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HIV, Complementary and Alternative Therapies

HIV can be treated, but never cured or eliminated from the body. Standard treatment for HIV is the use of antiretroviral treatments (called ART), and this has proven to be the most effective in controlling HIV. There are complementary or alternative therapies as well. Researching the best options for your health, beliefs and lifestyle is important. Committing to a routine may mean taking it for the rest of your life.

Complementary, Alternative: What’s the Difference?

Complementary therapies can be used at the same time you are on HIV antiretrovirals. They could affect how ART works, so always check with your doctor. If you are not in a position to take antiretrovirals (for any number of reasons), you may be interested in alternative therapies. They cannot control HIV like ART, but they could help you feel a little better. No matter what the type of therapy you’re exploring, here a few things to keep in mind:

  • there is no cure for HIV. If a therapy claims it cures HIV, it’s untrue.
  • if you decide to consult a natural practitioner, ask them their knowledge of HIV. Make sure you get the right practitioner for you. Asking other women with HIV can help your search
  • if you decide to take vitamins, supplements, or herbal remedies, tell your doctor what you are taking. Even natural therapies can cause problems

Types of complementary and alternative therapies

General categories of complementary and alternative therapies include:

  • bodywork you can do yourself, like yoga, tai chi, exercise, etc.
  • bodywork someone else does for you, like acupuncture or various kinds of massage
  • traditional aboriginal healing practices
  • mind/body work, like journaling, meditation, mindfulness
  • vitamins, herbs or nutritional changes

Finding the best therapy can take a few trials and errors. Many women use these tools:

  • healthy food
  • exercise
  • vitamins
  • yoga
  • meditation
  • drawing or writing to deal with stress

All of these practices can help you feel better.  Making changes in your life to include time or money for these things can be hard, but even one step at a time can help.

For detailed information about different kinds of complementary therapies, CATIE has some great guides.

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