Traditional Chinese medicine and HIV

Stabilizing yin and yang

The goal of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is to balance the yin (vital function) and the yang (vital essence). One analogy describes yang as the gear and yin as the grease that allows the gear to run smoothly. An excess of yang leads to the consumption of yin and the formation of heat, much as a gear that works too hard burns away the grease and builds up heat. The balancing of yin and yang stabilizes a person’s energy, otherwise known as Chi, or Qi (pronounced chee). The purpose of TCM is fu-zheng, which means to support the true or righteous Chi to inhibit diseased Chi from progressing.


Acupuncture is a component of TCM widely used by people with HIV. Read more about acupuncture and HIV.

Nutrition and herbal treatments

TCM includes extensive nutritional counselling. A proper diet supports health and vitality, thus promoting the proper or righteous Chi. Herbal treatments may be used to strengthen the righteous Chi in particular parts of the body, contributing to the balance of the whole.

TCM uses many herbal remedies, a number of which are sold in health food stores. This type of availability brings herbal remedies within reach of many people who don’t have access to a TCM practitioner or who don’t wish to visit one. Unfortunately, however, the quality of remedies sold varies widely. A TCM practitioner or Chinese herbalist should be able to recommend the safest and most effective products. If you so choose, a TCM practitioner can tailor a combination of TCM treatments that may be more specific to your treatment needs than an over-the-counter single-herb preparation.

HIV as a disease of “hidden heat”

TCM recognizes that the body and its Chi are vulnerable to damage from both internal and external sources, particularly from wind, heat, cold, dampness and dryness. Many experienced practitioners consider HIV a disease of "hidden heat." As HIV progresses, heat is produced through the consumption of yin in the body. Typical examples of the wasting of yin include symptoms such as night sweats and diarrhea. While the yin is consumed, a more vigorous form of heat or fire forms in the body. This creates a bodily environment that can support a variety of HIV-related infections. Thus, one of the prime TCM treatment strategies for HIV is to counteract the environment of heat.