HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus), like other viruses, targets specific cells, in this case T4 cells. T4, or Helper T cells, are agents of our immune systems. Helper T cells are important communicators, relaying information to T8 cells, B cells and natural killer cells, all important members of an effective immune system. If T4 levels are down, the delicate system breaks down.

There are two strains of virus, HIV-1 and HIV-2. HIV-1 causes most cases of AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) in the Western world, Europe, and Central, South and East Africa. HIV-2, which seems less virulent, is the principal AIDS agent in West Africa. Normally T4 cells number from 600-1200 per cubic millilitre of blood. The fine line between carrying HIV and contracting AIDS is crossed when the T4 count is less than 200 cells per cubic millilitre. However, some people look and feel terrific with only the number of T4 cells you can count on one hand. Obviously, other factors are involved, and each day there seems to be more hope on the research front.

Although HIV is the underlying cause, opportunistic infections cause most obvious damage. With the immune system on its knees, any old bug can set up shop. For example, the parasitic fungusy-type virus, Pneumocystis carinii, affects the lungs of over 80 per cent of those with HIV. Other infections include the fungus Candida albicans; herpes; Cryptococcosis neoformans, and Cryptosporidia, a bacteria which commonly occurs in water and causes gastric problems. Unusual cancers can appear including Kaposi’s sarcoma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Often the person may be taking their HIV drugs as well as several antibiotics and antifungals in an effort to deal with these other conditions.

Why Me?

The transmission of HIV requires contact with body fluids containing infected cells or plasma. These include blood, semen, vaginal secretions and possibly breast milk. Unprotected sexual intercourse and sharing IV drug needles still are the most common ways of transmitting the virus within the community.

What To Do

Rashes, diarrhoea and infections may seem to come out of nowhere. Living a careful, healthy, happy lifestyle will minimise some of these flare-ups, but noticing and treating the slightest symptom promptly is important. For example, don’t wait for one loose bowel movement to turn into diarrhoea, take action. Treat that patch of tinea between the toes straight away. These may be small symptoms, but jump on them before they cause bigger trouble.

Natural therapies have been embraced by many people living with HIV, particularly gay men who have borne the brunt of this disease. By adopting a holistic lifestyle and using natural therapies, even in conjunction with drug therapy, many people notice an improvement in their sense of wellbeing. Natural therapies can be of help especially to support a liver and kidneys that have to deal with and excrete the sometimes toxic drugs used in the treatment of HIV, opportunistic infections and cancer. (See Liver Problems.) The amount of research on the treatment of HIV and AIDS is staggering, and constant progress is being made; every day the future looks a little bit brighter.

The following outlines some basic do’s and don’ts. The best thing for you to do is to consult a natural therapist who specialises in AIDS, an expert who will be abreast of the most current trends, and experienced in the vagaries of the condition.


  • The Candida diet is a good basis, as many people with HIV have a problem with yeast and chronic candida.
  • Organic foods contain fewer chemicals for the overloaded liver to deal with.
  • Soy-based protein drinks or those based on low-allergy lactalbumin can help those wanting to put on weight.
  • Congee, a Chinese breakfast gruel based on rice, is easy to digest, and quite delicious! (See Rice in Part One for recipe.)
  • Drink at least two litres of pure water daily, to help flush the kidneys and liver.
  • Keep the diet as boringly plain as you can tolerate: grilled fish, steamed rice, vegetables, fruit and legumes.
  • Eat garlic every day, or take a garlic supplement.
  • Comfort foods are important to slip into the diet every so often so that you don’t feel too deprived. However, don’t choose a comfort food that gives you diarrhoea or other symptoms.
  • Shiitake mushrooms have been found to stimulate immunity, and are quite delicious.

Foods To Avoid

  • No alcohol or coffee.
  • Sugar is out too as it suppresses the immune system.
  • No milk, as lactose intolerance is common. Although a little acidophilus yoghurt should be fine, and good for the gut.
  • A low fat diet is recommended, although small amounts of olive oil, or other cold pressed oils should be OK.
  • Reduce red meat. Eating lean red meat a maximum of once or twice weekly. Avoid fatty meat like sausages, hamburger mince and salami.

Herbs and Supplements

You would have little time to eat, and be very poor if you took all the herbs and supplements recommended for HIV. It is more important to eat well and look after your body and mind, with rest, a good diet, exercise and meditation, than to swallow a thousand supplements. That said, however, a judicious choice of a supplement or three will complement the recommendations above.

  • Daily antioxidant vitamin and mineral tablet.
  • Vitamin C in industrial quantities, say 5-10 g daily; less if bowels become loose. Take a vitamin C powder containing the bioflavonoid quercetin, as some studies have shown that it can inhibit the replication of the virus.
  • Acidophilus and bifidus supplements will be helpful to prevent and treat Candida albicans, a common opportunistic infection.
  • Digestive enzymes may be necessary at times when digestion is poor, such as if you are suffering from bloating, flatulence or diarrhoea.
  • If you suffer from chronic loose stools or diarrhoea, take three tea-spoons of psyllium husks with one teaspoon of slippery elm powder, morning and night. This will make the stool bulkier, allowing the intestines more time to absorb nutrients. For other remedies see Diarrhoea.
  • The following are just a few of the herbs used in the care of those living with HIV. Many of them have anti-viral properties, some are good for the liver, others are immunity boosters. Your herbalist will make up a mixture especially for your needs: St John’s wort, astragalus, licorice, bupleurum, picrorrhiza, St Mary’s thistle, bitter melon (as a food and also enema), echinacea, phytolacca, cat’s claw, ginseng.
  • For weight gain, a protein powder based on lactalbumin may help.

Other Steps

  • Acupuncture.
  • Massage.
  • Rest as much as you need or want.
  • Individual or group counselling can help you deal with some of the fears and issues involved.
  • Stress plays havoc with the immune system so it is vital that you learn to manage it. See Stress.
  • A gentle weights workout may help tone and increase muscle bulk.
  • There are AIDS support groups in each state. Some provide cheap vitamins and herbs.

At a glance

Good food
Candida diet, whole grains, fruit and vegetables, organic produce where possible.
Food to avoid
Milk, fatty food, sugar, alcohol, coffee.
Remedies to begin
Vitamin C, antioxidants, herbs, acidophilus and bifidus.
Stress management, gentle exercise including weights.
HIV may represent a core denial of self. An intrinsic belief in not being good enough.