By: Ann Avery, Infectious Disease Physician at Metrohealth Medical Center
Some people experience annoying side effects from their HIV medications. That’s natural, and most go away as your body adjusts to the meds. For others, it can take a little while of dealing with side effects to get there. So, what some people living with HIV do to feel better is to try herbal treatments and natural remedies.
However, before you go herbal, you should know that some herbs don’t play nice with your HIV meds. The side effects of HIV meds and herbal remedies can be even worse than the meds alone.
It’s a great idea to talk to your doctor about any herbal remedies you may want to try, just to be sure. Some work better than others, and everybody’s experience is a little different.
Here’s a look at some common HIV med side effects and herbs or natural treatments that can help:
St. John’s Wort: This herb has been used to cheer people up for thousands of years. It’s usually sold as an herbal supplement that comes in a pill. It helps with mild to moderate depression, but not serious depression. The trouble with St. John’s Wort is that it has a negative effect on certain anti-retroviral meds. If you’re taking anti-retrovirals, please do not take St. John’s Wort without consulting with your doctor first.
Meditation and yoga: These alternative therapies concentrate your mind and body, making it easier to relax and improve your mood. Talk to your social worker or HIV support group to find out more — yoga can be physically challenging, and meditation requires learning certain techniques to get the most benefit.
Lavender aromatherapy: Certain smells help settle your mind down. Lavender is one of these; it comes from the essential oils of the lavender plant. Studies have confirmed that breathing in its aroma can cause a mild calming effect. It may not mix well with anti-anxiety medications, however.
Kava: This root-based herb may be able to ease your anxiety — but it also may damage your liver and may cause side effects with other anxiety medications. Don’t take it if you have serious liver diseases like hepatitis or cirrhosis. See this article for more guidance.
Chamomile: This one’s usually used as a flavoring, especially in tea. It might make you feel sleepy, so don’t take it with other medications that cause drowsiness.
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Chamomile also can help with insomnia. You might also try:
Melatonin: This one’s not an herb. It comes from a hormone in the human body, though, so it’s something of a natural treatment. The body uses melatonin to regulate the sleep cycle, producing more at night and less during the day, so it can help with your insomnia.
Valerian root: A recent study found this herb may be able to help with symptoms caused by an HIV medication called efavirenz (Sustiva). Valerian may help with insomnia but be careful about combining it with anything else that causes sleepiness, including alcohol.
We don’t know of any reports about herbal treatments do any good with fatigue. But getting a good night’s sleep and enjoying regular exercise can help with fatigue.
Supplements containing vitamins C, E, A, and K plus the minerals copper and zinc may help with skin problems triggered by HIV meds. Check out this link for more on these supplements.
Staying on your meds is the most important thing
The side effects of HIV meds can be annoying from time to time, especially when you’re first starting a new one. Usually they go away, but in the meantime some herbal and natural treatments might be able to help. We encourage you to work with your doctor to see what options might work best for you. 🙂