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What are Different Treatments for HIV?

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  • Written By: Karyn Maier
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 29 October 2016
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Most people equate receiving news of being HIV-positive with contracting a lethal disease. However, HIV is not deadly in itself. Classified as a retrovirus, the mechanism of HIV is to impair the immune system to the point that the body is unable to defend itself from other threats, which can range from something as aggressive as cancer to an otherwise fairly benign infection. The virus does this by converting its own RNA ribonucleic acid (RNA) into deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) using an enzyme known as RNA-reverse transcriptase as a vehicle. This newly formed DNA then replaces the normal DNA of the infected cell to replicate itself.

The cells most targeted are T-cells, a type of lymphocyte, or specialized white blood cell. Other helper lymphocytes, such as CD4 cells and their subsets that carry the T4 marker, begin to multiply in response to this invasion. However, these cells also become the target of HIV. This process continues until normal lymphocytes dwindle in number, are eventually destroyed, and replaced by HIV DNA-driven cells. At this point, the infected person has arrived at the late stage of HIV infection, or AIDS.

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Since immune system functioning is so critical in fighting HIV infection and slowing its progression to AIDS, the goal of exploring treatments for HIV begins with optimal nutrition for immune support. That said, an HIV-positive individual should strive toward achieving a balanced, healthful diet that is high in whole grains, seeds, nuts, fruits and vegetables, and low in fats and refined flours and sugars.

Nutritional treatments for HIV should also incorporate antioxidant therapy. Several studies have found that HIV-infected individuals have an impaired antioxidant defense system, either due to poor nutrition or an inability to absorb nutrients. This condition allows increased peroxidation of lipids (breakdown of fats), which can promote replication of HIV. To counter this, the goal is to increase levels of the amino acid gluthathione in white blood cells by increasing antioxidant activity.

Specific botanical treatments for HIV should also be considered. For example, epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), the active constituent of green tea, has demonstrated a strong ability to prevent HIV replication when introduced to infected lymphocytes. The extract of olive leaf also displays anti-HIV viral activity by preventing replication and P24 expression in infected cells. Researchers suspect that the active component of olive leaf, oleuropein, which is converted into olenoic acid in the body, may be behind the mechanism of inhibiting viral replication.

One important note: Although the herb echinacea is established as a potent immuno-modulating therapy, HIV-infected patients should not take it. The reason for this is due to the herb’s action of stimulating T-cell production, which could result in assisting HIV in transferring its DNA into these cells and replicating itself.

More aggressive treatments for HIV include anti-retroviral medications. There are several classes of these drugs, including protease inhibitors (PIs), chemokine co-receptor inhibitors, nucleoside analog reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs), and others. The latter in this grouping was the first anti-retroviral medication to be introduced, which works by suppressing the HIV enzyme, RNA-reverse transcriptase. PI drugs, on the other hand, inhibit a different enzyme known as HIV protease. Chemokine co-receptor inhibitors are relatively new treatments for HIV that are engineered to target a specific HIV infection known as CCR5-tropic HIV-1.

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Feryll
Post 3

@Drentel - There is a lot of information out there regarding HIV, but there are people who remain ignorant about the basic facts regarding the virus. For example, some people still believe that the virus can be passed on when someone with the virus spits on you or bites you even though all reputable sources tell us this is not true. And you can't get an HIV infection by sharing a fork or spoon either. This is another common misconception.

Drentel
Post 2

I remember when the professional basketball player Ervin "Magic" Johnson announced that he had contracted the HIV virus. Even though everyone knew of the disease AIDS at that time, there was still so much ignorance surrounding the disease and HIV infections. What most people knew as a certainty back then was that AIDS was a death sentence, and a relatively quick one.

When I watched Johnson's HIV news conference and he stated that he fully intended to fight the virus and he planned to win, I was thinking this guy will be dead in a few years. He will gradually fade away, and look nothing like the athlete so many fans were used to watching on the basketball court.

I'm pleased to say that I was wrong. A couple of decades later and he appears to be in good health and he is still fighting. I am amazed at how medicine has been able to help so many people by providing treatment for HIV that actually works.

Laotionne
Post 1

I find it interesting that HIV infections are so dangerous and scary, yet as this article explains, the HIV virus is not what actually eventually kills a person. Something as simple as a cold or some other infection is what actually causes death.

I find this strange because this means that in theory you could live with the HIV virus and never get ill as long as you never had any other type of illness where you needed a healthy immune system to fight the condition.

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