hiv_aidsSince their discovery in the early 1980s, the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) have not been without controversy.  Authors Mae-Wan Ho, PhD; Sam Burcher; Rhea Gala; and Veljko Veljković, PhD, examine some of the issues in their book Unraveling AIDS.

They begin with the diagnosis itself, which, it turns out, depends on geographical location.  In the US, the presence of anti-HIV antibodies in the blood of someone who has the constellation of symptoms of AIDS, such as diarrhea, dementia, Kaposi’s sarcoma, pneumonia, and tuberculosis, would be determined to have AIDS.  In Africa, where testing for the HIV antibodies is too expensive, the constellation of symptoms is sufficient to diagnose AIDS.  To complicate matters more, there is not a standardized test for HIV antibodies.  Different countries use different tests, yielding a possible positive diagnosis in one country that would be considered negative in another country.

The other surrogate markers for AIDS include the level of the CD4 cell count and the viral load detected by the polymerase chain reaction.  The decreasing CD4 cell count correlates with selected symptoms and signals when the person enters the stage we know as AIDS.  One problem with these markers, though, is that they are not significant in predicting clinical outcome.

Several opposing theories of what causes HIV/AIDS are presented in this book.  The conventional wisdom says that HIV causes AIDS.  The authors turn to researchers Dr. Peter Duesberg, Dr. David Resnick, and Claus Koehnlein, who do not believe that HIV causes AIDS.  They instead look to the possibility that AIDS is triggered by chemicals (environmental and recreational drugs), the drugs used to treat HIV, and preexisting malnutrition.  Duesberg has especially angered people with his hypothesis that AIDS is not a contagious disease but rather a passenger virus transmitted from mother to child.  He also blames the African AIDS epidemic on poverty.  The constellation of symptoms used to diagnose AIDS has commonly been found in Africa due to malnutrition and lack of clean drinking water.  He cites studies of patients diagnosed with AIDS based on symptoms but only half actually found to be HIV-positive when tested.

Another researcher considered an AIDS dissident, Dr. Howard Urnovitz, also believes that HIV does not cause AIDS.  He believes that HIV is likely an infection that wakens viruses sleeping within the genome that recombine with other viruses, resulting in the severity of HIV.

People who have such contrary theories about AIDS are dismissed by the medical establishment.  Their articles are rejected for publication, and funding for their research dries up.  On the other hand, we learn that pharmaceutical companies have great influence in guiding research and treatment standards.  Government grants for AIDS can be tied to the recipient country’s guaranteed purchase of patented pharmaceuticals and apparently in some cases, genetically engineered crops. The authors make a good case that our current understanding of AIDS and the epidemic are clouded by the profit motives of a powerful industry.

In their effort to unravel AIDS, as the title implies, the authors examine the standard treatment, which is now the multipharmaceutical combination. They question its efficacy and whether these drugs are actually doing more harm than good because of their serious side effects.  Their suggestions for treatment first address the underlying problem of malnutrition through multivitamin supplements and a regimen of specific nutrients such as selenium, cysteine, glutamine, and tryptophan.  Several herbs are suggested for bolstering immunity, with an emphasis on Sutherlandia, which has become a primary method of treatment in Africa. Further discussions of detoxification and exercise reveal that many of the treatments can also serve as preventative measures against AIDS.

At the beginning of this book, the authors note that there are still more questions than answers regarding HIV and AIDS, so we can expect many more years of research and funding for this baffling disease. Unraveling AIDS reminds us that pure science is not necessarily calling the shots. The opposing theories discussed in the book, though referenced, are presented in very general terms.  The authors do raise questions and reveal incongruities in the conventional wisdom that deserve further investigation.

Although billions of dollars are being spent to find a cure for AIDS, and many drugs are now available for its treatment, millions of people worldwide continue to suffer and die from this disease. Unraveling AIDS is a timely and well-researched book that addresses a wide range of issues regarding the AIDS pandemic. Perhaps most important, the authors explore alternative therapies that appear to be safer, more effective, and less costly than the current generation of AIDS pharmaceuticals.

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