The functional medicine approach to supporting those with HIV

Looking for functional medicine support for HIV alongside your current treatment? This page covers:

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What is HIV (human immunodeficiency virus)?

Understanding your condition

HIV is a virus that’s transmitted through contact with infected body fluids such as blood, semen, and vaginal fluid. HIV is the most common immunodeficiency condition, and it can develop into AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) if left untreated. 

Immunodeficiency means having a weakened immune system, leaving a person susceptible to infections, frequent colds or flu, which commonly take longer to recover from.

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Alternative medicine for HIV

People affected with HIV may also suffer from autoimmune, skin, or digestive conditions, as well as effects on the heart, lungs and nervous system, and have an increased cancer risk. 

This is why taking a proactive, preventative approach to optimising health and preventing the progression of HIV to AIDS is a key focus of your medical specialist and our approach to your health and wellbeing. Practitioner Mark Payne has a special interest in supporting people with HIV, and seeks to understand the health drivers and risks that are specific to you, providing you with a personalised healthcare plan so you can live a healthy, happy life.

HIV symptoms

After 1-4 weeks following initial infection, the first HIV symptoms are flu-like symptoms such as a cough, sore throat, and mild fever, and sometimes a rash. Symptoms may last 1-2 weeks, similar to a common cold or flu infection. After subsiding, a person may have no symptoms for months or even years.


Once HIV becomes embedded in the cells’ DNA, CD4+ immune cells that are involved in defending the body from pathogens like bacteria, yeasts and viruses begin to decline, and more significant signs and symptoms begin to appear.


The most common symptoms of HIV are an increase in contracting infections, such as colds, flu, sinus infections or thrush (candida). Often it will take progressively longer to recover from illnesses, and in many cases, patients will require medication (i.e. antibiotics) to aid recovery, or for secondary infections. 

Other signs are:

  • Swelling of lymph nodes around the neck and groin
  • Susceptibility to wound infections + delayed wound healing 
  • Progressively worsening fatigue
  • More significant fevers, especially at night
  • Weight loss and anaemia
  • Thrush infections of the mouth or vagina


More severe cases may experience frequent or persistent abdominal cramping, bloating and/or diarrhoea, and respiratory tract infections that can progress to bronchitis or pneumonia.


As the condition progresses, a person with HIV may begin to accumulate additional infections, and other symptoms affecting the lungs, nervous system and digestive tract.

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Causes of HIV

The main cause of HIV is the virus itself, and the main risk factors for HIV transmission are:

  • Men who have sex with men
  • Unprotected sex
  • Needle sharing with intravenous drug use
  • Mother to child transmission 
  • Having sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, herpes or vaginosis

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is one of two lentiviruses (HIV-1 or HIV-2), a subclass of retroviruses which affect the CD4+ cells. CD4+ cells are a type of lymphocyte, also known as a white blood cell, and are an important part of the immune system. 

Once HIV has entered the cell, it embeds permanently into the DNA and is replicated with every cell division. Initially, it may be inactive and cause no specific harm to the immune system, however once activated it takes over normal cell functions, using them to rapidly replicate itself, infect other CD4+ cells and progressively destroy them. This means a person with an active virus can become severely immunocompromised, and if left untreated will progress to Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS).

The most significant risk for causing HIV disease progression and/or developing other complications are inconsistent taking of antiretroviral medications or contracting other conditions that compromise the immune system. Inconsistent adherence to taking medication allows the virus to become reactivated and replicate unhindered. This places a greater strain on the immune systems’ ability to maintain control of the virus, or prevent other viruses or infections. 

Contracting other conditions or infections can reduce the effectiveness of the HIV medication by burdening the immune system, allowing the virus to become reactivated. 

Other factors that can contribute to complications with HIV include:

  • Malnutrition
  • Infection
  • Toxic exposures
  • Chemotherapy
  • Exposure to radiation

People affected by HIV may also suffer from other conditions such as digestive disorders, skin conditions, inflammatory or autoimmune conditions, effects to the heart, lungs or nervous system, and may also have an increased risk of some cancers.

HIV treatment

The conventional HIV treatment in Australia usually involves a combination of 2 or more antiretroviral medications, which block the function of specific enzymes that HIV requires for replication, and may include:


  • Nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors
  • Non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors
  • Integrase inhibitors
  • Protease inhibitors


Some people require additional medications to prevent HIV from being able to enter and impair CD4+ immune cells. The latest generation of antiretroviral medications have been shown to reduce viral loads to undetectable levels and allow CD4+ cells to recover to normal levels, thereby improving immune function. 


The approach currently is to commence antiretroviral therapy as soon as possible following diagnosis. People who consistently take their prescribed medications can maintain good immune function with little or no chance of transmitting HIV to another person. 


However, antiretroviral medicine treatment does not restore full health, and can in some cases have cumulative side effects with long term use. Studies show these side effects can include raised cholesterol levels, increased risk of cardiovascular disease, hypertension, kidney and liver disease and some cancers, as well as increases in osteopenia/bone degenerationn and neurocognitive disease.


To offset some of these risks, people often seek a complementary alternative treatment for their HIV alongside their current treatment, as well as for their overall system health and wellbeing. Our practitioners in Melbourne can provide a complementary HIV treatment to help those with HIV stay in good health.

HIV functional medicine support

It’s commonly thought that people living with HIV can’t live healthy lives, however through functional medicine treatment alongside regular medications, a person with HIV can live a healthy, normal life. 

Functional medicine seeks to support all body systems to maximise health, using evidence based alternative medicine to support those with HIV that may include:

  • Support of overall immune health to optimise resistance to common infections
  • Reduce the overwhelm of the immune system which would otherwise allow HIV to become more active
  • Restore, support and repair all body systems affected by HIV, including gut and microbiome health, the cardiovascular, nervous, respiratory and endocrine systems
  • Design prevention strategies for risk reduction of developing other conditions associated with HIV, such as elevated cholesterol, kidney disease, osteoporosis and some cancers
  • Support organs and systems most affected by long-term antiretroviral medications.

We deliver this complementary treatment to support people with HIV through our innovative 6-month program where you are supported by your practitioner and health coach to help you get your health and life back.

Because most of the strategies that improve your health are diet and lifestyle related, the ongoing support of a health coach will guide you to make lasting changes to your health, including recipes, resources and encouragement to keep you on track with your health plan. 

Functional testing considerations for HIV

Functional testing provides insight into the health of particular systems and where to target treatment to re-establish optimal health. Typically there can be up to a 12 month delay between contracting HIV, diagnosis, and stabilisation on medication, during which time the immune, gut and microbiome health is significantly impacted.

Functional testing can include tests such as:

  • Comprehensive cardiovascular profile
  • Gut microbiome testing 
  • Food antigen testing (KBMO)
  • Organic acids test
  • Autoimmune profile
  • Viral screening
  • Any other tests that may be indicated along the way

(Taylor is a real patient but we’ve changed his name and image to protect his privacy)‍‍

Case study

See how functional medicine is helping our patients achieve better health and richer lives.

Taylor is a 34 year old man who came to see us following his diagnosis of HIV 2 years previous, wanting to investigate some ongoing gut and digestive issues he had for many years, as well as to solve his anxiety and optimise his immune health.

Read Taylor's story by hitting the button below

Are you ready for a personalised, natural functional medicine treatment to improve your immune health? Our unique model of care was designed with you in mind. Find out how below, then book a call today!


Can you get HIV from kissing?

There are extremely low, or no detectable levels of HIV virus in saliva, therefore it is very unlikely you can get HIV from kissing. Maintaining a robust immune system can also reduce the chances of catching viruses in general.

How common is HIV in Australia?

HIV in Australia is becoming less common in the past 5 years, and has remained low. It was estimated in 2017 to be about 0.1% of the population and has decreased by about 7% when last reported in 2019.

How to treat HIV?

HIV treatment in Australia incorporates a range of antiretroviral medications that are commenced as soon as possible after diagnosis, prescribed by a HIV specialist. Many people with HIV seek alternative treatment for HIV to support their overall health. Additional natural functional medicine treatment can support optimal health, by repairing and supporting organs and systems affected by HIV, and/or medications through nutrition, lifestyle medicine, and natural medicines like herbs. A person living with HIV taking regular medication and supporting their overall health can live a long, healthy and normal life.

Is HIV a chronic disease?

Yes, HIV is now considered to be a chronic disease. Successful management can prevent it from progressing into AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome), which is the late stage of the infection when the immune system is severely compromised by HIV. Alongside conventional medication that is essential to suppress the virus, HIV functional medicine support can help reduce the effects of the virus and progression into AIDs.

What HIV test is used in Australia?

Blood tests screen for circulating antibodies, and due to its low cost, sensitivity and rapidity, the enzyme immunoassay (EIA) is the standard screening tool for HIV. After diagnosis, your HIV specialist will closely monitor your viral load and often your T-Cell count to ensure that your treatment continues to be effective on controlling your HIV. Additional support by a functional medicine practitioner can commence to build your health and resilience.

Does HIV cause bruising?

Easy bruising can be a sign of nutritional deficiencies like vitamin C or iron, or it can also be an early sign of HIV infection.

Where to get HIV treatment in Australia?

Once you have a formal diagnosis from your GP or HIV specialist, our healthcare team including Mark Payne in Melbourne, Australia will be happy to work integratively with your doctors to give you the necessary care to strengthen your health and provide the most effective results from your antiretroviral medications.

Can’t find what you’re looking for? Reach out to the team directly – we’ll be happy to assist.