What is AIDS?
Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is a chronic infectious disease caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). It is a life-threatening autoimmune disease that damages or destroys the cells of the immune system, making the body susceptible to many kinds of infections, cancers, and other complications. The term HIV is used to describe the virus and the infection. AIDS refers to the later stages of an active HIV infection.
AIDS was first identified in 1981, and in the last 25 years it has become one of the worst public health crises in history, claiming over 25 million lives. The number of HIV infected individuals worldwide has more than doubled in the last decade, from 18 million in 1995 to more than 36 million in 2006. Last year (2005), more than 4 million people were newly infected with HIV. The largest number of cases (nearly 50%) are females between the ages of 15-24. Other high-risk groups include: homosexual or bisexual men, and heterosexual intravenous drug users. The spread of AIDS has lessened in some parts of the world, but has worsened in others, especially in the developing countries of Asia and Africa. There is no cure for AIDS, and experts believe the worst is yet to come, as the pandemic of AIDS has only reached the early stages. Scientists have been working feverishly to find a preventative vaccine, but acknowledge that it is most likely still decades away. Several million children are infected with HIV annually, with the potential for many more millions of full-blown AIDS cases in the near future. The only hope for controlling this plague is the education of folks in the necessary lifestyle changes and alternative medical approaches that will both prevent and control the spread of HIV and AIDS.
What Are the Risk Factors for Developing AIDS?
AIDS has affected people from every cross section of society, but certain groups or individuals are at a greater risk. Some of these factors are the result of high-risk behaviors, while some are not. Major risk factors include:
- Sexual contact: Promiscuous sexual activity greatly increases risk, especially homosexual relations. In the United States and Europe, most cases of sexually transmitted AIDS are spread via homosexual contact, whereas in Africa, heterosexual intercourse plays the biggest role. Any kind of sexual contact with an HIV positive person puts you at a higher risk. There is no such thing as totally “safe” or “protected” sex.
- Intravenous drug use: If you are an intravenous drug user, and if you share needles or syringes with others, you are at greater risk for AIDS and other infectious diseases, such as hepatitis. Risk is even greater if you share needles and engage in risky sexual behavior. If you choose not to stop shooting up drugs, do not share needles, or at least sterilize them with bleach. Many cities have needle exchange programs where an addict can trade in used needles for sterile ones. You certainly don’t need AIDS on top of a drug problem.
- Pregnancy: If the mother is infected with HIV, there is a significant risk involved for the child, both during the pregnancy and from breast-feeding after the child is born. An estimated 600,000 babies are infected with HIV every year around the world. In some Third World countries, this rate of infection is up to 40% higher than in the more affluent industrialized nations of North America and Europe. In the United States, most pregnant women are screened for HIV, and there are drug therapies available to reduce the risk to the baby. Unfortunately, in many poorer parts of the world, where the incidence of AIDS is very high, these treatments are either not available, or not affordable.
- Blood transfusions: If a person received any blood or blood products prior to 1985, their risk for AIDS is increased. American blood banks, hospitals, and blood donor agencies began screening for HIV antibodies in April of 1985, so the risk today is significantly reduced. Many people choose to use their own blood for transfusion (such as during surgery) if at all possible.
- Health care professionals: Folks who work in the health care industry are at greater risk than the general population of being exposed to HIV. Much progress has been made over the last several decades in education and protective gear for workers. Accidental needle sticks are an occupational hazard for some health professionals. Studies have indicated a 1 in 250 chance of getting HIV from a needle stick.
- Other Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs): If you have another STD such as gonorrhea, syphilis, herpes, chlamydia, or bacterial vaginosis, your risk for developing AIDS is increased.
- Females: Unfortunately, the percentage of women and girls contracting HIV is on the increase. Women who become HIV positive through heterosexual relations are the fastest growing risk group in the Unites States. Statistically, women with AIDS do not live as long as men with the illness, but the reason for that is not fully understood.
- Children: Children react differently to HIV infection than adults do. The disease usually progresses much more quickly in kids. AIDS is one of the top 10 leading causes of death in children between the ages of one and four. The average HIV positive child will live to the age of seven, but many infants (20-30%) will develop AIDS within a year and not live past the age of three. These statistics are averages, but the real numbers are much more tragic in certain parts of the world.
What Causes AIDS?
In order to better understand this ruthless disease, maybe we should take a look at a general overview of how the illness operates.
The main tactic of HIV infections is to maim or kill our immune system cells. Therefore, AIDS can attack anywhere in the body. It has three main ways that it seeks to accomplish its goals:
- Immunodeficiency: HIV does everything within its power to weaken and disable the body’s immune system response. One of the primary ways that the virus does this is by binding itself to a protein called “CD4” which is found on the surface of certain types of white blood cells such as helper T cells, macrophages, and monocytes. Once it has latched onto these immune system cells, it can replicate itself within these cells. This process not only kills the affected cells, but it also damages the functionality of nearby CD4 cells, which normally are responsible for coordinating the entire immune system. Eventually patients are not able to fight off infections effectively, and they also become abnormally susceptible to cancers and other opportunistic illnesses.
- Autoimmunity:An autoimmune disease is characterized by the immune system attacking healthy tissues because it mistakes them for antigens, or foreign invaders, to be destroyed. Autoimmune diseases, such as AIDS, actually cause the body to turn on itself. HIV causes the body to produce antibodies that bind themselves to healthy blood platelets, and thus earmark them as invaders to be filtered out by the spleen, and eliminated from the body.
- Nervous system damage: This could be referred to as the enemy’s covert tactic. The process is not fully understood, but it is known that HIV is not able to infect and replicate itself directly in the cells of the nervous system. One theory speculates that macrophages infected with HIV secrete some kind of a toxic substance that harms the nervous system.
While it is not true to form in every case, most AIDS cases progress through three distinct stages:
- The earliest stage is called acute retroviral syndrome. The first symptoms typically appear between one to six weeks after exposure to HIV, and often mimic those of other illnesses such as mononucleosis. Therefore, many HIV positive people don’t even suspect the disease at this point. Symptoms include:
- Swollen lymph nodes (often one of the first symptoms of HIV infection)
- Muscle aches
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Intestinal problems
- Skin rashes
- The second stage is called the latency period. Symptoms from acute retroviral syndrome may last from two to three weeks, and then HIV may remain “latent” for up to 10 years. “Latent” can be a deceiving term though, because during this phase, the virus continues to replicate itself in the patient’s lymph nodes. The disease progresses during this period, and often leads to more advanced symptoms. One of the most common is a condition called persistent generalized lymphadenopathy (PGL), which usually attacks the nodes of the neck, jaw, armpit, and groin. 50-70% of patients experience PGL during the latency period. Other common symptoms during this phase include:
- Thrush: a yeast infection of the mouth
- Mouth sores and ulcers
- AIDS wasting, or Wasting Syndrome: This involves increased metabolism coupled with decreased appetite, weight loss, and a decrease in the body’s ability to absorb nutrients
- Nervous system deterioration, including a loss of reflexes, strength, and sensation in the extremities.
- Kidney diseases
- Lung diseases
- The final stage of AIDS is known as late-stage AIDS. At this point, the immune system of most patients has degenerated to such a great extent, that the body is defenseless against many kinds of serious opportunistic infections and cancers. The most critical ones include:
- Fungal infections: One of the most common and deadly ones is called pneumocystis carinii pneumonia (PCP). 70-80% of AIDS patients will have at least one bout with PCP, and it is the direct cause of death in 15-20% of AIDS sufferers.
- Bacterial infections such as tuberculosis, and various infections of the skin and digestive tract
- Viral infections: AIDS patients are highly susceptible to herpes simplex virus (HSV) and Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV) infections, among others. JC virus is particularly serious, affecting the tissues of the brain and brain stem. This leads to an infection called PML, which is one of several “AIDS defining illnesses,” as determined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- There are several cancers that are particularly dangerous for AIDS patients. These include Kaposi’s Sarcoma (KS), (a skin tumor that most often affects homosexual men), cancer of the lymph nodes (lymphoma, which aggressively attacks the central nervous system), and cancer of the cervix, which is very common in women with AIDS.
What Treatments Are Available for AIDS?
The mainstream medical community’s answer to AIDS has been, not surprisingly, multiple medications referred to by some as a “drug cocktail.” They are called antiretroviral drugs, and about five different classes or them are typically prescribed. AIDS “experts” have come up with guidelines to determine which patients get what combination of drugs. The results may extend the life of some patients, but the side effects are so horrendous with many of these drugs, that the patient’s quality of life is often very poor. Another alarming trend has surfaced as well. There are strains of HIV that are becoming immune to these drugs, similar to what has happened due the promiscuous use antibiotics to treat bacterial infections.
AIDS is primarily an immune system dysfunction, and there has been significant success using alternative therapies that focus on strengthening and supporting the immune system of HIV+ folks. But due to the politics involved, the major AIDS organizations, the drug companies, and mainstream medical have virtually ignored these alternative treatments. Much political pressure has been recently put on industrialized nations to provide affordable drug therapy for AIDS patients in the third world, but many believe that drug therapy is not the long-term answer to AIDS. Studies have shown that one of the more popular medications, AZT, only extends the life AIDS patients on an average of 7-8 months, and the side effects of AZT can be very intense. Many of these drugs may help in the short term, but actually end up damaging patient’s immune systems further in the long run. Much research is being done to discover an antiviral medication to fight HIV, but even the drug companies know that even if one is found, it is likely that HIV will soon develop immunity to it and void its effectiveness.
The two most effective alternative treatments that have helped many AIDS victims are nutritional therapy and homeopathic treatments. A recent study found that HIV+ patients who were simply given a multivitamin/mineral supplement were found to develop AIDS symptoms at a much slower rate than another group who were not given the supplements. If this alone can make such a significant difference, imagine what individualized nutritional and natural medicine approaches can do.
Homeopathy is a therapy that is specifically designed for each patient, based on their symptoms, metabolism, and other factors. Some homeopaths have had dramatic success treating AIDS patients. Homeopathic treatment is sometimes used in conjunction with traditional AIDS medicines, but some patients have decided to forego any treatment other than homeopathic.
There is still a lot to learn about AIDS and how to treat it, but it is obvious that building up the immune system and strengthening the body so that it can heal itself is the best direction to go with AIDS and other diseases as well. Unfortunately, Big Pharm considers this blasphemy, and will do everything they can to discourage such thinking. Some lies die hard, but we must continue to spread the truth. People’s lives are at stake.
Loretta Lanphier, ND, CN, HHP, CH is a Naturopathic Physician, Clinical Nutritionist, Holistic Health Practitioner and Clinical Herbalist in Houston, TX and Founder / CEO of Oasis Advanced Wellness. Under her leadership, Oasis Advanced Wellness is known and respected as one of the leading companies in providing safe, non-toxic, hi-tech natural health and wellness solutions along with cutting-edge health programs. Dr. Lanphier is the author of five health and wellness e-books including Optimum Health Strategies…Doing What Works. Lanphier is Editor and contributor to the worldwide Free E-newsletterAdvanced Health & Wellness We invite you to visit us at Oasis Advanced Wellness, the PMS-Progesterone-Menopause Resource Center, the Acne Resource Center, the Skin Care Resource Center, the Glyconutrient Resource Center, the Allergy-Asthma-Sinus Relief Resource Center andwww.oasisserene.com