Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Arsenic is also "Natural" - would you take that?

Ok, so the title is a little harsh, but really, sometimes I think people need a good shake.

HIV positive people seem to be 'soft targets' for so-called natural products. I say so-called, because it is a self-proclamation. If you want a product to sell, add words like 'natural', 'organic', 'herbal' and people believe a whole lot of things about a product automatically. We believe that it must be 1) safe (i.e. natural implies that there is no risk involved. We believe it must be 2) harmonious with the body because it is from mother earth and we are earthly creatures, thus our body and the product will be 'as one', it's all very zen. We believe that the product must be 3) effective because we want to believe it and we are desperate for the 'one pill cure'. Besides, the label said it does wonderful things.

Here are a few of the "Natural" treatments that are often used in South Africa:

Over christmas time a patient of mine overdosed on Epsom Salts, because as part of her 'natural treatment regimen' she was told to drink 3 cups a day. She ended up in the emergency room with chest pain and vomiting. See here for a 'recipe' for this so-called liver cleanse. It sounds too extreme for words:

Gripe water is in virtually every mother's medicine cabinet. It has been around for over a century and is largely thought to be safe and effective for colic. However, there is no compelling evidence for it and in fact hospital doctors will occasionally see children who have been overdosed on Gripe Water who come in with unconsciousness and brain swelling.

Many believe that garlic, taken as raw cloves, is good for HIV. However, it also interferes with some of the ARV drugs and can cause bleeding problems See this site for the typical glowing reports of the natural remedy. Note how the site includes no warnings and no suggestions on when one should be cautious about the use of garlic:  Then go and have a look here : to learn about how high doses of garlic can cause side effects and decreased effect of ARVs; or here:

African Potato or hypoxis, has been shown to have potential to increase the HIV load in the blood.
Promoting and selling African Potato supplements:

Another patient of mine, spent over R100 000 on visits and treatment to receive a 'so-called' natural therapy for his HIV. He had to travel to the clinic every day to receive a 'drip' which apparently contained vitamins and saline. Nothing earth shaking there. But, the promise was that his CD4 count would rise and the virus would be controlled. He was required to have his blood tests done weekly (at R1000 a pop). He came to me in desperation after taking this treatment for about 4 months, after he saw a leap in his viral load and a decline in his CD4 despite his expensive, natural treatment. It is hard to explain to this desperate man that he has been taken for a ride. He bought into a false promise, simply because it had been described as natural and miraculous.

Now, did you know that around 25% of our modern day drugs are actually developed and derived from plants? And yet so many people are reluctant to use drugs prescribed by their doctor because they perceive them to be 'chemical' or 'toxin'. Ironic isnt it?

Some examples:
Aspirin (for pain and fever) : from willowbark
Quinine (to treat malaria) from the quinine tree
Hyoscamine ( to treat abdominal cramps) from the black henbane
Digoxin (used in heart conditions) from the foxglove
Penicillin (an antibiotic) from mould
Sennosides A,B (a laxative) : from cinammon

The lesson here is to understand the marketing value of the term 'natural' and to apply some critical questions before choosing a 'natural product' 1) Does it do what it claims to do? 2) Does it have evidence? 3) Is it safe? 4)Who should use it and who should not? 5) Will it interfere with my other treatments?

A great site to check out is : if you are standing in a chemist with a product you can check out the ingredients at this site and it will give you an idea of whether there is anything to the claim.

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