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Hocus-Pocus: Quantum Quackery, aka Alternative Medicines for HIV/AIDS

A View From the Reality-Based Universe

By Bob Frascino, M.D.

July 28, 2010

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Simply put, alternative medicine (taking an alternate treatment in place of combination antiretroviral treatment -- as opposed to complementary therapies taken alongside antiretrovirals, and under the supervision of an HIV physician specialist) uses therapies that are unproven, usually anecdotal, frequently deceptive and often downright dangerous. The opposite of "alternative medicine" is sometimes referred to as "traditional medicine." That is a misnomer. "Evidence-based medicine" would be a more accurate term. It's important to note that the opposite of evidence-based medicine is not "alternative medicine," but rather "unproven medicine."


When it comes to incurable diseases such as HIV/AIDS, unproven therapies are rampant and have been present since the earliest days of the pandemic. These therapies have only served to worsen suffering, waste money and, in some cases, hasten death.

The allure of So-Called-Alternative Medicine (SCAM!) is easy to understand. Effective antiretroviral therapy is scarce and often completely unobtainable in much of the world. Even when antiretrovirals are accessible, treatment is not that easy. Adherence to the lifelong daily dosage schedule is both essential and a significant challenge. Plus, the treatments can and often do have significant side effects and toxicities. Who wouldn't want to believe in a simple natural cure to eradicate the virus? Add to this the desperation that accompanies all incurable illnesses and the powerful urge to grasp at anything for the chance to stay alive and the proliferation of charlatans peddling worthless potions or miracle electrical zappers becomes completely understandable.

Recently a visitor to my expert forum claimed that my responses to questions dealing with alternative therapies were "negative, trite, and condescending." Could that really be the case? I decided to review some of my past responses for various alternative therapies. Click on an alternative therapy in the list below to read a sample of what I found -- each excerpt also contains a link to the archived post.

The Alternative Therapies


The evidence is clear. I'm not a fan of SCAM (So-Called-Alternative Medicine). The acronym says it all. The false claims of "proven effectiveness" should be disallowed, as these mythical cures and treatments deceive hapless victims and can cause significant harm in a number of ways:

  1. Many SCAM peddlers insist their clients avoid all treatments, including antiretroviral medicaments. The (bogus) cure is the "alternative" to evidence-based and life-sustaining combination antiretroviral therapy. By the time the client realizes the "cure" hasn't worked, the virus has often damaged the immune system to such a degree that chances of significant immune reconstitution with evidence-based antiretroviral therapy are diminished.
  2. SCAM magic potions are often concocted form secret recipes. Some have been found to contain harmful substances, such as industrial solvents, disinfectants and other poisons.
  3. The atrocities of the virgin cleansing alternative therapy myth, which advocates unprotected sex with virgin girls as a cure for AIDS, are painfully apparent.
  4. Promotion of fake cures undermines HIV-prevention efforts. Folks who believe a cure is readily available are less likely to take protective precautions, as they no longer fear becoming HIV infected.
  5. Although I would be very pleased if SCAM was deemed illegal, I realize John Q. Public has the right to use whatever snake oil he chooses. Hence, I would settle for regulation of SCAM therapies that would insist on strict truth in advertising. Such regulation would criminalize or at least prevent all false claims of proven effectiveness. To its credit the FDA does currently slap a disclaimer on SCAM products and treatments. It reads: "The products and information contained herein are NOT INTENDED TO DIAGNOSE, TREAT, CURE, OR PREVENT ANY DISEASE OR MEDICAL PROBLEMS."

I have no doubt this blog will infuriate many. I can just about hear the ozone zombies, blood electrification loonies, holistic "healers," chiropractic crackpots, vitamin gurus, homeopathy fluffernutters, prayer group groupies and bloodletting vampires furiously typing nasty rebuttals or claiming I have a negative prejudice. So let me point out I admit to both a conscious bias and common sense, which is not the same thing as negative prejudice. I have an opinion from the reality-based universe that can be strictly defended by scientific analysis and objective evidence.

The visitor to the expert forum I mentioned above who claimed I have a negative opinion of SCAM is correct. That same visitor went on to inquire that since I don't support alternative therapies, what would I suggest he use. He is HIV positive with a CD4 count of 598 and HIV plasma viral load of 50,000 copies per ml. To find out exactly what I would suggest, stay tuned for my next blog installment.

Until then, the take-home message is clear: Buyer Beware of Hocus-Pocus Abracadabra SCAMs!

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See Also
More Interviews and Views on Alternative Medicine and HIV/AIDS


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Life, Love, Sex, HIV and Other Unscheduled Events

Bob Frascino, M.D., was President and Founder of The Robert James Frascino AIDS Foundation. He had been an outspoken, popular expert in's "Ask the Experts" forums on safe sex and fatigue/anemia since 2000. Once a Fellow of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, and the American Academy of Pediatrics, Dr. Frascino served as Associate Clinical Professor of Medicine, Division of Immunology, Rheumatology, and Allergy, at Stanford University Medical Center from 1983 until 2001. He was a member of the American Academy of HIV Medicine and had also been a distinguished member of the executive boards of numerous state and regional associations.

We're inexpressibly saddened to share the news that Dr. Frascino passed away unexpectedly on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2011. Click here to read more and to share your thoughts.

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