Alternative and Holistic HIV Therapies

In exploring all the treatments for HIV disease, many individuals examine approaches outside of standard mainstream therapies. In fact, various studies indicate between a quarter and three-quarters of people living with HIV have employed some form of alternative treatments. Because HIV is a life-threatening illness where conventional medicine has not found a cure, alternative approaches-including ancient traditional healing modalities, spiritual approaches, foreign pharmaceuticals, homeopathy, and East Indian spices- have been widely used to combat this disease and its symptoms. Stories of remarkable success and failure have been documented. At the same time, rip-offs abound.

The elements that an individual may consider in devising a comprehensive, holistic, aggressive approach to fight HIV focuses on body, mind, and spirit and incorporates general health maintenance, nutritional factors, and alternative therapies. A person living with HIV can learn about these approaches from a variety of practitioners, and then integrate them with standard medical care in collaboration with an HIV-experienced physician. No endorsement of any particular or specific program or product is intended or should be inferred. Scientific studies are discussed when available. Use the same criteria to evaluate “natural” approaches as you would for standard therapy drugs. Just because a treatment is “natural” doesn’t mean it has no potential toxicity or adverse effects. As always, potential toxicity, cost, and availability need to be balanced with a treatment’s potential effectiveness.

General Health Maintenance

A solid foundation for better health is achieved by making some well-know-indeed commonsense-lifestyle choices. These steps are the basic of any healing plan and should be taken before any specific alternative product or modality is contemplated.


People living with HIV need a higher-protein, lower-fat, nutrient-rich diet with frequent, regular meals including fresh fruits and vegetables, complete proteins, whole grains, less sweets, and less highly refined foods, A good diet for someone with HIV has multiple protein sources such as lean meat, cheese, fish, chicken, nuts, and yogurt. While it is possible (yet difficult) for someone with HIV to get adequate and complete proteins in a vegetarian diet, strict macrobiotic diets have usually not benefited individuals with HIV. Several servings daily of fruits, grains, and a variety of vegetables are also important for a balanced diet. Small, frequent meals make it easier for the body to digest food than does a single, large portion.

Studies show that even early, asymptomatic HIV-positive individuals can have decreased absorption of nutrients, so that the recommended dietary allowances (RDAs) are often inadequate. People with HIV, from the beginning of their illness, need more of the basic nutrients than others to compensate for poor absorption. Compensating for poor absorption is crucial since maintaining a stable weight, especially lean body mass (muscle and organ weight), directly correlates with survival. “Fat” weight doesn’t help.