Treating HIV and AIDS with functional medicine

HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. HIV is a sexually transmitted infection that attacks the immune system. The virus replicates inside the cells of the immune system. When the new population of viruses bursts out of the cell, the immune cell is destroyed. As the disease progresses the number of viruses goes up and the number of immune cells goes down.

Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) refers to the later stages of a HIV infection where the immune system is severely impaired and life-threatening, opportunistic infections can occur.

HIV is primarily transmitted through contact with infected blood or semen. The virus is very fragile and easily destroyed outside the body so it is not transmitted by casual contact such as sharing toilet seats or eating utensils. However, it is possible for a mother to pass HIV to her baby during childbirth or through breastfeeding. HIV positive mothers are therefore advised to have a caesarean section and not to breastfeed.

Most people infected with HIV experience flu-like symptoms approximately 2-6 weeks after infection. The most common symptoms are:

  • A Fever
  • A sore throat
  • A rash
  • Tiredness
  • Joint and muscle pains
  • Swollen glands

These symptoms typically go away after a week or two. After this, the virus is still active in the body and is continuing to destroy immune cells but may not cause further symptoms for many years.

It is only once the immune cell count has become critically low that the signs and symptoms of AIDS develop. These include:

  • Fatigue
  • Anaemia
  • Wasting – loss of weight and muscle
  • Lack of appetite
  • Chronic diarrhoea
  • Night Sweats
  • Nerve pains
  • Dementia
  • Cognitive / motor dysfunction
  • Skin problems
  • Recurrent infections
  • Recurrent pneumonia
  • Active tuberculosis
  • Chronic thrush
  • Increased risk of certain types of cancer such as lymphoma, cervical cancer and Kaposi’s sarcoma
  • Shingles
  • Increased risk of food poisoning

It is the increased susceptibility to life-threatening infections and serious diseases that is ultimately responsible for the reduced lifespan in HIV.

There is currently no cure for HIV. The main treatment is a family of drugs called antiretrovirals. These work to prolong lifespan by slowing down the viruses replication rate. A combination of these is usually required to keep the HIV under control and the side -effects can be severe.

Functional medicine can support those with HIV in a number of ways:

  • Optimising food intake to minimise weight loss and muscle loss and reduce the risk of foodborne illness
  • Identifying and addressing any nutritional deficiencies.
  • Supporting the immune system.
  • Providing complementary care protocols for HIV symptoms such as chronic thrush.