HIV: effectiveness of complementary and alternative medicine PRIMARY CARE Power, R., Gore-Felton, C., Vosvick, M., Israelski, D. M., Spiegel, D. 2002; 29 (2): 361-?


Outcome studies examining the efficacy of CAM among people living with HIV-AIDS are often conducted among small sample sizes with very little follow-up data or time points. Generalizability of many of the study findings is further limited by participant attrition. It is difficult to conduct clinical studies on chronically ill patients without participants dropping out, typically because the study demands coupled with their illness become too burdensome. Several studies have been conducted that include control groups, double-blind designs, and randomization. These scientifically sound studies have demonstrated promising results that strongly indicate a need for further research with larger samples in a prospective research design so that safety and efficacy can be determined over time. Many of the studies with small sample sizes reported trends, but did not find statistical significance. Increasing sample sizes in future studies is necessary to evaluate the scientific merit of these trends. Moreover, researchers need to evaluate the clinical and statistical significance in CAM use. The psychologic benefits of taking CAM should not be underestimated. For the purposes of this article, the authors did not include psychologic outcomes; however, there is evidence suggesting that decreasing depression can decrease HIV-related somatic complaints [69]. Studies need also to examine the effectiveness of CAM on psychologic outcomes and physical outcomes. This article and the authors' own research (Gore-Felton C et al, unpublished data) have revealed a high prevalence of alternative supplement use in conjunction with HIV medication, indicating an urgent need to understand the health benefits and the health risks of alternative supplements among patients with HIV and AIDS. Patients and physicians need more empirically based research to examine the toxicities, interactions, and health benefits of CAM. Many patients do not report the use of CAM to their physicians and very few physicians record treatments in the clinical record [70]. This will likely change as CAM becomes more widely recognized as a legitimate medical intervention; however, controlled outcome studies among large, diverse samples of people living with HIV-AIDS are needed. Health care providers need to assess the use of herbal and alternative therapy practices by their patients. Some patients may not be aware that they are taking a supplement or plant-based herb. Furthermore, some patients may believe that they are using something innocuous and even healthy simply because it came from a health food store. Understanding the contraindications of alternative therapies is necessary to prevent deleterious outcomes and to facilitate the safe and efficacious use of CAM in the management of HIV disease and related symptoms. As the epidemic in the United States continues to rise among women and minority populations, clinical research trials must include ethnically diverse patient populations that are gender balanced. Current available studies indicate that many CAM interventions may improve the quality of life of people living with HIV-AIDS; however, further studies using longitudinal, controlled designs are needed to accurately assess the safety of such interventions.

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