The movie Dallas Buyers Club scored a couple of splashy wins at the Oscars on March 2: Best Actor for Matthew McConaughey (playing Ron Woodroof, the cantankerous founder of the early AIDS buyers’ club); and Best Supporting Actor for Jared Leto (playing Rayon, a transgender HIV+ woman who becomes Woodroof’s sidekick). Bravura performances indeed, and controversial, too (just read the blogs!).
Meanwhile for us at the New York Buyers’ Club… real life goes on. We think Dallas Buyers Club does an important job in casting its bright Hollywood lights on the work of buyers’ clubs in the fight against HIV/AIDS, beginning in the early days of the pandemic. But here at NYBC –the last HIV/AIDS buyers’ club standing- we would like to present our own award: to YOU! For being an NYBC member, and thereby participating in a long-running community effort to distribute the best available information about managing symptoms and side effects of HIV and HIV meds, while also helping to make beneficial supplements widely accessible through a nonprofit co-op. And a special thanks to the many contributors out there who lent their financial support to NYBC’s recent successful fundraising campaign—you’re our equivalent of the Hollywood producer, without whom the magic can’t happen!
Of course much has changed, and a great deal has changed for the better, since the days depicted in Dallas Buyers Club. Some may even ask why we need a buyers’ club, given that HIV meds have advanced so much in the past 20 years. Unlike Ron Woodroof’s Dallas Buyers Club, NYBC is not importing unapproved drugs or trying novel therapies—that desperate search for any sort of treatment has abated (at least in the wealthier countries). We can look back at the time when New York was home to the PWA Health Group and DAAIR (from which NYBC arose), and there were buyers’ clubs for people with HIV/AIDS in Boston, Houston, San Francisco, Chicago, Atlanta, and Phoenix, among other places. But what need does the New York Buyers’ Club fill today?
Some ask why we need a buyers’ club,
given that HIV meds have advanced so much
in the past 20 years? What need does
the New York Buyers’ Club fill today?
Well, recent research brings into sharper focus what we have understood for quite a while: living long term with HIV is a huge challenge. Antiretroviral (ARV) therapy works to reduce the risk of an AIDS-defining illness to nearly zero, while offering the prospect of a normal life span. But problems abound. First, several non-AIDS-defining conditions become more common. These include several cancers, some stemming from infections like HPV. Then there are the longer term effects of ARV, which can threaten quality of life and increase mortality risk, including challenges to the cardiovascular system, nerves, cognitive function, liver, kidneys, and bones.
These side effects are being understood today by some old mechanisms that are getting new attention. At NYBC’s community event on HIV and Aging, held last March, our speaker Steve Karpiak, Ph.D. emphasized the inflammatory processes that continue throughout HIV infection and the cascade of damage that persistent inflammation causes, even as ARV therapy holds the virus in check. And just last October, we were interested to read a comprehensive review on the health effects of chronic inflammation during HIV infection. According to this overview, many markers of inflammation remain high during HIV infection, and those inflammatory problems are linked to elevated risk of cardiovascular, liver, kidney, bone, and neurologic diseases. But none of this is really news to us: addressing the chronic inflammation that accompanies HIV has been central to our work at NYBC—and between those of us at NYBC and those who go back to DAAIR days, we’ve been addressing this model of the disease for over 20 years!
Probiotics may help in countering
the damaging inflammatory processes that are found in HIV infection,
even when the virus is held in check by meds.
The recent review of inflammation effects during HIV did suggest that probiotics, for example, may hold promise for countering inflammatory processes that are concentrated in the gut. Indeed, probiotics have been a staple in the NYBC catalog from the start, even when we were simply recommending them to support gastrointestinal health and improve absorption of nutrients. Now we’re looking forward to new research on supplements, which in this case may help us understand the additional benefits of probiotics as anti-inflammatories. Meanwhile, NYBC continues to search out the latest news about a wide array of topics, from hepatitis C coinfection, to alternative treatments for sleep and mood disorders, to the value of a daily multivitamin + selenium for people with HIV.
In conclusion (music coming up now, so we must hurry), see Dallas Buyers Club, both for the Oscar-winning performances, and for its slice of history about HIV/AIDS buyers’ clubs. But please remember to think of the New York Buyers’ Club as well, and what it’s doing for you today!
Enid Vazquez. “Houston Buyers Club: Desperate Days Beyond Dallas.” Positively Aware, Jan-Feb 2014.
An excellent review of Dallas Buyers Club, with much background on the HIV/AIDS buyers’ club movement
Deeks, Steven G et al. “Systemic Effects of Inflammation on Health during Chronic HIV Infection.”
Immunity, October 17, 2013