Complementary Treatments to Antiretrovial Therapy

If you are newly diagnosed with HIV, you may be wondering about your treatment options. You may already know that antiretroviral therapy (ART) is the most effective treatment protocol in terms of suppressing viral load. However, there are complementary treatment options that may relieve unpleasant side effects of ART (if any) and enhance your physical, mental and emotional health.

Understanding ART

Antiretroviral therapy typically involves a combination of two or three separate antiretroviral medications. Each medication included in a person’s ART regimen inhibits viral replication at a different stage to effectively reduce the viral load.

Statistics about ART

To date, antiretroviral therapy is the most effective means by which to suppress viral load and prevent disease progression. Studies comparing prognoses for people living with HIV before and after ART became available are staggering.

Take, for instance a 2003 study that found “the hazard ratio for death fell sharply to .47 [in 2001]”*—meaning that people with HIV on ART were expected to die at a rate less than 1% greater than the HIV- population.

The effectiveness of ART (particularly highly active antiretroviral therapy, or HAART) has led organizations worldwide to expand access to people in developing countries. As of 2016, 19.5 million of the 36.7 million people living with HIV (about 53%) globally were accessing ART drugs.

Complements to ART

While ART is the most effective treatment protocol for HIV maintenance, it is not the only treatment tool available to you. There are a number of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) strategies that can enhance immune function, ease side effects of other treatment medications and boost your overall sense of well-being. Complementary therapies include:

  • Acupuncture
  • Chiropractic manipulation
  • Herbal remedies
  • Nutritional supplementation
  • Therapeutic massage
  • Tinctures
  • Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)

UNM Truman Health Services offers a number of complementary treatments in our clinic.

However, it is important that these complementary treatments not be considered an alternative to ART. ART has a long, documented history of effectiveness; complementary therapies used alone for HIV management does not. Research on these complementary therapies in isolation is suspect because:

  1. There are no controlled studies that focus on any specific alternative therapy in the absence of ART and its effects on HIV symptomology and/or disease progression.
  2. People taking alternative therapies do not always and/or accurately disclose their alternative regimens to their healthcare providers.
  3. Many of the alternative remedies themselves are not regulated, so the potency and dosing are highly variable.

If you would like to learn more about complementary treatments to ART, please contact us or talk to your primary healthcare provider. We are also happy to help you learn more about how ART works and how to manage side effects (if any).

* Hagmann, M. (2003) Study confirms effectiveness of antiretroviral drugs for HIV patients. Bulletin of the World Health Organization, 81.12. Retrieved from http://www.scielosp.org/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S0042-96862003001200017.

UNAIDS. Fact sheet – Latest statistics on the status of the AIDS epidemic. Retrieved from http://www.unaids.org/en/resources/fact-sheet.