One From Column A and Two From Column B

Column AColumn B
Alternative TherapyTraditional Therapy
Complementary TherapySupplemental Therapy
Holistic TherapyNatural Therapy
Natural TherapyHolistic Therapy
Supplemental TherapyComplementary Therapy
Traditional TherapyAlternative Therapy

Not a week goes by that we at the PWA Health Group don't get at least one request from someone for information on alternative, complementary, holistic, natural, supplemental or traditional therapies. When the question comes up during a one-on-one conversation it's easier to scope out just exactly what's being requested. However, when the question pops up in a piece of mail , it's harder to figure out.

To some, alternative therapy is a huge umbrella term which covers all the others, plus vitamin therapy and even the "hands on" healing arts (massage, reiki, shiatsu, et al). To some, an alternative therapy is simply less toxic or non-toxic substance which can substitute for the traditional therapies they are on or thinking of starting. There are many interpretations, people are very creative.

ALTERNATIVE: "employing or following non-traditional or unconventional ideas, methods, etc.; existing outside the establishment: an alternative newspaper; alternative lifestyles; alternative therapies."1

The most common misconception about alternative therapies is that there really are alternative therapies out there which will work as well as traditional western medicines that you are trying to void. Somewhere along the way, in our search for a cure for AIDS, we got it in our heads that there has to be an alternative cure as well. The problem is that almost all of the information about these "phantom cures" is word of mouth and rumor, not to mention the occasional salesperson.

Only after a sufficient number of people are trying something or talking about it do we see any real discussion of alternatives amongst the men and women who write and publish our newsletters and who we trust to decipher the technical information released by the scientific community. It is often possible to hear or read personal testimonials by people who have a strong belief that they have been helped by some alternative therapy; however, it is just as often impossible to find legitimate documented clinical trial results on these alternative therapies.

The real truth is that we are all different and what helps you might just kill me and vise/versa. Don't misunderstand. There are lots and lots of people who swear by their alternatives. They just don't have clinical data to back up their claims. When you are taking these "non-toxic" alternative therapies, you are experimenting on yourself (and there's nothing wrong with that), and therefore you are responsible for checking your blood work and determining that you are getting the results you desire.

Some examples of alternative therapies include: vitamin C drip, massage therapy, yoga, acupuncture, anti-oxidants and plasma pheresis. There are lots more, too many to mention them all here.

There are no federal agencies out there charged with watching out for our butts when we start to play around with alternatives. What we have are manufacturers self regulating with no unbiased independent agent verifying that what they say it is on the label is what it really is. We are truly on our own. Buy products from companies you trust. Don't be afraid to ask the manufacturer for proof of their claims. Pay attention to where your information comes from, and always be aware that the alternatives you're taking may produce adverse interactions with the traditional meds you're taking. Just because it's called an alternative doesn't automatically mean it's good for you.

With HIV/AIDS we have base line numbers as our markers to tell us if we are successful in our attempts to control viral replication and T-cell counts. Just because an alternative makes you feel better, doesn't mean it's having a beneficial effect on your viral load or T-cells. Conversely, it's important to remember that even if what you're taking isn't giving you the results you want in terms of your T-cells and viral load but it has improved the way you feel then maybe it's doing something good and you might want to keep taking it. There is value in feeling better.

COMPLEMENTARY: "to make additions to something, to provide something felt to be lacking or needed; it is often applied to putting together two things, each of which supplies what is lacking in the other, to make a complete whole."

"Oh, what a pretty pill. It goes so well with your outfit." No, that's not what I mean by complementary.

What are some complementary therapies? An example would be grapefruit juice. Grapefruit juice was used as an addition to saquinavir because it provided what was lacking and made saquinavir more bio-available, increasing the amount of saquinavir in the blood to effective levels. Saquinavir needed a good shot in the arm and grapefruit juice was a useful complement.

Another example of complementary therapies is a bit more complicated. Anti-oxidants. If you decide to use them, you need to study how they react to each other. In other words, it is pretty common knowledge that anti-oxidants are good for us. In essence they are supposed to clean out the "rust" in our systems.

None of us want to have a rusty system. But, just like in any good clean up scenario, toxins can be released and these toxins can harm you. So, to avoid harm from toxins it is necessary to study how anti-oxidants work with and for each other.

Let's imagine you decide you want to take L-Glutamine Fuel. It is a good idea to add a few things to make sure that you receive all of the benefits you are seeking, without harm. The complements to L-Glutamine Fuel are vitamin C, vitamin E, NAC, Beta Carotene, Selenium, Garlic, Thioctic acid and exercise. I'm not saying that any or all of these things are bad for you if taken alone. What I'm trying to point out is that when they are put together, they complement each other. While each does its own job, it also cleans up the refuse left by the others.

If you want to be literal we can look at triple combinations of anti-viral drugs as complementary therapy. Each of the anti-virals when combined with the others adds something which the others lack or need. In other words, they complement each other.

HOLISTIC: "identifying with principles of holism in a system of therapeutics, especially one considered outside the mainstream of scientific medicine, as naturopathy or chiropractic, and usually involving nutritional measures."

When I first started working in AIDS, I thought that holistic meant natural -- wrong! An holistic approach is one which is concerned with the principles of holism or, to put it into other words, it concerns not only our bodies needs but also our mind's needs as well as the needs of our spirit. It's a philosophy which addresses the needs of the whole being, not just the specifics of your diagnosis.

Take cancer, for example. If you were to take only the traditional western approach to treating cancer, you would simply concern yourself with your chemotherapy and nothing else.

Chemotherapies are designed to attack the cancer and only the cancer, while doing little or no damage to other parts of the body. Yes, it makes your hair fall out and it's hard to get a meal down much less keep it down and you generally feel like shit. And, your doctor will tell you that's a small price to pay for getting rid of the cancer, so grin and bear it.

Chemo is usually administered in a sterile medical environment where there is little concern for anything other than a swift and efficient infusion of the chemo. Little concern is shown for the many other things a patient of chemo can experience.

An holistic approach to the treatment of cancer might include chemo, but would also be concerned and provide support for emotional and spiritual needs of the patient -- making it easier to face the responsibility of having to make hard choices. In other words holistic isn't a product or a tangible substance that you can actually take, it's a philosophy. You can't really think of an herb or a specific treatment as holistic in and of itself.

What might an holistic approach to treating HIV/AIDS look like? Many PWAs have more than one doctor, an infectious disease doc (traditional western MD), possibly a Chinese herbologist (traditional Chinese MD) and maybe an acupuncturist. They take advantage of at least one of the many healing arts (Reiki, Massage, Shiatsu, Rubenfeld synergy, etc.) on a weekly basis. They have incorporated a well thought out regimen of vitamins and supplements with whatever western meds they have chosen (or chosen not) to take.

Many people regularly work out at a gym or take an aerobics or yoga class every week. Some just go out dancin' every weekend. Many PWAs find that some form of individual mental health counseling or therapy coupled with at least one good support group on a weekly basis is an important component of an holistic approach.

Often PWAs find themselves on a spiritual quest which involves reading about or studying different religious philosophies. Some find spiritual peace in meditation, while others are helped by a new found religious verve. This addresses the needs of the whole person, body, mind and spirit, a real holistic approach. It's a mix and match philosophy -- some people need to put a stronger emphasis on the spirit while others need to focus on their mind and body. You have to create your own recipe for success and can change it as you discover which things in your recipe work and which don't. One thing that everyone does who takes an holistic approach to treating themselves, is learn everything they can about their diagnosis.

NATURAL: "having undergone little or no processing and containing no chemical additives, a natural substance or a product made with such a substance."

Probably the most common mistake that people make is to assume that if it's natural, it's good for you. Mostly it's a problem of semantics -- if you are in need of treatment and you have the choice between a synthetic or natural therapy, the natural choice may be easier on your system. But it may also work a good deal slower than the synthetic or processed therapy. Whether you go to a traditional western or Chinese doctor with a viral infection, if they know what they are doing, each will want to treat the viral infection. The treatment will be with an antibiotic. The difference will be in how long it takes to work and how the treatment will be administered.

A western prescription will be for 8 to 10 days of antibiotics (pills) and the Chinese prescription will be for several bags of herbs (twigs, leaves, seeds, bark, etc.) which will come with instructions for cooking and dosing in tea form over the next 21 days (some Chinese docs have standardized formulas which they have in pill orcapsule form. Personally, I prefer the tea).

The western medication is a substance which may have started out as a natural substance but has probably been processed in one way or another and may contain chemical additives, but it works fast.

The Chinese medication is all natural but takes forever. Sometimes it's good, real good, to feel better in a couple of days as opposed to a couple of weeks. An interesting thing to know about natural is that most of the poisons known to man are natural substances.

Sometimes when you are taking an holistic approach it is of value to you to take three weeks to get rid of a bug -- the process of drinking the tea three times a day can be a kind of ritual which can play into a meditation schedule. In that case, the benefit to your spiritual process is of greater importance to you than the discomfort of the infection you're trying to get rid of. It's a matter of making a wise and educated choice.

SUPPLEMENTAL: "added to complete a thing, supply a deficiency, or reinforce or extend a whole, added to furnish what is lacking or missing."

Supplemental therapy is very close, almost interchangeable with complementary therapy. More often than not when we consider using supplementation it is because of a feared dietary deficiency. If your diet doesn't provide you with the RDA (recommended daily allowance) of vitamins and minerals, then it's important to change your diet or supplement with pills or potions of whatever it is that you are lacking.

Many people with wasting will supplement because their lack of appetite and inability to eat as much as they should will prevent them from getting the vitamins, minerals, nutrients, proteins, carbohydrates and fats necessary to maintain a healthy body weight. There are many different supplementary pills, powders, drinks and shakes out there. Each of these supplements is designed to meet the specific nutritional needs of the individual.

They each have high doses of the supplements required and they provide their dose in small, easy-to-ingest portions, which can add to a person's comfort.

TRADITIONAL: "a long-established or inherited way of thinking or acting, a continuing pattern of culture beliefs or practices, a customary or characteristic method or manner."

When we use the term traditional medicine, what we usually mean is western medicine. Sometimes we actually say "traditional western medicine." For those of us who have been raised in western society our largest comfort zone comes from trusting our primary physician. When we talk about our primary physician what we are talking about is a doctor who was traditionally trained in western medicine.

I personally use three doctors; one is a licensed physician who practices Chinese herbology, one is a licensed physician who practices acupuncture, and one is a licensed physician who practices traditional western medicine and is my primary physician.

Western medicine can be divided into three basic categories: diagnostic, surgical and pharmacological. All three categories deal with specific physical symptoms and their treatment. Traditional western medicine tends to be very clinical in its approach to diagnosis and treatment. Clinical means a controlled, fact based approach, no guesses.

The philosophy of western medicine places the highest emphasis on finding out what the problem is, fixing the problem and then returning the patient to as normal a life as is possible quickly. Traditional western medicine is much more about the specifics of the problem. It looks at the part of the body that is problematic without really considering the whole person. The approach to good health of traditional western medicine may not be complete, but it is extremely valuable.

We start our medical journey with an empty tool bag, we learn and are educated about what's going on in our bodies, and on our journey we discover a vast diversity of available treatment approaches. We begin to fill our tool bag with an assortment of different tools, each with a specific job, and we learn how and when to use these tools to our advantage. At the end of our journey, if we have used these tools well, we should be left with a sense of peace and tranquility, if not good health.

I think that the most complementary thing we can do for our good health is to take an holistic approach and find some good natural alternatives which we can use to supplement our traditional treatment regimen.

1. All definitions from The Random House Dictionary, 2nd Edition Unabridged, NY: Random House, 1987.

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