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.