Acupuncture and HIV

Acupuncture is a component of TCM widely used by people with HIV. In addition to TCM practitioners, many other health professionals are trained in its use, including naturopaths, chiropractors and medical doctors.

Acupuncture stimulates the flow of Chi in specific organs or areas through the insertion of needles at designated points on the body. These acupuncture points have been identified by acupuncturists in China and elsewhere over thousands of years. Before undergoing this treatment, make certain that the practitioner uses sterile, disposable needles.

Acupuncture can be used to treat generalized symptoms, such as fatigue, and may be useful for localized symptoms, such as neuropathy (tingling or burning sensation in the hands and feet). Neuropathy, which can be a side effect of older antiretroviral drugs or a direct result of HIV infection, is notoriously hard to treat. Although different approaches work for different individuals, many reports indicate that acupuncture can help decrease neuropathy symptoms and pain for people with HIV.

Acupuncture has been used to stimulate the immune system. Although there have been no studies of this use in people with HIV, acupuncture has been shown to increase CD4 cells in people with cancer. Anecdotal reports suggest that acupuncture may be useful in the management of other conditions faced by people with HIV, including diarrhea and addictions.

Several other forms of Chinese medicine focus on acupuncture points. Through massage, acupressure stimulates the acupuncture points without the use of needles. In moxibustion, the acupuncture points are warmed by applying burning herbs to protected skin. The herb used is mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris). Fat cigar-shaped bundles of the herb wrapped in rice paper are most commonly used. Moxibustion is frequently used to treat digestive complaints, such as diarrhea, but it should be avoided if you are experiencing fever, numbness or neuropathy.