More Than Half of HIV-Positive People Use Alternative Therapies, Study Says
Fifty-three percent of patients who received care for HIV-related illnesses from December 1996 to July 1997 used at least one form of alternative therapy, some of which have the potential to react with or reduce the effectiveness of antiretroviral medications, according to a study published in the current issue of the Journal of AIDS, the Los Angeles Times reports. The study, which examined a national survey of 2,466 HIV-positive adults, found that 26% of patients used a type of alternative therapy that could be harmful, while 3% of the respondents substituted alternative treatments for antiretroviral drug therapy altogether. Patients often use alternative therapies, such as megadoses of vitamins and homeopathic remedies and herbs, in an effort to keep themselves healthy and diminish the side effects of antiretroviral drugs. Because vitamin supplements and herbs often do not have standard dosages and have not been tested for toxicity, the supplements can contain "hundreds of compounds" that can react with antiretroviral drugs, according to the Times. In addition, because HIV-positive people often have weakened livers, compounds that may not be toxic to the general public could be toxic in HIV-positive populations, according to Dr. Charles Farthing, medical director of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation.
Speaking With Providers
The study also found that some patients combined multiple supplements and neglected to discuss such practices with their health care providers, according to Dr. An-Fu Hsiao, lead author of the study (Allen, Los Angeles Times, 6/23). The study's authors concluded that physicians should ask patients about their use of alternative therapies in order to prevent adverse effects (Hsiao et al., Journal of AIDS, 6/1). Martin Delaney, founder of Project Inform, said that the data for the study were collected in 1996, when combination antiretroviral drug treatment was first introduced, and that while patients still ignore warnings about drug-herb interactions, fewer patients appear to be seeking alternative substitutes for antiretroviral therapy because the drugs have "gotten better, are less toxic and are easier to use" (Los Angeles Times, 6/23).