The Selectivity of AIDS
AIDS is not just a disease but also a susceptibility to many diseases. It is a tragedy of immense proportions, and has touched every single one of us in some way. There is so much anger, denial, blame and confusion surrounding this illness, that even doctors and researchers argue over the cause, the treatment and the prognosis. I have patients that have lived for 20 years as HIV positive individuals, with no symptoms at all. But then there are many who develop symptoms almost immediately. Why? First, look at the name of this disease: Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. In essence thought to be a viral condition by what is known as a retrovirus. The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) destroys one type of the body’s white blood cells, known as CD4 lymphocyte or helper T Cell. This weakens the infected person’s immune system, lowering their resistance. The virus penetrates one of these immune cells and takes over the genetic material in the nucleus. It reverses the normal genetic trend of transferring information from DNA to RNA and instead transfers viral information in the RNA into the DNA. In this way it uses the cell to make more infected cells, and when the parent cell dies, the virus particles are released into the bloodstream to infect more cells. By using the cell’s own DNA reproduction, the virus can mutate with the individual cell’s characteristics each time the cell replicates.
So the real problem with AIDS is the fact that it leaves the body open to opportunistic infections and daily stresses which the body would normally be able to fight off. The first official case in the United States occurred in 1981, although it was first reported worldwide among the heterosexual population of Africa. The number of cases in 1981 was 316, with cases in 1995 reaching 750,000. Testing for this virus is confirmed by the result of the Elisa, IFA or the Western Blot Test. These were devised to detect the presence of antibodies to HIV in the bloodstream, to see how the person’s blood reacts when exposed to HIV, and to test for the proteins that make up the virus. The CD4 T cell count is what determines whether a person is simply HIV positive or whether they have AIDS. A normal CD4 T cell count should be 1000, while AIDS can drop that count to below 200.
So back to the original question. Why does one HIV positive person live more than 20 years symptomatically free while another person develops symptoms immediately? I belive there are a number of factors that explain this difference. The first is that there are hints that any virus can become a retrovirus, meaning that anyone can become HIV positive given the right internal factors of their immune system. In fact, there are variant forms of HIV among animal populations as well as within the human population. These could be mutations or they could simply be differing viruses.
So if we for a moment put aside the idea that this is a retrovirus and instead think of it as a virus, how would we normally protect ourselves from contracting a virus from another person who is infected? By building up our own immune system to fight off the pathogenic virus. This is why in any situation where there is a virus present, you will have some people who will get sick immediately, while others will test positively for it in their system, but not display any symptoms. I have one homosexual patient whose partner died almost ten years ago from AIDS. Prior to the partner’s symptoms, they had an unprotected intimate relationship together for three years. To this day my patient is not even HIV positive.
Symptoms of HIV infection can be a short, feverish illness similar to mononucleosis, with a sore throat, fever, swollen lymph glands and a rash. These symptoms usually clear up within a few weeks, although many people do not have any symptoms at all. By about ten years from symptomatic evidence, 75% of infected people have developed at least some symptoms of HIV infection. Once again that is a very large variant in the timing of symptoms. And there is still 25% that have not developed any symptoms even at ten years.
So again, if we think of HIV as a virus and treat it as a virus, then the following suggestions would be incredibly beneficial in preventing exposure as well as symptom development. First of course is lifestyle prevention. Unprotected sexual moments, the sharing of hypodermic needles, even extreme stress are all things that not only can expose you to any virus, but weaken your immune system inherently. Anyone will be more likely to contract a virus if their body is also addicted to a drug, or if they are challenging their immune system with unprotected sex. Many of us think of our daily lives as perfectly healthy, when in fact even severe stress at work can gradually wear down your immune defenses and make your body significantly more susceptible to any pathogen.
Don’t just practice safe sex, practice relaxation, breathing, stress-reduction techniques and spend energy on your body’s healthy balance. Keeping your diet clean, your level of toxicity down and your tissues strong are all essential to fighting off exposure to any illness. This also means maintaining the health of your body’s pathways of elimination. Once the body has dealt with something, it needs to be removed, or congestion and stagnation will occur which can block the effective response of your immune system.
The second thing that is very important is to support your immune system which includes the tonsils, the stomach hydrochloric acid production, the thymus gland, the spleen, the appendix and all of your lymphatic system. Many people have already had their immune system compromised by the removal of their tonsils or even their appendix. Especially for these individuals, regular lymphatic drainage and taking herbs that will support their lymphatic system such as Cleavers and Poke Root can make an enormous difference.
The Standard Process product Thymex is one of a kind in working with the lymphatic system and also in the natural treatment of HIV positive individuals. Thymex is a cytosol extract that promotes phagocytic and lymphatic activity, aiding in lymphatic drainage and stimulating healing and immunity. The National Institute of Health stated that "Research has shown that in the case of HIV, until thymic atrophy occurs, and CD-4 lymphocytes decline, HIV positive patients do not develop AIDS" This formula is designed to prevent exactly that — thymic atrophy. It is used for all infections, low gammaglobulin levels, croup, chronic lesions, inflammation and even lactose intolerance.
The oriental mushrooms have been used to support the immune system for centuries. I find the combination of Shitake and Ganoderma to be great for acute and chronic infections including colds and flu, autoimmune diseases, immuno-deficiency conditions and immunoglobulin deficiency. I have even used it to treat carcinomas, Epstein-Barr, hepatitis and Lyme Disease.
In our diets, healthy levels of whole vitamin A, whole vitamin B and folic acid will help with the circulation and health of the lymphocytes while also supporting antibody production and cell-mediated immune function. Leafy green vegetables are going to be the best source for this, and for HIV positive individuals or for those with a weakened immune system, I insist on this in a highly concentrated form such as an organic green powder concentrate.
Next, pay close attention to your adrenal health. Adrenal fatigue is the core determinant in the loss of immunity. The adrenal glands modulate body inflammatory response and also dictate your body’s physiological response to stress. These delicate glands can lead your body’s entire immune system into handling a particular stress or in staving off chronic stress. Cortisol, adrenalin and the catecholamines can all be a strong defense against immunodeficiency conditions. In fact, loss of the balance of these essential hormones produce symptoms that are the first sign of the immune system weakening. Insomnia, loss of libido, sugar or salt cravings, depression, anxiety, blood pressure issues and a strong vagal response are all indicative of the adrenals requiring attention.
The idea that the adrenal glands are crucial for immune health is an idea that is even more accurate when reviewing Candace Pert’s research on cellular receptor neurotransmitter chemicals. She makes it clear in her research that even mood biochemicals such as serotonin can interact with individual immune cells, making your entire immune army susceptible to your emotions.
I believe that if you practice body care that supports your immune system, the likelihood of contracting any virus is minimal. But should you become HIV positive, don’t delay in instituting the suggestions made above. I also recommend a strong daily dose of herbal extracts, particularly Licorice, Turmeric, Echinacea Angustifolia/Purpurea, Korean Ginseng, St. John’s Wort and Artemisia. Licorice not only supports adrenal function, helping to modulate inflammation, but it also induces interferon production in vivo. Turmeric has been shown in invitro studies to inhibit human immunodeficiency virus type-1 integrase and is a modest inhibitor of the HIV-1 and HIV-2 proteases. Korean or Panax Ginseng can provide significant changes in T-cell percentages as demonstrated in Korean clinical trials.
But two of the most interesting herbs in the treatment of HIV and AIDS are Artemisia and St. John’s Wort. Artemisia has traditionally been used as the core treatment for Lyme Disease with amazing results and those results have also translated into treating HIV as well. At the same time, studies of hypericum in St. John’s Wort have shown it to not only reduce symptoms of fatigue, nausea and mild peripheral neuropathies, but also to promote a substantial decline in viral load over time. This is very interesting, as St. John’s Wort is the strongest antiviral herb for liver-based encapsulated viruses such as hepatitis and herpes. So if these herbs have an effect on HIV, then is there a relationship between HIV and previous or concurrent exposures to other pathogens such as Lyme Disease, hepatitis or herpes?
Only research will tell us...
Karen Sterling Clickner, N.D. is the founder and director of ISIS Holistic Clinic & The Waters of ISIS Body Purification Spa in Brookline, MA with offices in London and Geneva. She has been a practicing naturopath and medical herbalist for 25 years.