like our ancestors, we believe they will help us live healthier lives. People living with HIV/AIDS may take garlic because biochemical studies of the plant have identified sulphur-containing compounds that might destroy parasites in the gut. They may also take garlic because it has worked well for a friend with diarrhea or because their doctor of Chinese medicine has said that an imbalance in the Qi (life force) of their spleen has resulted in digestive upset.

People living with HIV often blend different types of information to arrive at decisions concerning herbal treatments. In many cases, they apply information that was collected long before we knew about HIV disease.

Questions about herbs often can't be answered. This reality will sound familiar to HIV-positive people whose lives are full of unanswered questions and choices that have to be made without all the desired information. Many people with HIV continuously explore herbal medicines in search of treatments that will help rebuild the immune system, address drug side effects and HIV-related conditions and perhaps even combat HIV.

This guide looks at some of the herbal therapies that HIV-positive people are trying and provides brief overviews of each treatment. We don't intend to recommend any of these therapies; instead we hope to offer people living with HIV a jumping-off point for learning about herbal treatments. At the end of the guide, we provide suggestions on how you can continue your research into herbal therapies.





  
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This article was provided by Canadian AIDS Treatment Information Exchange. Visit CATIE's Web site to find out more about their activities, publications and services.
 

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