A recent phone conversation with a friend is helping me to continue to refine what I want to focus on as an AIDS dissident activist. In a passionate outburst that revealed a new side of his character, he blurted out his dismay that our society in general and our gay community in particular seems to be willing to settle for a solution to AIDS that relies exclusively on drugs from the pharmaceutical industry.
It is no secret that despite a massive marketing campaign promoting improved tolerance for and reduced adverse reactions from new drugs and dosages, sometimes researchers buck the marketing department with the alarming reality that today's AIDS drugs still cause serious health problems, including death.
For example, one such study was recently presented at the 50th Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy (ICAAC).
Before even getting to the study, observe that the name of the conference combines the terms: "antimicrobial agents" and "chemotherapy". AIDS drug promoters bristle whenever someone compares ARVs (anti-retrovirals) to chemotherapy, yet apparently this particular conference has no difficulty making the same association.
Back to the study report that caught my eye, "Bone Loss Evident in Nearly Half of HIV-Positive Patients on Antiretroviral Therapy", by Alice Goodman of Medscape Medical News. Kudos to the headline writer for making it explicitly clear that the study participants were on ARVs. Too often the headings of reports like this suggest findings are specific to those with an HIV-positive diagnosis alone.
Interestingly, Goodman also refers to antiretroviral therapy as an "HIV specific factor... significantly related to the development of osteopenia and osteoporosis."
"Use of protease inhibitors and tenofovir were significantly associated with bone loss in our study. Osteoporosis is a major problem in this population, and the study suggests that HIV-infected patients with risk factors should have bone mineral density [BMD] monitoring," said Anna Bonjoch, MD, from Lluita Contra La SIDA Foundation at Germans Trias i Pujol, University Hospital, in Barcelona, Spain.
While Goodman's report is about a study on bone loss, she also observes that researchers are not unaware of the contradictions in the recent push by the pharmaceutical-backed AIDS industry—including so-called community based AIDS organizations—to put more people on ARVs earlier than ever, regardless of their actual health status or physical symptoms.
At the opening press conference of ICAAC, Laurent Kaiser, MD, from the University Hospital of Geneva in Switzerland, told the media that new guidelines call for earlier treatment of HIV, and this means that patients will be treated for even longer than they have been previously, increasing the risk for adverse effects. "One of the most important issues in HIV infection is how to treat osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease — 2 major side effects of antiretroviral treatment. We don't have any answers yet," he stated. (emphasis added)
We AIDS dissidents are often chided for focusing on the harm caused by Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy (HAART). A common response is that the benefits derived from these drugs outweighs the harm. That may be the case for those people with severe conditions, such as individuals on their death beds hoping for a "Lazarus" response. Research designed to evaluate the evidence against long term use of toxic drugs by otherwise healthy people has not been—and will not be—so well funded.
I guess we are not supposed to read reports like this one that all but make the case that long term use of current pharmaceutical AIDS treatments have simply replaced old problems like PCP pneumonia and KS with new ones like systemic organ failure, cancers and death from cumulative toxicities. In the process, we have increased the cost of treatment to astronomical levels, not only for the initial condition, but for treating the inevitable subsequent adverse reactions as well.
Rather than question whether we should focus more resources on alternative and non-pharmaceutical solutions to chronic health problems, researchers seem to be setting the stage for the solution to this dilemma.
"All HIV-positive women in menopause and all HIV-positive men aged 50 and older should be screened for BMD," Dr. Brown recommended.
We all know what the doctor will order if such "screens" report even the mildest case of osteopenia: more drugs. Unfortunately, the profitable and over prescribed bisphosphonates most commonly used to treat bone loss, such as Boniva and Fosamax provide questionable benefit and their own set of adverse reactions. Like the ARVs, they work better at producing a predetermined desired lab result, or in this case, scanning results, than actually healing a condition.
To her credit, Goodman notes Dr. Brown's disclosed financial relationship with pharmaceutical companies GSK, Gilead Sciences, ViiV Healthcare, Merck (maker of Fosamax), and Tibotec. There is always a soldier from the army of such expert doctors (unflatteringly referred to as "pharma shills" by some) ready to provide soundbite quotes like the ones in this article.
I read articles and studies like this every week and wonder why it is so rare to find similarly published findings (pro or con) from any publicly funded research on alternative treatment options.
We Americans especially, are bombarded with the myth that we have a "choice" in our health care decisions, when in reality we are only offered a choice between this drug and that one, or perhaps radiation vs. chemotherapy. We need and deserve more.
Modern Western medicine is now controlled by a very small minded philosophy that confuses medical treatment—specifically pharmaceutical drugs and high-tech procedures—with "health care". There is only a token tip of the hat to "complementary alternative medicine", such as acupuncture or herbal medicines. All one has to do is visit a hospital cafeteria or try eating from a hospital food tray to understand how little attention nutrition is given in our medical system (I refuse to call it our "health care" system).
Traditional Chinese Medicine serves the Chinese people admirably, as does Ayurveda in India. Rural populations in South America manage surprisingly well with their local shaman. That's not to say there is no value to western, or allopathic medicine. Western doctors are quite good at dealing with acute medical problems, and there may be no better equipped or skilled emergency medicine services than that found in the emergency rooms of U.S. hospitals.
Where our system fails is in looking beyond the narrow focus of pharmaceutical and surgically invasive solutions. Many people facing chronic illnesses, such as cancer, AIDS, lupus, MS, Lyme Disease and more, have come to realize their dis-ease cannot be cured unless they take—sometimes extreme—measures and lifestyle changes to restore their health. We want and need our medical care system to embrace all forms of healing.
Our "choices" are dictated by profit-driven insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies, backed by the Federal government (or is it the other way around?). That is the main reason I opposed the current so-called health care reform law. It did nothing to empower those of us who want to choose a different path to heal ourselves.
Those of us who have mostly opted out of the Pharma solution for our health problems, for whatever reason, are on our own. Under the new "reform" we are required to purchase insurance that will not pay for the kinds of health care we choose to utilize. Alternative care is generally not nearly as expensive as allopathic care, but major health problems do get expensive.
Since my decision to quit nearly all pharmaceutical drugs in 2007, the cost of my personal medical treatment for "AIDS" has dropped from nearly $100,000 per year for allopathic care in the first several years of this century to a few hundred dollars per month lately, mostly for nutritional and alternative care. When I still thought I was able to afford it, I probably spent up to a thousand dollars per month for a much more intensive and thorough regimen of alternative protocols a couple of years ago that included things like acupuncture, neurofeedback and high-dose nutritional infusions (including intravenous vitamin C).
These are just examples of the types of alternative healing I have had experience with. There is a whole world of healing that is working for many people who can afford them. Because these treatments are not cooked up in a pharmaceutical laboratory where they can be patented and promoted at criminally high prices, and because alternative healers do not have the resources to conduct clinical trials, these kinds of healing are denied coverage, and sometimes denied even when the patient is willing and able to pay.
I'm not talking about obviously dangerous and ridiculous therapies, such as intravenous injections of chlorine bleach. The vast majority of alternative medical practices have been proven to be safe over the centuries. Safety is one of the primary reasons that they are considered preferable to so many of us. There are very few instances of harm done to even require the kind of safety reviews that allopathic methods have so richly earned, considering that in the U.S. alone, there may be as many as a million deaths per year caused by doctors, hospitals and medications (more than the number of deaths from cancer or heart disease), over 2 million adverse drug reactions, 7.5 million unnecessary surgeries and 8.9 million unnecessary hospitalizations! 1
Nor am I suggesting that there is no role for pharmaceutical medicine and research. There is. It just needs to be put back into a more reasonable perspective with the other fields of healing. The powerful grip Big Pharma has on doctors, medical schools and public policy makers must be reigned in in the interest of competing approaches to health.
There are promising concepts and theories in AIDS research—mostly from outside the United States—such as Dr. Heinrich Kremer's research about the Th1/Th2 switch of the immune system, which can be addressed with simple and inexpensive treatments to boost glutathione. The Perth Group has been researching immune disregulation for 30 years and is still begging for funding to conduct clinical research. Luc Montagnier, the French discoverer of the alleged virus associated with AIDS has repeatedly acknowledged that not only are co-factors probably required to cause illness, but that a healthy immune system can protect against it and that a healthy person can defy and defeat the disease. 2
Not all promising discoveries come from full-time researchers. There are other respected clinicians working in the real world who are dabbling with similar and different approaches to actually restoring balance to the immune system, rather than "fighting" some mysterious virus that no one can quite nail down.
What would happen if ten of these outside-the-box researchers were selected for funding to implement their ideas, using just 1% of the current global AIDS research budget for four years? I have no doubt that we'd have far more leads and more promising leads to follow than we'd know what to do with.
And that is a problem I'd love for the world to have.
Just as I'm preparing to publish this post, another report popped up on my Google Reader, this one warning of neurological disorders in patients with "HIV-AIDS" (though this headline fails to mention they also just happen to be on ARV drugs). The research was initially published in the journal Neurology and the report is from The Globe and Mail.
“The virus in the nervous system is a little different from the virus in the blood,” [Dr. Christopher Power] said. In particular, drugs can have trouble crossing the blood-brain barrier.
Practically, that means that drug cocktails are not as effective at preventing neurological problems as they are at staving off other health woes associated with HIV-AIDS such as pneumonia.
Dr. Power said some HIV-AIDS medications also harm the brain. In particular, the older “d-drugs” such as ddI (didanosine), ddC (dideoxycytidine) and d4T (stavudine) can be neurotoxic, and the long-term impact of newer medications on the brain remain unknown.
There is also a growing belief that HIV somehow accelerates the aging process, particularly in the brain. “We’re seeing diseases associated with aging like dementia in people with HIV,” Dr. Power said.
Readers are expected to not notice the "AIDSpeak" here by ignoring how curious it is that the "neurotoxic" drugs can cross the blood brain barrier to harm the brain, yet are unable to defeat HIV there. The relevant point is that, like the report on bone loss above, research published outside of AIDS-specific journals frequently continues to show just how much harm can be caused to the mind and body by ARVs and how often one must read between the lines to glean the real news in these media reports.
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