In considering A.I.D.S. (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome), we should start from the same basic premises as with cancer: that we are not 'treating', still less offering a cure, and that no aromatherapist or individual should take sole responsibility for any A.I.D.S. patient, but must work in collaboration with the doctor or (more usually) hospital in charge.

Within that framework however, there is scope for a great deal of valuable work, ranging from emotional support and relaxing therapies for patients, through treating opportunistic infections to the very important area of strengthening the compromised immune system itself, and in fact all these things are being done by aromatherapists in various places.

Massage alone will tone flaccid muscles, reduce muscle spasm and improve circulation. It has also been demonstrated that massage releases endorphins-the body's natural pain killers. The experience of massage can be either stimulating or calming depending on the techniques used. There are however, contra-indications to massage, for example people being given anti-coagulant drugs (massage causes haemodilution). Therefore, some basic training is essential for anyone massaging people suffering from medical conditions.

The possibility of strengthening the immune system is an area which has largely been overlooked by orthodox medicine, with so much emphasis being placed on the search for a vaccine. Aromatherapists, medical herbalists, acupuncturists and nu­tritionists, among others, use techniques which are designed to support and strengthen the body's own immune response, and this is very important when we consider that only about 30% of people who are known to be carrying the H.I.V. (Human Immune Virus) virus actually develop the full A.I.D.S. syndrome. There are also many more people carrying the virus without knowing it, so the fraction of carriers who eventually develop A.I.D.S. is in fact less than 30%.

In order to understand why some of these people develop A.I.D.S., while the majority do not, and also why strengthening the immune system is so important, we need to take a look at how the H.I.V.  virus  operates. 

Like all  viruses,  it can  only reproduce itself with the help of materials found in living cells. The virus enters a 'host' cell, and once inside the cell begins to multiply, using the cell's biochemical resources to do so. In the case of the H.I.V. virus, the chosen host cells are the T-helper cells of the immune system. The role of the T-helper cells is discussed elsewhere in this database, but, briefly, they set in motion and accelerate all the processes that combine to make up the immune response, while their opposites, the T-suppressor cells, slow down and stop these processes when there is no threat from infection present. In a healthy body, T-helper cells outnumber T-suppressors, but the H.I.V. virus destroys T-helper cells until eventually there are more T-suppressors than T-helpers. At this stage, the body is unable to react defensively to any invading micro-organisms, and bacteria, other viruses and fungi (such as Candida) can wreak havoc. These are known as 'opportunistic' infections, i.e. they seize the opportunity given by the body's lack of defence mechanisms, to proliferate.

People who are known to be carrying the H.I.V. virus, but who do not develop A.I.D.S. almost certainly have a more efficiently functioning immune system initially than those who do succumb, and everything that can be done to strengthen that system, increase its activity and the number of T-helper cells, lessens the chances of the full syndrome developing. There is a body of evidence, mainly from America, that people who decide to use natural therapies, improve their nutrition, learn to relax and so forth, are less likely to develop full-blown A.I.D.S., or if they already have done so, have longer periods of remission and a better quality of life.

All the oils mentioned elsewhere in this database as being beneficial to the immune system are very helpful, especially those that strengthen the action of the spleen, adrenal glands and lymphatic system. Lymphatic massage, is very important, and so is a programme of detoxification. Wherever possible, the aromatherapist or individual should try to work in collaboration with a medical herbalist, and/or acupuncturist, as these therapies support and enhance each other.

The H.I.V. virus itself does not give rise to symptoms: the patient succumbs to infections described as 'opportunistic' because they proliferate in the body when its natural defences no longer work properly. These may at first be relatively minor, and are sometimes described as A.R.C. or Aids Related Complex. This may include oral thrush (caused by Candida albicans yeast), skin, lung and bowel infections. Enlarged lymph nodes persisting over a lengthy period - say three months, are often an indication of A.R.C. but this is by no means always so, since they may be associated with severe 'flu, glandular fever, etc. This is an area where essential oils can be a great help in combating the bacteria, virus or mould involved, as well as reinforcing the weakened immune response.

Much of the work of medical staff in hospitals caring for A.I.D.S. patients is concentrated on combating such infections, and they are generally very supportive of patients who wish to try other therapies. Some essential oils which have proved effective in this situation are Niaouli, Tea tree, Eucalyptus radiata (having the same properties as Eucalyptus globulus but more easily assimilated) and Thyme, in the form of the chemotype, Thuyanol IV, which is particularly anti -viral.

Essential oils can have potent emotional effects and are ideal mood changers. Some oils uplift the spirits while others relax or calm. The same oil can produce different effects depending upon the emotional state of the individual at the time.  Choosing the appropriate oils for an individual does require a certain amount of training in order to optimise results.  However, even without training, excellent results can be gained from self-use. Simply adding a few drops of Lavender oil to a bath is, in reality, "Aromatherapy".  Some care must be taken with the choice and amount of oils used, but safety information is readily available in the Essential oils listed on this website.

As antimicrobial agents, essential oils may be appropriate in HIV/AIDS for specific opportunistic infections. Aromatherapy can also alter perceptions of chronic pain, help maintain skin integrity, and is useful in stress management. Methods of application vary depending on the site of infection and the psychological profile of the patient and can include inhalation, compresses, baths and massage.

Many patients may have the full A.I.D.S. syndrome before they come into contact with any alternative therapist but they can still do much to help. Fighting infection, which often includes a particularly virulent form of pneumonia, becomes even more important, since it may be life-threatening to somebody in this weakened state. Improving the quality of life, by offering relaxing massage, baths, mood-enhancing oils and emotional support becomes very important. The choice of essential oils can be almost infinite, and depends on the physical and emotional needs of the individual. Volunteer aromatherapists going into London hospitals have already shown the enormous value of such work. Any therapist who may consider undertaking such work must be able to lay aside any prejudice about sexuality or lifestyle, and be prepared to work closely not only with the hospital staff, but also with the friends, families and lovers of A.I.D.S. patients, all of whom have a vital role to play.

A possible contra-indication to the use of essential oils is chemotherapy. This may often be given to treat Karposi's Sarcoma, a rare form of cancer which affects many A.I.D.S. patients. Essential oils must not be used during, or for some time after chemotherapy treatment, and it is important that the body is detoxified before any essential oils are used, by such means as special diets, gentle exercise, high dosage Vitamin C and detoxifying herbs. Opinions differ as to how long this might take, and one also needs to take into account the number and duration of treatments that have been given. Certainly several months should elapse, maybe longer.

Massage and aromatherapy can provide valuable supportive care to people suffering from A.I.D.S. related illnesses, or if they are suffering the mental anguish of being pronounced H.I.V. positive. Giving aromatherapy to a person with A.I.D.S. presents no danger to the therapist, as the virus can be transmitted only via body fluids such as blood and semen. However, people who work with such illnesses do require some specialist training, and there are several organisations which can provide advice and training on the following:

a. Risks of contracting the disease.
b. Risks of infection from pathologies associated with the syndrome.
c. Developing the caring skills necessary when working with people who may
    be suffering the emotional problems resulting from; anger, despair,
    isolation and ostracism.

Health authorities, Social Services, etc. can provide further guidance.

It is illegal for any non-medically trained person to give treatment for any sexually-transmitted disease, as a first referral, but they may do so in collaboration with, or with the consent of, the doctor in charge of treatment.

Please read the entry on the IMMUNE SYSTEM in conjunction with this section.

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