AIDS is an incurable disease. With latest advancement in drugs, it is now possible to slow down the progress of the disease, but not to entirely stop it. Once the virus enters the body, it is there to stay. AIDS damages the body’s immune system, hence making the body weak and susceptible to other infections. This is why people infected with HIV tend to get sick more often. Diarrhea, candidiasis, bacterial infections etc. are all more common in HIV infected people.
AIDS In China:
In 1985 the first cases of AIDS were identified in China. Affected farmers in some regions sold untested plasma and this helped in spreading the disease far and wide within the country. To combat the problem, the Government started National Free Anti-Retroviral Treatment Program (NFATP). Initially the program treated only a hundred patients but was later expanded to diagnose and treat 82,540 patients. It is estimated that to date, 740,000 Chinese individuals suffer from AIDS.
AIDS Treatment In China:
This falls under three categories.
The first is Highly Active Anti-Retroviral Therapy (HAART). This treatment is effective in slowing the disease progress. However, the medicines used are highly toxic and have many side effects. This include damage to nerves, liver and kidneys.
The second treatment type is called Buyao, which include teas, herbs and tonics etc. These are also used in the West. And are sold as over-the-counter medication.
The third is traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). This is used mainly to enhance the effects of HAART, to improve the immunity of HIV infected individuals and to lower the side effects of their medicines. In 2004, National Free TCM AIDS Treatment Program was started in China and has since expanded a lot.
Basic Principle Of TCM:
Traditional Chinese Medicine works on the principle that diseases occur due to imbalances within the body. Once these imbalances are treated, the body then heals itself. This therapy treats the body as a whole. This mode of treatment has been practiced for several thousand years and is used to cure and manage a large variety of diseases.
Research About TCM:
A study was conducted to see the benefits of TCM in patients infected with HIV. For this study, initially 257 articles were studied. Very strict inclusion criteria were applied and therefore the articles were later lessened to a final 11. These articles were about 11 different Chinese medicines which were tested on 998 patients infected with HIV. The results are as follows.
1 – IGM – 1:
This formulation has 31 different herbs which was tested in 30 individuals for 12 weeks. It was seen that symptoms improved in the patients receiving the herbal medicine. However, the CD4 cell count did not improve, neither did the viral load.
2 – 35-Herb:
This formulation had 35 herbs and was tested in 68 patients for 6 months. Many of these herbs were the same as in IGM-31. The patients had a CD4 count less than 500/mm cube. The patients were divided into experimental group and those receiving a placebo. 78 percent patients completed the treatment
By the end, 40 patients receiving herbs and 20 receiving placebo reported adverse effects. However, an analysis showed no toxicity from the herbs. No significant increase in CD4 cell count was seen in either group.
3 – Compound SH:
This had 5 herbs and was given to 60 patients. It was given along with conventional anti-HIV drug named ziduvidine. It was seen that patients receiving this herb showed better response to treatment.
4 – Qiankunning:
This preparation has extractions from 14 different herbs. The sample consisted of 36 individuals out of which half got the herbs and other half received placebo. By the end of 7 months, patients in the experimental group had a large decrease in HIV RNA levels.
5 – Zongyan-4:
This herb is prepared by Chinese Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences. 72 patients were included in the study. It was seen that those receiving the herb had an increase in CD4 cell count while those on placebo had a CD4 cell count decrease. ZY-4 is thus said to improve immunity in patients with HIV.
6 – Aining Granule:
This herb was tested in patients who were already receiving HAART. Half of them were given AG and other half received placebo. Those receiving AG had a lower fall in CD4 cell count than those receiving placebo. Also, GIT related adverse effects were less in the AG group. This shows that when HAART is combined with AG, the results are more favorable. However, the virus load did not decrease in either group.
7 – Xiaomi Granules:
This herb was given to those HIV patients who had oral candidiasis. These patients were already receiving Nystatin. 80 patients were selected and were divided into experimental and control group. The study was conducted for two weeks. By the end it was seen that those receiving the herb had greater improvement in symptoms than those receiving the placebo.
8 – Jiagyuankang Capsule:
116 patients were included in this trial. These patients were suffering from decreased white cell count and all of them were already on other medication. After the herb was given to half the patients, their white cell count was increased while there were no adverse effects.
9 – Xielikang Capsule:
In this randomized trial, 158 HIV patients who also suffered from chronic diarrhea, were studied. These patients were also being given loperamide. Half of these patients were given XC. It was seen by the end of the study that the patients who received XC had a reduction in stool weight. However, the stool frequency did not change as compared to those receiving the placebo.
10 – Aikang Capsule:
This herb was tested on a sample of 102 patients. However, the study did not yield favorable results as no difference was seen between the group receiving the herb and that receiving the placebo.
11 – Tangkao Tablets:
In this study, 176 patients were included. These patients had CD4 cell count greater than 200 cells per millimeter cube. These patients were divided in two groups. Half the patients were given the herb for 6 months. The other half received the placebo. The CD4 cell count increased in those receiving the herbal treatment while the viral load increased in the group that was on placebo.
The adverse effects were more or less similar in both groups. However, these were believed to be due to the disease and not the herbs, as lab evidence showed no toxicity from the herbs.
At present, the studies regarding TCM for HIV treatment are not sufficient to draw any firm conclusion. In each study, the sample size was not very large and not enough studies have been conducted regarding this topic.
The current studies do suggest that using TCM along with anti-retroviral therapy can improve the efficacy of the drugs; however these findings are not conclusive. In some cases such as in oral candidiasis and diarrhea caused by HIV, Traditional Chinese Medicine is of benefit. However in other areas such as CD4 cell count and viral load, their benefit has not been demonstrated with certainty.
It is therefore needed that larger and more accurate randomized controlled trials are conducted before the use of TCM in HIV and AIDS can either be approved or disapproved.