Mayo Clinic’s Guide to Alternative Medicine 2011

This is an easy-to-read, magazine-style guide created by the Mayo Clinic, the world-famous healthcare facility which also happens to have a long-standing receptiveness to alternative and complementary therapies for wellness and prevention. (That’s one of the reasons why it has recently been cited as an example of best practices in American healthcare–the kind of practices that need to be more widely imitated.)

The section on dietary supplements provides capsule reviews of the scientific evidence for the safety and effectiveness of several dozen popular products, from botanicals like ginseng, echinacea and St. John’s Wort, to vitamins C, D, E, B-3 (niacin), and B-9 (folate or folic acid), as well as minerals like selenium, calcium and zinc. Also discussed are fairly well-known categories of supplements, including probiotics and omega-3 fatty acids (these often obtained with fish oil supplements).

The guide rates these supplements with a green, yellow or red light symbol, depending on the strength of the evidence for their use and their safety profile. We weren’t too surprised by most of the ratings. For example, green for niacin, folic acid, Vitamin C and Vitamin D, but a yellow caution light for Vitamin E, which has shown no effectiveness in several good studies dealing with cardiovascular health and cancer, leading some researchers to wonder if the standard “alpha-tocopherol” form of the vitamin is a good format for supplementation. Also, a yellow light for St. John’s Wort, not because it isn’t effective for mild/moderate depression, but because it can interact with a lot of other medications.

Other supplements getting the green light from the Mayo Clinic editors: SAMe (for depression); saw palmetto (for enlarged prostate); green tea (for cardiovascular health, possibly for cancer prevention, and apparently–according to a large epidemiological study–for longevity); gamma linolenic acid (for peripheral neuropathy); CoQ10 (for cardiovascular health, for which it’s used by millions in Japan); glucosamine chondroitin (for osteoarthritis).

Also getting the green light, a supplement most have probably never heard of, but which is featured in the Health Concerns formula Cold Away, available from NYBC: the botanical Andrographis (a cold remedy, showing promise where many other products have disappointed).

See the NYBC entries for more details on how best to take supplements:


Glutamine and other supplements for gastrointestinal health (and to maintain lean muscle mass): Looking at Westerly Market’s online information about managing HIV/AIDS

Before there was Whole Foods, a friend likes to remind us, there was the Westerly Natural Market on Manhattan’s West Side. One of the nice things about Westerly, we’ve just been informed by the same person, is that they offer a very user-friendly website for those interested in getting more information about supplements, herbs, and how these substances or other “complementary and alternative” therapies are used for various conditions.

So, we took a look at the Westerly website’s Reference Library entry on HIV and AIDS, and found a concise account with several good points. One of these, we thought, was the discussion about maintaining muscle mass and preventing diarrhea, which over time deprives the body of needed protein. Here’s an excerpt:

Using certain supplements may help in maintaining body weight. A well-designed study compared the use of a daily supplement regimen that included enormous amounts of the amino acid glutamine (40 g per day), along with vitamin C (800 mg), vitamin E (500 IU), beta-carotene (27,000 IU), selenium (280 mcg), and N-acetyl cysteine (2,400 mg) to placebo. People who took the supplements gained significantly more weight after 12 weeks than those who took the placebo.

Glutamine is a key supplement here, and has long been recommended by NYBC and its predecessor DAAIR for gastrointestinal support. See the NYBC entry

Glutamine Powder


Glutamine Capsules

Note that N-acetyl cysteine, Vitamin C and Vitamin E, beta carotene (as Carotenall), and selenium are also available through NYBC’s purchasing co-op–follow the links to see specific recommendations in each category.

Taking Vitamins and Minerals When You’re HIV+ Some Advice from the Canadians

If you’re HIV+ and looking for a good introduction to the vitamins, minerals, and supplements that can help you stay healthy, we often recommend an online guide produced by the Canadian AIDS Treatment Information Exchange (CATIE), A Practical Guide to Nutrition for People Living with HIV.  CATIE is a national not-for-profit that’s been providing excellent information services to Canadians living with HIV/AIDS for many years. The Practical Guide is reviewed by a panel of healthcare professionals, and also includes information on such dietary supplements as alpha lipoic acid, NAC, Glutamine, CoQ10, probiotics, and carnitine/acetylcarnitine.  This version of the guide was released in October, 2007.

Here’s the excerpt on Multivitamins, Vitamins and Minerals:

Consider taking a multivitamin-mineral each day.

Several studies have shown that vitamin and mineral supplements can have many benefits in people living with HIV. Taking a multivitamin every day is an important part of a nutritional health plan. Check out Appendix E for a list of studies looking at the effect of micronutrient supplements in people with HIV/AIDS.
B vitamins may help slow disease progression in people with HIV. They are also important for healthy mitochondria, the power-producing structures in cells, and may help decrease the impact of mitochondrial toxicity. B vitamins are depleted quickly in times of stress, fever or infection, as well as with high consumption of alcohol. Keep in mind that the RDA is very low and taking a total of 50 mg of B1, B2 and B3 will more than cover B-vitamin needs. Check the multivitamin you take; if it has 30 to 50 mg of these vitamins, you don’t have to take a B-complex supplement in addition to the multivitamin.

Levels of vitamin B12 in the blood may be low in people with HIV. It can also be low in people over the age of 50 years. B12 deficiency is associated with an increased risk of peripheral neuropathy, decreased ability to think clearly, and a form of anemia. People with low B12 levels usually feel extremely tired and have low energy. This deficiency is also linked with HIV disease progression and death. Ask your doctor to check your blood levels. If they’re low, ask about B12 injections to get them back into the ideal range.

If you get B12 shots and your vision is getting worse, mention it to your doctor, especially if you are a smoker. Some forms of injectable B12 can damage your eyes if you have a rare genetic condition called Lerber’s hereditary optic atrophy.

Vitamin C is one of the most important antioxidants. It is very effective at cleaning up molecules that damage cells and tissues (see “Antioxidants and HIV,” this chapter). Vitamin C has been studied for cancer prevention and for effects on immunity, heart disease, cataracts and a range of other conditions. Although vitamin C cannot cure the common cold, supplements of 1,000 mg per day have been found to decrease the duration and severity of symptoms.

In people with HIV, there is some evidence that vitamin C can inhibit replication of the virus in test-tube experiments, but it is unclear what this means in the human body. The most important benefit for people with HIV is the widespread antioxidant action of vitamin C. The daily experimental high dose is between 500 mg and 2,000 mg, the upper tolerable limit.

Calcium – see under “Bone health,” below.

Vitamin D is emerging as a very important nutrient, with more diverse functions than just its traditional role in calcium metabolism. Mounting evidence suggests that 1,000 IU per day should be the recommended daily intake.

Vitamin D is found in some foods, but these sources generally do not provide enough vitamin D on a daily basis. Also, people who live in northern climates (like Canada) probably do not get enough sun exposure to make adequate vitamin D. And the use of sunscreen, which is highly recommended to prevent skin cancer, blocks the skin’s ability to make vitamin D.

For people with HIV, vitamin D supplements are a sure way to get the recommended daily allowance. Vitamin D is found in multivitamins and calcium supplements as well as individual vitamin D pills. Look for vitamin D3; it is the active form of the vitamin. Be sure to add up all the vitamin D from different supplements to be sure you are not getting too much.

Vitamin E has been used as an antioxidant, typically at doses of 400 IU per day. However, studies have found that people who take more than 200 IU per day may be at higher risk of developing heart disease. Until this is fully studied, it may be a good idea to reduce vitamin E supplements to 200 IU unless your doctor suggests you take more.

Vitamin E deficiency is associated with faster HIV disease progression. People with poor fat absorption or malnutrition are more at risk of being deficient in vitamin E. Use supplements from natural sources and those with “mixed tocopherols” for better effect.

Iron supplements to treat iron-deficiency anemia (low levels of red blood cells) should only be taken if prescribed by your doctor. Iron-deficiency anemia is diagnosed by having a low hemoglobin level in the blood. This can be confusing in someone on HAART because some anti-HIV drugs, especially AZT, can cause low hemoglobin levels. There are other blood tests that can help determine whether there really is an iron deficiency. The important point is to not take high doses of iron unless they are prescribed. Iron is a pro-oxidant (the opposite of an antioxidant), which means it can damage different tissues in the body.

Zinc is a critical mineral for the immune system; a deficiency can cause severe immune suppression. People with chronic diarrhea, new immigrants from refugee camps and malnourished people with HIV, especially children, are at high risk of having a deficiency. Be aware that high doses of zinc supplements in people who are not deficient can decrease immune function.

Selenium helps regenerate glutathione, the major antioxidant in cells. Studies have shown that low selenium levels in the blood are associated with an increased risk of disease progression and death. Deficiency is associated with low CD4+ cells. One small study found that a daily supplement of 200 micrograms might have a positive effect in some people with HIV. Studies of the general population suggest that selenium supplementation may provide some protection from cancer.

Practical Guide to Nutrition for People Living With HIV – a new publication from the Canadian AIDS Treatment Information Exchange (CATIE)

Our friends at the Canadian AIDS Treatment Information Exchange (CATIE) have released a noteworthy new publication, freely available online:

A Practical Guide to Nutrition for People Living With HIV

CATIE has a long-standing interest in nutritional supplements and HIV, and maintains on its website a collection of info sheets on a variety of relevant topics, from individual supplements to managing and preventing side effects of HAART with supplements.

This newly-issued guide brings together a wealth of accumulated knowledge in a very readable format, so overall we recommend it highly.

In the section on Vitamins, Minerals and Supplements, the new guide gives an overview of the following topics:

–micronutrient deficiencies and HIV

–antioxidants and HIV

–key vitamins and minerals for people with HIV (B vitamins, vitamins C, D, E, Calcium, Iron, Zinc, Selenium)

–other supplements used by people with HIV (alpha lipoic acid, carnitine and acetyl-l-carnitine, NAC, glutamine, probiotics, and CoQ10)

Very useful is the chart summarizing recommendations and dosing for these supplements, especially in light of more recent findings, which, for example, lead to the recommendation of a higher daily dose for Vitamin D (1000 IU), and more caution in the use of some items (such as Vitamin E and Zinc).

In addition to these pages on nutritional supplements for HIV, we also recommend the guide’s sections on “Managing the Effects of HIV and Meds on the Body,” “Managing Symptoms and Side Effects,” and “Hepatitis C Co-infection.”

Oh, and by the way: “Appendix D: Web Resources” gives a listing for the NYBC website:

New York Buyers Club (for information on nutrition, herbal and homeopathic supplements)