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

A View From the Reality-Based Universe

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!

1. The Alternative Therapy: AMBUSH

Excerpt from my full response:

Basically, if an AIDS cure sounds too good to be true, chances are it is. Most don't pass the sniff test. AMBUSH, for instance, stinks to the high heavens. I did look it up and see that its founder "Apostle Shada Mishe" (red flag #1 is anyone named "Apostle") claims his miracle cure indeed did come from the high heavens. He's convinced divine intervention from the LORD GOD gave him seven steps to isolate the active ingredient (red flag #2 is anyone who claims God is instructing his research). This holier-than-thou whacko is pushing yet another herbal preparation, which he claims within 21 days cures AIDS, gets rid of buffalo humps and eliminates joint pain. Oh, and it also dramatically increases sexual appetite within one week. And, I suppose I should also mention, like so many of these other miracle cures, this one also cures "leukemia, lupus and HPV" (so many red flags there, I can't even count them!)!!!

Holy Whacko also has some zany ideas about HIV as well. He claims the virus is airborne and consequently "without DIVINE intervention mankind and ALL warm-blooded mammals will be extinct in a number of years." (now we have more red flags waving than at a birthday celebration for Chairman Mao at Tiananmen Square)! He sent this poppycock to "most HIV research agencies, scientists of the field, universities, hospitals, clinics, politicians and news agencies." Apparently they all rejected his ideas as pure insanity. Hmm . . . I wonder why??? He feels his ideas were rejected because of his direct link with the big man upstairs.

And so there you have it, another religious whacko, another ludicrous claim of a cure for AIDS (and just about everything else), and another wasted 10 minutes of my life responding to nonsense.

2. The Alternative Therapy: Coconut Milk

Excerpt from my full response:

Dude, coconut milk??? Coconut milk???? Tell me you're kidding. Please tell me you're kidding! If that were true, don't you think I'd be sucking down a Piña Colada at this very moment???

3. The Alternative Therapy: OZONE

Excerpt from my full response:

Should I test the validity of ozone therapy myself to prove it doesn't work? No, of course not. I'm also not going to waste my time testing unicorn blood, goat urine or Tasmanian devil vomit as potential HIV cures either.

4. The Alternative Therapy: Kevin Trudeau's Cure

Excerpt from my full response:

In fact Trudeau's cure is not only unbelievable, it's also completely untrue. Not surprisingly, he apparently has also cured cancer. Ricky, Trudeau is a total fraud. (See information from Wikipedia below.) I'm sure there is a special place in hell reserved for folks like Mr. Trudeau. Wikipedia describes him as "an American author, infomercial salesman, founder of the International Pool Tour, self-proclaimed advocate of alternative medicine, radio personality, and convicted felon."

5. The Alternative Therapy: Blood Electrification

Excerpt from my full response:

Beck's "blood electrification" has been around for over a decade and so have his outrageous and unproven claims that his whacko invention cures AIDS and cancer. . . . his claims to cure AIDS with his electric zapper have always been pure unadulterated balderdash!

"Blood Electrification + Ionic/Colloid Silver + drinking freshly ozonated water to help flush out the toxins" cures AIDS???? Gosh, I thought you needed to add Tasmanian Devil semen, tail of newt and some bat shit in order for the concoction to really work.

And you wonder why this "secret" hasn't been revealed to the world??? Any guesses as to why that may be??????? That's right! Because it's just a load of pseudoscience hooey that works as well as inhaling your grandma's farts for curing HIV/AIDS. Please note, just because someone has a patent on something doesn't mean the "thing" actually works. I remain convinced there is a special place in hell for folks like "Drs." Beck and Kaali who make outrageous claims for personal aggrandizement while taking advantage of those suffering from illnesses like AIDS or cancer. Chances are if reincarnation exists, they may well be reborn as a dung beetle, pond scum or Dubya's elocution coach. (I'm not sure which of those would be the worst fate.)

6. The Alternative Therapy: Chiropractic Care

Excerpt from my full response:

"Blinded by science"??? That comment speaks volumes! Please note, scientific fact is enlightening, not sight limiting ... You can "beg to differ" with me all you like, but it will not change the facts that chiropractic has no effect on CD4 cell counts (or any other aspect of immune function) and is not a recommended treatment for HIV. I'm not slinging mud; I'm slinging common sense. I can assure you I am very interested in finding HIV treatment that is safe and effective and that has as few side effects as possible. I've dedicated the past 26 years of my life to that quest. However, as a Board Certified Immunologist, I can assure you the theory upon which chiropractic care is based is nonsense and has absolutely no place in the treatment of immune-based diseases. As a scientist, physician and person with at least a modicum of common sense, the notion that disease is produced by a disruption in the normal flow of a natural life force termed "Innate Intelligence" cannot be considered seriously any more than can the belief in vampires or compassionate conservatives. The concept that "Innate Intelligence" flows through the nervous system and is disrupted by displacements of the spinal vertebrae called subluxations, which can be corrected by chiropractic manipulation, sounds like a rejected script from an old Star Trek episode. As Dr. Spock would say, "It's just not logical!" I would have to question the innate intelligence of anyone who buys this "Innate Intelligence" interrupted-flow theory. I think referring to it as junk pseudoscience is actually a compliment considering how bizarre these claims are! So, no, I don't need to go to a chiropractor for treatment of a viral pathogen causing immunodeficiency any more than you would need to go to a used car salesman to have your appendix removed. Chiropractic care does not strengthen immunity. Period.

7. The Alternative Therapy: Holistic Herbal Therapy

Excerpt from my full response:

Another holistic herbal therapy promising 100% cure! What great news! Why didn't anyone tell me or Magic Johnson that we could be cured so easily. Well, spank my butt and call me a Republican. I guess you learn something new every day, right? If you'll excuse me now, I'm off to be 100% cured.

8. The Alternative Therapy: Vitamin C

Excerpt from my full response:

Articles about HIV treatment from 1997 might as well have been written by dinosaurs in the Mesozoic era. They really are not all that relevant to HIV treatment circa 2010!

As for vitamin C, sure, high enough levels may be toxic to HIV. Extremely high levels of almost anything may be toxic to HIV, and may also be toxic to humans as well.

9. The Alternative Therapy: Ayurveda

Excerpt from my full response:

Ayurveda doctors (or other alternative practitioners) who recommend herbal preparations over antiretroviral therapy are suffering from craino-rectal inversion. That means they have their heads up their butts (as does anyone who would follow such ludicrous advice in this day and age)!

10. The Alternative Therapy: Imusil

Excerpt from my full response:

Imusil is also pure poppycock.

As for tetrasilver tetroxide (Tetrasil/Imusil), it is not a cure for HIV/AIDS or anything else as far as I can tell. The proposed mechanism of action is science fiction. It makes absolutely no sense to anyone who understands science (or has basic common sense). Silver ions do not "fire electric charges" any more than they dance the rumba. Proponents of this snake oil obviously do not understand the most basic principles of chemistry, physics, pharmacology or medicine. There is not even a theoretical basis for these outlandish claims of a cure!

11. The Alternative Therapy: Homeopathy

Excerpt from my full response:

Homeopaths' claims they can cure AIDS are pure bullshit. (Sorry to be blunt.) By the way, their claims to cure a wide array of other diseases are also pure bullshit! I'll reprint below a recent article from the San Francisco Chronicle that reviews why homeopathy is worthless snake oil that can have dangerous side effects, but absolutely no hope of actually curing or treating any medical condition. I strongly urge anyone using any homeopathic remedies to stop. The scientific evidence is conclusive. Homeopathy doesn't work and doesn't even meet the basic principles of common sense! Buyer beware! You've been warned!

12. The Alternative Therapy: Alzindani Cure

Excerpt from my full response:

You want me to go to Yemen to meet with a presumed terrorist who has a "secret formula" that he claims will cure HIV/AIDS???? No thanks. I think I'll pass. You may be 99.9% sure he has found "the cure," but let's just say I'm much less convinced. Finally I must add that I do not feel it is helpful to chase after every lunatic who claims to have a cure!

13. The Alternative Therapy: Acupuncture

Excerpt from my full response:

Acupuncture has been used to treat various HIV-related conditions (pain associated with peripheral neuropathy, for instance), with varying outcomes. However, there are no solid scientific studies proving (or even suggesting) that acupuncture increases CD4 cell counts. Certainly there are anecdotal reports, but these reports are not scientifically sound and certainly fail the common sense test.

14. The Alternative Therapy: Sidha Yoga

Excerpt from my full response:

Don't be duped by unscrupulous people, even if they've obtained guru status!

15. The Alternative Therapy: the Gambia Cure

Excerpt from my full response:

This is only the latest in a long line of herbal remedies that claim to cure AIDS. Like all the rest, there isn't a shred of scientific evidence that it has any anti-HIV properties. Anecdotal evidence from the creator of this goop is not scientific evidence.

16. The Alternative Therapy: Secomet-V

Excerpt from my full response:

This and similar products are indeed fraudulent.

17. The Alternative Therapy: Raindrop Technique

Excerpt from my full response:

Raindrop Technique involves a "practitioner" dropping "essential oils" along the spine from six inches (not seven, not five) above the back. Not only is this supposed to treat HIV/AIDS, but in addition it treats scoliosis, "spinal misalignments caused by viruses or bacteria" (WHAT?), autoimmune disorders, respiratory conditions, fibromyalgia, skin conditions, fatigue, pain and depression. (One can only wonder if the depression comes on before or after one realizes they just wasted money on a total sham!?!)

18. The Alternative Therapy: Proalgazyme

Excerpt from my full response:

Dude, the links you sent were from "Only on Fox!" (Fox News). (And I use the term "News" loosely). That should have been your first clue that what you were seeing and hearing was total bullshit. Next, these two stories "Only on Fox" about "magic water" that contains algae and sells for $30.00 for a 20-ounce bottle were a full year apart. If indeed there was a major breakthrough in the treatment of HIV/AIDS, don't you think we would have heard about it somewhere else other than only on "Only on Fox???" The only thing "interesting" I find about this story is that there are people gullible enough to believe it. My advice is to avoid Fox News for everything except comic relief.

19. The Alternative Therapy: Prayer

Excerpt from my full response:

I'm sure it's unintentional, but I must say your sanctimonious gibberish is both insensitive and, in some ways, insulting to HIV-positive folks. I'm not trying to diminish your faith; I'm merely attempting to increase your common sense. This is not a forum for you to proselytize! To suggest HIV/AIDS can be cured by miracles if someone merely "believed," as you do, is nonsense. This is the real world, not never-never land.

20. The Alternative Therapy: Immune @ III

Excerpt from my full response:

If I had to (on pain of death) choose between this crap and snake oil, I'd probably choose the snake oil. It would have a better chance of working.

The answer to your inquiry can be found in the disclaimer: "These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The products and information contained herein are NOT INTENDED TO DIAGNOSE, TREAT, CURE OR PREVENT ANY DISEASES OR MEDICAL PROBLEMS. It is not intended to replace your doctor's recommendation. The information is provided for educational purposes only. Nutritional benefits may vary from one person to another."

The medical information -- and I use the term very loosely -- presented here is pure and unadulterated balderdash, drivel, poppycock and twaddle.

I remain confident there is a special place in Hell reserved for those who knowingly try to defraud those who are ill and desperate with false claims designed only for personal monetary gain.

21. The Alternative Therapy: REVIVO

Excerpt from my full response:

REVIVO sounds like a Harry Potter magic spell or a late night infomercial for a nonprescription erectile dysfunction tonic. In reality it's a mishmash of herbs from Yunnan, China with a nifty marketing plan and wild totally unsubstantiated claims of improved immune function, etc. In reality it's just really, really expensive tea -- $100 per month!

22. The Alternative Therapy: Bloodletting

Excerpt from my full response:

Bloodletting as a natural healing technique to treat HIV/AIDS??? Just how gullible is your buddy? Did he like vote for Bush or something?

23. The Alternative Therapy: Alternative Therapies

Excerpt from a full response:

You're correct: I'm not a supporter of "alternative therapy," because by its very name it suggests an unproven "alternate" treatment in place of a proven therapy. That makes no sense to me especially when dealing with an illness like HIV where therapeutic miscalculations can cost you your life. What you are calling "supportive therapy" is also a bit of a misnomer, unless there is real scientific proof it actually "supports" something other than an unscrupulous manufacturer's pocketbook! I believe the better name might be "unproven complementary therapy," thereby reminding folks it's "unproven" and that it's designed to complement or add to therapies with proven benefit.

Excerpt from another response to a similar question:

As for feeling sorry for people that listen to a loser like me, well, please feel free to completely ignore my advice! I'm sure there is an expensive capsule of rhinoceros snot, pygmy toe jam and buffalo smegma with your name on it at your local alternative medicine shop. It's new and all natural! Therefore I'm sure you'll love it!

Want to get in touch with Dr. Bob? You can reach him through his "Ask the Experts" forum, by sending a message to the Robert James Frascino AIDS Foundation, or by leaving a comment for him below. (If it's a private message, or if it includes personal info such as your e-mail address or phone number, we won't post the comment, but we will send it along to him.)