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AIDS Care. 2007 May;19(5):589-93.

Complementary and alternative medicine use decreases adherence to HAART in HIV-positive women.

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Emory University, Behavioral Science and Health Education, Atlanta, GA, USA.


The use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) to treat chronic illnesses, especially HIV, is becoming increasingly widespread. Given this popularity, it is critical to understand how HIV-positive individuals use CAM and, more specifically, whether CAM use impacts their adherence to prescribed antiretroviral regimens (HAART). The present study examined the relationship between CAM use and HAART adherence among HIV+ women. Data were analysed from 366 HIV-positive, mostly African-American women, aged 18-50 years in Alabama and Georgia who were enrolled in an intervention to reduce high-risk sexual behaviour. At enrollment data were collected describing use of CAM and HAART use. Women were classified as CAM users if they reported taking herbal/natural immunity boosters (Chinese herbs, mushrooms, garlic, ginseng or algae) or multivitamins, or reported using religious/psychic health or bodywork to treat HIV. Women were classified as non-adherent if they reported missing any doses of their HAART medication in the 30 days preceding baseline assessment. Logistic regressions models, adjusted for potential confounders, were used to investigate the relationship between CAM use and HAART adherence. Women using CAM (immunity boosters or vitamins), relative to non-CAM users, were 1.69 times more likely to report missing HAART doses in the last 30 days (CI: 1.02-2.80; P=.041) even after adjusting for age, education, race, religion and income. The findings provide preliminary evidence that patients using CAM may be doing so as an alternative to traditional medicine as opposed to complementing prescribed HARRT treatment regimens. The inconsistent use of HAART is problematic given its association with drug resistance. Therefore, health care providers and patients should have explicit dialogues about how to effectively integrate CAM practices into traditional treatment regimens so that the safety and health of HIV-positive patients is not compromised.

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