Living with a positive HIV diagnosis means focusing on your health in a whole new way. Caring for your body’s needs and your emotional well-being is more important than ever, and is the key to living well with this disease.
Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) can be powerful allies in staying as healthy as possible and slowing the progression of the disease.
A Western view of HIV
Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), is the virus that causes Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). This virus works by attacking a part of the immune system known as CD4 cells, or T-cells. These white blood cells fight off disease, so if a person’s CD4 count gets too low, the immune system becomes compromised, rendering you susceptible to illness and disease. AIDS, the final stage of HIV, occurs when the body’s immune system becomes so weak and imbalanced that it can no longer fight off illness.
The progression of HIV can take from months to many years, so it’s important to seek treatment as soon as you are diagnosed. Your medical doctor will work with you to determine the best strategy to slow the progression and relieve your symptoms. This will generally include the use of antiretroviral drugs in various combinations designed to lower the amount of virus in your blood. These are very powerful medications, and they may lead to a wide range of side effects, including:
- Abdominal pain
- Diarrhea and other gastrointestinal problems
- Shortness of breath
These side effects can have a major impact on the quality of life, especially when combined with some of the more common symptoms of the virus itself, such as:
- Muscle pain
- Night sweats
- Peripheral neuropathy
- Swollen lymph nodes
Acupuncture can be used as an effective adjunct therapy to help support you and your immune system while receiving traditional Western medicine treatment.
A whole-person approach
It makes sense that acupuncture and TCM are one of the most commonly used complementary therapies for HIV. Practiced for thousands of years, TCM is a complete medical system known to be especially effective in supporting the immune system, strengthening the body, as well as calming the mind and spirit.
TCM tells us that Qi (pronounced “chee”) is the vital energy that animates the body and protects it from illness. When a powerful external invader such as HIV attacks the body, it causes a severe disharmony and imbalance of Qi. Incorporating acupuncture and TCM into your healing process, can serve to address various signs and symptoms associated with the virus and the side-effects of HIV “cocktail” medications.
Your practitioner will work to restore the natural harmony and strengthen your body. Acupuncture and TCM offer a holistic, or whole-body, approach to care. This means that your mind, body, and spirit will all be taken into account, not just your symptoms. Practitioners understand that your emotional state is tied to your health, and that it’s critical to tackle the stress, anxiety, and depression that can accompany a diagnosis of HIV.
In addition to acupuncture, your treatment may include the use of herbal remedies. It’s important to discuss these with all of your medical care providers in order to prevent any potential interactions. Other therapies your practitioner may recommend include diet and nutrition counseling, exercise programs and stress relief techniques to support your mind, body, and spirit.
During this challenging time, it’s important to take as much control as you can over your health. By working with a team of medical care providers and incorporating acupuncture and TCM into your treatment, you’ll be taking an important step toward regaining balance and living your healthiest possible life.
HIV & AIDS Guide. WebMD. Accessed Feb. 15, 2008. Link
HIV/AIDS. MayoClinic.com. January 30, 2008. Link
Ruth Cohen, Misha. HIV Wellness: Living well with HIV. Link
Webber, Eleanor. Acupuncture and HIV: The ‘New’ Weapon in the Fight Against HIV/AIDS. Acufinder Magazine: Summer 2007. AcuFinder.com. Link