Today's medications for HIV/AIDS are working miracles - people are living longer than ever before. Even so, its essential for people living with HIV/AIDS to maintain their health and stay active. Incorporating all these steps at once can seem like a big task but start one step at a time. Print out this list (or your own list), put it on the fridge and start with just one step that speaks to you the most. As you reach your goal, go down to the next step on your list and before you know it, you'll have gotten through all ten.
1. Get Acupuncture! Better Yet, Get An Acupuncturist
I'm not just saying this because I'm an acupuncturist. Studies have shown that traditional Chinese medicine can help manage stress, improve the immune system, manage side effects caused by medication, peripheral neuropathies, fatigue, and digestive issues. There is also more to Chinese medicine then acupuncture that your acupuncturist pull out of their tool box to help you. There are herbal therapies, qi gong exercises, cupping, gua sha, tui na massage, and moxabustion. It doesn't matter if you go regularly, get maintenance treatments, or only get acupuncture as needed for symptom relief, no one will be a bigger advocate for you than your acupuncturist.
2. Eat A Well Balanced Diet
There isn't a perfect diet out there, its important to find one that works best for you. Some general guidelines to follow are:
HIV and many of its treatments can change your body’s metabolism—or the way your body processes nutrients and other substances. According to Tufts University School of Medicine nutrition experts, the right diet can make it easier for the body to process the many medications that people with HIV must take, and it may even help ease common symptoms like diarrhea, nausea, and fatigue.
3. Skip Drugs And Alcohol
Not only can drugs and alcohol negatively interact with your medications, alcohol can also weaken your immune system.
4. Don't Forget About Your Mouth
Oral health problems like mouth sores, gingivitis, and thrush effect over 1/3 of the HIV/AIDS population. Brushing and flossing regularly, and visiting the dentist can help prevent problems like these from developing.
5. Find Ways To Reduce Your Stress
Research at the University of California, San Francisco, has shown a clear link between stress and reduced immune system function; stress can interfere with appetite and sleep patterns. There are 100 different ways to manage stress: yoga, meditation, acupuncture, talk therapies, exercise, video games - there's something for everyone
6. Use Caution When You Travel
Food borne illnesses can be unpleasant in healthy individuals but they can cause severe complications in people living with HIV or AIDS. It’s best to be prepared when visiting developing countries or a place where food and water safety can be difficult to ensure and the rates of transmittable diseases are higher. If you're planning a trip, be sure to talk to your medical care team to get advice and any extra supplies.
7. Keep An Eye On Your Skin
If the eyes are a window into the soul than the skin is a window into how the body's immune system is functioning. Skin problems are often among the earliest signs of HIV infection. People with HIV frequently have persistent skin infections so its important to watch your skin carefully for changes.
8. See Your Doctor Regularly
Even though I said your acupuncturist can be your biggest advocate, your doctor is too. Seeing your doctor regularly can help to make sure that your medication doses are correct, monitor your viral load, track any new infections, establish baselines, and get you set up with any services you might need.
9. Take Your Medication On Time
Yes - this is important too! Studies show that
taking the correct medication dose and taking your medications on time is directly correlated to a decrease in your viral load and can possibly help to prevent medication resistance. The lower your viral load, the healthier you can be.
10. Learn All You Can About HIV/AIDS And Get Involved!
Tests results, CD4 levels, doctors visits - it can be confusing and overwhelming when you're in new and unfamiliar territory. There is so much information out there - from websites to blogs and message boards, even at your local library. Studies have shown that people suffering from a chronic disease who take an active approach to their health care are much more likely to enjoy a better quality of life.
Over 46% of people living with HIV/AIDS say they feel isolated and alone but it doesn't have to be that way. There are a ton of community centers, meet up groups, support centers, and chat sites. Whether you're ready to get out there and meet people or just dip your toe in the water, the most important thing to remember is you are not alone!
Last but not least, I'm here to help, feel free to contact me with any questions you might have.
I was recently asked to write an article for Body Positive, a HIV/AIDS support center in New Zealand. My passion for working with the HIV/AIDS community was sparked during my clinical externship with UC San Diego Owen Clinic, one of the top HIV/AIDS clinics in the US. Here, I experience firsthand how beneficial acupuncture can be alone or as a complement to western treatment regiments. If I ever had doubts in the power of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), my work with the HIV and AIDS community has erased my fears. While TCM can not cure the disease itself, its importance lies its power to significantly improve ones quality of life
Energy on Hold - Fatigue and HIV/AIDS
Western medicine has come a long way in managing HIV/AIDS, but sometimes it’s the intangibles that really determine quality of life. Although people are unquestionably living longer lives, fatigue prevents many from living the kind of life they want. In recent studies, researchers have found that between 20 and 60 percent of people with chronic HIV infection, and up to 85 percent of people with an AIDS diagnosis, have suffered from fatigue at one time or another. In the Western medicine paradigm, the causes of fatigue can be numerous and hard to pinpoint. Fortunately, diagnosing and treating a generalized complaint such as fatigue is one of the strong points of traditional Chinese medicine.
Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) includes several different modalities such as acupuncture, Chinese herbology, qi gong exercise, and tui na massage. Acupuncture, the most commonly used form of TCM, is insertion of sterile, hair thin needles into specific points on the body. These acupuncture points are places where the nerves and blood vessels are densely packed and stimulation of these points regulates the function of the brain, nervous system and internal organs to stop pain, increase circulation and restore normal functioning of the body. These ancient practices are still used by millions of people all over the world. Historically, at the root of traditional Chinese medicine is the concept of qi (pronounced “chee”). Qi is understood in terms of its functions and activities, lying somewhere between matter and energy. Qi is considered the fundamental power underlying all the activities of nature as well as the vital life force of the human body. When the body is in homeostasis and qi is free-flowing, the result is health; stagnant or imbalanced qi leads to disease.
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, the causes of fatigue fall into the basic category of deficiency or blockage of qi. Qi can be damaged by over-work, over-thinking (or worrying), aging, unhealthy eating, enduring illness, or side effects of medication. Everybody deals with these problems; for HIV/AIDS patients living with a compromised immune system, these struggles can seem insurmountable.
A study conducted by National Institutes of Health in 2000 focused on the usage of traditional and complementary therapies, such as acupuncture, by adult patients diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. It concluded that 98 percent patients who were using traditional therapies in conjunction with their Western medicine regimen reported feeling better, having more energy, feeling in control, and better able to cope with their disease.
Once the underlying cause of fatigue has been determined, a treatment plan is established to strengthen and invigorate the Qi and improve the symptoms of fatigue. Specific acupuncture points and Chinese herbs are chosen according to the precise diagnosis that incorporates each area of imbalance. In addition to acupuncture and herbs, a healthy nutritional plan and gentle exercise program will be incorporated for optimal energy and vitality. This can not only help people with the disabling aspects of fatigue but with digestive issues, boosting the immune system, medication side effects, and sleep disorders. Which adds up to one thing: getting people back to doing what they love most.