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Being Alive

New Research Findings on Chinese Medicine and HIV Infection


Being Alive 1993 Sep 5: 12

In 1988, Dr. R.S. Chang from UC Davis and Dr. H.W. Yeung from the Chinese University of Hong Kong published their findings on anti-HIV effects of Chinese herbs. Twelve different species of plants were found to completely stop replication of the virus. All of these herbs are non-toxic and have been in continuous use for thousands of years in the treatment of viral and bacterial infections.

On the basis of this groundbreaking data, we immediately began clinical development of herbal formulas for HIV infection. The non-toxic antivirals are combined with other herbs known to improve bone marrow production of new white blood cells. The initial clinical results were often very exciting, with some patients posting large increases in T4 cell counts after 4 to 6 months of treatment.

In order to improve our results, and track factors such as viral mutation and resistance, we developed a special method for testing acupuncture points for HIV related weakness using Omura's bidigital O-Ring Test. This procedure for evaluation of acupoints produced many interesting findings related to the process of HIV infection.

First, HIV related weaknesses may appear at any of a number of acupoints. In untreated HIV infection, we often found weakness at Spleen 11, an acupoint in the middle of the thigh, directly over the lymph nodes and vessels. Patients on AZT often showed weak responses at GB 39, a point classically related to bone marrow function. As our clinical experience grew, we found more acupoints that were weakened by HIV. These points would change from visit to visit, reflecting the changing nature of retroviral infection.

When working with patients to strengthen weak acupoints through herbal formulas, we found that antivirals alone were not enough to completely eliminate all weak responses. The other aspect of treatment of HIV infection is reversing the damage done to the immune system, and this requires the use of herbs that improve bone marrow function and production of new red and white cells. Chinese physicians have used these herbs with great success in restoring to normal blood counts in patients undergoing chemotherapy and radiation. With this combination of antivirals and immune restorers, we have seen many excellent clinical responses, but some patients remain stable, while others continue to progress to lower T4 counts.

In the past few months, we have found another important factor in HIV infection, which is the regulation of T8 cell function. In our work mapping acupoints with monoclonal antibodies, we found responses at an acupoint known as Lung 7, indicating overproduction of inflammatory enzymes by T8 cells, perhaps related to the interleukins.

Hyperactivity of T8 cells induced by HIV appears to cause the production of antibodies that further target the T4 cells for destruction. Japanese research has uncovered an herbal formula that appears to normalize many immune system parameters that are unbalanced in HIV, without necessarily producing a strong antiviral effect. We believe that this benefit is due at least in part to reduction of T8 cell activity.

The attached charts describe our current state of understanding on HIV and Chinese herbal medicines. This information can be shared with your acupuncturist so that he or she can make appropriate modifications to the basic formula to match your condition. Acupuncture treatment can also help to normalize T8/T4 ratios and boost interferon production.

The least expensive and easiest way to take Chinese herbs is as a powder in capsules. Up to six capsules can be taken four times a day, before meals and at bedtime. Side effects are rare, but may include stomach upset or loose stools. Reduction of the dose or modification of the prescription can help to resolve this problem. Patients can continue to take their prescription antivirals and prophylactic medications without any difficulty.

(M.M. Van Benschoten, OMD, is in private practice in Reseda, CA and can be reached at 818.344.9973.) 


Information in this article was accurate in September 5, 1993. The state of the art may have changed since the publication date. This material is designed to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between you and your doctor. Always discuss treatment options with a doctor who specializes in treating HIV.