TCM’s potential for AIDS treatment cited in China ‘phenomenon’

By Millette Burgos and Gary Scattergood

- Last updated on GMT

The potential of TCM in HIV/AIDS treatment merits assessment, it has been claimed. ©iStock
The potential of TCM in HIV/AIDS treatment merits assessment, it has been claimed. ©iStock

Related tags Traditional chinese medicine

Previously unreported data from China, referred to in a letter to the editor of the peer-reviewed journal AIDS Research and Human Retroviruses, suggests that the viral loads of four AIDS patients who took only Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) dropped to low or undetectable values.

Furthermore, all are still alive today, more than 15 years after the onset of AIDS. A further five patients who also took only TCM between 2001/2 and 2006 also saw their viral loads drastically reduced during that time period. These five, who are also still alive, then occasionally took some form of antiviral therapy without TCM from 2007 to 2016.

In an accompanying editorial entitled "Can a Traditional Chinese Medicine Contribute to a Cure for HIV?"​, editor-in-chief of the journal and Professor of Cell and Molecular Biology at Northwestern University in Chicago, Thomas Hope, pointed out the limitations in interpreting the outcome of this small, non-placebo-controlled study, but adds it was important to put "these observations into the hands of the HIV research community."

He writes: "I believe there should be some effort to further explore this phenomenon."

The letter, from researchers at Jinan University’s College of Life Science and Technology and Ohio State University’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, discussed the case of nine HIV patients.

They are referred to as poor peasants with age ranges of 51-67 from an “AIDS village”​ in Anhui Province. These patients reportedly contracted HIV-1 sometime between 1993 and 1995 through commercial plasma donation.

A small Chinese company that went bankrupt in 2009 administered the TCM treatments, which consisted of combined extracts from 13 different plants, including Astragalus, Skullcap, and Ginseng.

“While most medical data collected in the case series were unfortunately lost due to the bankruptcy of the company, several recovered plasma viral loads measured from 2003 to 2006 showed significant decreases and varied from patient to patient,”​ according to researchers.

“Interestingly, AIDS symptoms in all patients were improved after three months of the TCM treatment, and almost disappeared after one year of the TCM treatment. The TCM treatment was well tolerated by all patients and displayed little clinical toxicity.

“The case series data presented here, although incomplete and uncontrolled, demonstrate the promise of the TCM,”​ researchers wrote.

Striking results

Indeed, data from the letter showed that patient A for example, registered 96,052 viral load in 2003. In 2005, the load decreased to 9,991.

Patient G, a female 54 years of age, had 27,048 in 2003. This number went down to 4,682 in 2005.

“Strikingly, patients A–D, who have never taken ART and were on the TCM from 2001 to 2009 have not been on any medical treatment since 2010, yet, survived more than 15 years after AIDS onset,”​ the letter adds.

Unlike randomised and controlled clinical trials, this case series lacked a control patient group, and it had only a small sample size, with eight of the nine patients being married couples.

While the TCM in case series were neither randomly administered nor quantitatively monitored, the researchers say the potential of TCM in HIV treatment merits assessment.

“TCM merits further and more rigorous evaluation through biochemical and biological studies, animal model testing, and randomised controlled clinical trials,” ​they claimed.

“If validated through these rigorous tests, the TCM can be utilised as a cost-effective HIV/AIDS treatment alone or in combination with ART, potentially contributing to a strategy for functional cure.”


Source: AIDS Research and Human Retroviruses

DOI: 10.1089/aid.2016.0288

“Long-Term Survival of AIDS Patients Treated with Only Traditional Chinese Medicine”

Authors: Yifei Wang, Fujun Jin et al

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