This Month in HIV: 2009 Update on Body Shape Changes and HIV/AIDS
A Conversation With Dr. Donald Kotler and Patient Activist Nelson Vergel
Nelson Vergel: That brings me to the next question. If you had all the money in the world, what would be your main research project, when it comes to the area of body shape disorders in HIV?
I'm interested in your view since you both see patients and do research -- which is a good thing since many researchers don't actually see patients.
Dr. Donald Kotler: That's an easy question. If I had all the money in the world, I would study everything. But if I could only do one thing, what would I do? It would be a comprehensive program in which I wouldn't be looking for one treatment, but rather, I would use the combination.
It would be diet and it would be exercise and it would be medication. Our laboratory presented a study at the lipodystrophy meeting in London, in which we compared diet and exercise to diet and exercise plus the drug rosiglitazone [Avandia], or simply rosiglitazone alone. Rosiglitazone is an insulin-sensitizing agent; it's an antidiabetic agent.
The question we asked is: If we treat an HIV-positive person with big-belly lipodystrophy and an HIV-negative person who has a big-belly metabolic syndrome the same, would they respond the same?
If I got somebody who has HIV to lose 15 pounds and get into good shape, would his or her insulin resistance change the same as someone who is HIV negative?
Although we didn't have enough people in the study to be able to be absolutely confident of the results, it seemed that the two groups responded pretty much the same.
The average weight loss we got was about 15 pounds. The changes in an HIV-positive and in an HIV-negative person were really pretty much the same not only in the belly, but also in things like cholesterol and the special types of good cholesterol and bad cholesterol.
It looked like HIV didn't really influence it very much. So in the absence of any other information, I would treat an HIV-positive person the same as I would treat an HIV-negative person with metabolic syndrome. The best treatment is to treat it all -- not looking for one magic pill, but instead getting people to eat less, getting people to eat smarter and getting people to exercise more. If there is high cholesterol, bring it down. If the triglycerides and other types of fat are high, bring them down.
If the usual medicines don't work, well, then you try other things, like fish oil (omega-3 fatty acid) or niacin. There are a number of these new medicines that have been tried in HIV. They seem to work about as well in HIV as in non-HIV; it's not so different.
So I think that the optimal way to do it is a whole integrated program.
Bonnie Goldman: But don't you think that many patients around the country don't have a physician that they could turn to who may have this kind of very understanding point of view?
Dr. Donald Kotler: Maybe not a lot of private doctors, but there are a lot of clinics that are putting together metabolic clinics that are putting together expertise to look at having a cardiologist or an endocrinologist treating diabetes go into the HIV clinics to treat people.
You're right. It's not really fully integrated. But I think that would be the best.
Nelson Vergel: As an activist, I think the community also has to take an active role in advocating for things like this. In Houston, Texas, we have a non-profit where we provide exercise and dieticians looking at people's diets and trainers. Yet in the past five years, we haven't been able to duplicate these kinds of programs anywhere else because of money. Money and funding are really tight lately, especially in HIV. People sometimes don't even have the money to get the treatments, the HIV medications, which are basic. So it's a battle.
My next question -- which is really relating to this -- is: How do we get insurance companies or Medicare/Medicaid -- other systems that pay for medication -- how do we get them to accept that body changes in HIV are not a cosmetic issue, per se. It's something that not only affects people's self-esteem, anxiety and depression, and quality of life, but it may actually be something that also affects their survival, eventually.
That's where we have the most challenge right now. How do we shift from perceiving this as a cosmetic issue -- shifting third-party payers, insurance companies, to see it as a clinical problem?
Dr. Donald Kotler: It's not really a medical question. It's a question for activists. I think that the answer is activism. My suggestion would be to push it as a comprehensive care program, rather than a reimbursement for drug X. Because in fact some of the treatments are so costly that I don't know that I would be happy paying for the treatment in somebody who is not watching their diet or someone who would not consider doing exercise. Or even -- which is what's happened before and which is what I think limited it before -- you don't necessarily even look at the results of what you're doing; that it's really considered more of an entitlement to get the prescription, as opposed to having somebody measure you, work out your risk, give you some treatment and follow up. If you're not responding the way you should, look to find out why. Sometimes the medicine is not even being taken.
I think it's important to accept the fact that there's not a magic bullet, but there are a lot of things that you can do to help yourself. I think that the activists should really push on that.
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This article was provided by TheBody.com. It is a part of the publication This Month in HIV.
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