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AIDS Treatment Data Network
(ATDN) Considering Alternative Treatments

March 1, 1995
Treatment Review #17 - March 1995

(This article is written by a Network member, Marlene Diaz. She attends conferences as a representative of The Network, the HIV Law Project, and the Beth Israel Women's Project. She is a regular contributor to this newsletter.) I agreed to participate at the Fifth Annual Statewide HIV/AIDS Policy Conference. The conference took place in Albany, New York late last year. This was my first time as a panelist, and I looked forward to exchanging ideas at the session titled "Alternative Treatments: Worth it or a waste?" I have had my share of experiencing both. When I was first diagnosed I remember going into a health food store and asking for anything antiviral. Through trial and error (sometimes costly) I learned some lessons such as the importance of using herbs under the guidance of an herbologist who is familiar with HIV. Chinese medicine, including acupuncture, has benefited my health by reducing stress, aiding my body in detoxifying itself and helping create an energy balance.

If you are considering any treatment, alternative or otherwise, it's important to get together information so you can make a decision. At the conference, speaking about finding an acupuncturist, Kevin Ergil, dean of Pacific Institute of Oriental Medicine emphasized the importance of an acupuncturist's credentials. Is s/he licensed? Is s/he familiar with HIV/AIDS? It was emphasized that alternative medicine can be used to complement traditional medicine - for instance, it can help the body handle some of the toxic side effects of AZT. A major concern, however, is the disbelief that many western practitioners have regarding alternative therapies. Much of this disbelief stems from lack of knowledge and unwillingness to learn.

At a time when more and more people with HIV/AIDS are questioning the efficacy of AZT, especially after the Concord study, there is interest in alternative treatments such as vitamin therapy, herbs, and therapeutic touch. Patients need to communicate their interest in alternative practices with their primary caregiver and request that their bloods be monitored closely.

Factors to consider when incorporating any of these therapies into your regimen are cost, convenience and information. If it costs more than a car payment, it's too much. Is it convenient? How does it fit into your life stye? For example, do you have time for bitter melon retention enemas every morning? And perhaps the most important thing is how much is really known about it? Do you have solid information that it works? Because most of these treatments haven't been in clinical trials, the emphasis has to be on gathering information from different sources yourself. Don't just listen to the company's sales pitch that's trying to sell you a new herbal formula. Talk to people that have tried it. Research the ingredients. And always be sure and tell your doctor if you add new treatments so that she or he can watch for any interactions and, hopefully, good results.