There is no compelling evidence to support the use of the herbal medicines identified in this review for treatment of HIV infection and AIDS.

People with HIV infection or AIDS frequently seek alternative or 'complementary' therapies for their illness. Although many trials of these therapies exist, very few meet the scientific standards necessary to support the claims of beneficial effects in the therapies studied. This review identified nine randomized clinical trials, which tested eight different herbal medicines, compared with placebo, in HIV-infected individuals or AIDS patients with diarrhoea. The results showed that a preparation called SPV30 may be helpful in delaying the progression of HIV disease in HIV-infected people who do not have any symptoms of this infection. A Chinese herbal medicine, IGM-1, seems to improve the quality of life in HIV-infected people who do have symptoms. Another herbal compound ,SH, showed an increase of antiviral benefit when combined with antiretroviral agents. A South American herb preparation, SP-303, may reduce the frequency of abnormal stools in AIDS patients with diarrhoea. Other herbs tested were no better than placebo; however, the beneficial effects need to be considered with caution because the number of patients in these trials was small and the size of the effects quite moderate. In one trial the use of medicinal herbs was related to adverse effects such as gastrointestinal discomfort. Conclusion: No compelling evidence exists to support the use of the herbal medicines identified in this review for treatment of HIV infection and AIDS. To ensure that evidence is reliable, there need to be larger and more rigorously-designed trials.

Authors' conclusions: 

There is insufficient evidence to support the use of herbal medicines in HIV-infected individuals and AIDS patients. Potential beneficial effects need to be confirmed in large, rigorous trials.

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Background: 

HIV-infected people and AIDS patients often seek complementary therapies including herbal medicines due to reasons such as unsatisfactory effects, high cost, non-availability, or adverse effects of conventional medicines.

Objectives: 

To assess beneficial effects and risks of herbal medicines in patients with HIV infection and AIDS.

Search strategy: 

Electronic searches included the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, MEDLINE, EMBASE, LILACS, Science Citation Index, the Chinese Biomedical Database, TCMLARS; plus CISCOM, AMED, and NAPRALERT; combined with manual searches. The search ended in December 2004.

Selection criteria: 

Randomized clinical trials on herbal medicines compared with no intervention, placebo, or antiretroviral drugs in patients with HIV infection, HIV-related disease, or AIDS. The outcomes included mortality, HIV disease progression, new AIDS-defining event, CD4 cell counts, viral load, psychological status, quality of life, and adverse effects.

Data collection and analysis: 

Two authors extracted data independently and assessed the methodological quality of trials according to randomization, allocation concealment, double blinding, and drop-out.

Main results: 

Nine randomized placebo-controlled trials involving 499 individuals with HIV infection and AIDS met the inclusion criteria. Methodological quality of trials was assessed as adequate in five full publications and unclear in other trials. Eight different herbal medicines were tested.

A compound of Chinese herbs (IGM-1) showed significantly better effect than placebo in improvement of health-related quality of life in 30 symptomatic HIV-infected patients (WMD 0.66, 95% CI 0.05 to 1.27). IGM-1 appeared not to affect overall health perception, symptom severity, CD4 count, anxiety or depression (Burack 1996a). An herbal formulation of 35 Chinese herbs did not affect CD4 cell counts, viral load, AIDS events, symptoms, psychosocial measure, or quality of life (Weber 1999). There was no statistical difference between SPV30 and placebo in new AIDS-defining events, CD4 cell counts, or viral load (Durant 1998) although an earlier pilot trial showed positive effect of SPV30 on CD4 cell count (Durant 1997). Combined treatment of Chinese herbal compound SH and antiretroviral agents showed increased antiviral benefit compared with antiretrovirals alone (Sangkitporn 2004). SP-303 appeared to reduce stool weight (p = 0.008) and abnormal stool frequency (p = 0.04) in 51 patients with AIDS and diarrhoea (Holodniy 1999). Qiankunning appeared not to affect HIV-1 RNA levels (Shi 2003), Curcumin ineffective in reducing viral load or improving CD4 cell counts (Hellinger 1996), and Capsaicin ineffective in relieving pain associated with HIV-related peripheral neuropathy (Paice 2000).

The occurrence of adverse effects was higher in the 35 Chinese herbs preparation (19/24) than in placebo (11/29) (79% versus 38%, p = 0.003) (Weber 1999). Qiankunning was associated with stomach discomfort and diarrhoea (Shi 2003).

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