I Think I CAM: Use of Complementary and Alternative Medicine by PHAs

What's New, from the 8th Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections

March 22, 2001

This article is part of The Body PRO's archive. Because it contains information that may no longer be accurate, this article should only be considered a historical document.

Several studies done in the past decade have found that a large proportion of people living with HIV/AIDS (PHAs) use complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). Now that highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) is available, many PHAs who use CAM do so to maintain or improve their energy, reduce side effects of prescribed medications and maintain their state of well-being. Because CAM can interfere with prescribed medicines -- as is the case with St. John's wort and anti-HIV drugs -- it is important for PHAs to tell their physicians about all the substances that they are either taking or planning to take.

A research team in Cleveland, Ohio, recently interviewed several hundred PHAs to find out about their use of CAM.

Study Details

Researchers interviewed 324 subjects (18% female, 82% male) and found out the following information:
  • 54% used CAM

  • 59% who used CAM told their doctors


  • Only 13% of CAM users had the herbs/products they used listed in their medical records

  • CAM users and non-CAM users had similar CD4+ cell counts

  • Average viral load of CAM users: fewer than 400 copies

  • Average viral load of non-CAM users: about 2,000 copies

According to the team, the 10 most commonly used herbs in the survey were:

  • Echinacea

  • Ginseng

  • Ginko

  • St. John's Wort

  • Goldenseal

  • Garlic

  • Saw palmetto

  • Chinese herbs

  • Milk thistle

  • Yohimbe

Other commonly used therapies included:

  • Vitamins and minerals

  • Protein and body-building supplements

  • Massage, reiki, and acupuncture

Given the effect that some herbs, such as St. John's wort, have on prescribed medication, it is surprising that more information about CAM usage was not included in the medical records of the PHAs -- despite the fact that they told the research team that they had informed their doctors about their use of CAM.

The Cleveland researchers hope to conduct future research on CAM, if they can raise money to do so.

Poster 497

This article was provided by Canadian AIDS Treatment Information Exchange. Visit CATIE's Web site to find out more about their activities, publications and services.


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