Alternative medicine

By Mayo Clinic Staff

People who are infected with HIV sometimes try dietary supplements that claim to boost the immune system or counteract side effects of anti-HIV drugs.

Supplements that may be helpful

  • Acetyl-L-carnitine. Researchers have used acetyl-L-carnitine to treat nerve pain in people with diabetes. It's possible that acetyl-L-carnitine might help nerve pain linked to HIV. But it may be helpful only if you're already deficient in acetyl-L-carnitine.
  • Whey protein. Preliminary evidence indicates that whey protein, a cheese byproduct, can help some people with HIV gain weight. Whey protein also appears to reduce diarrhea and increase CD4 counts.

Supplements that may be dangerous

  • St. John's wort. Commonly used to combat depression, St. John's wort can reduce the effectiveness of several types of anti-HIV drugs by more than 50 percent.
  • Garlic supplements. Although garlic may help strengthen the immune system, garlic supplements also interact with several anti-HIV drugs — reducing their effectiveness by 50 percent. Occasionally eating garlic in food appears to be safe.

Be sure to discuss the use of any dietary supplement with your doctor before trying it to ensure that it won't adversely interact with any of your medications.

July 21, 2015