Q and A

Question

How can I increase my CD4 count without ARVs?

I have just found out that I was HIV positive in March, last year. My CD4 count was 270.

I did another test and it was 284 and my doctor said I must start treatment.

I just want to know what I must do to increase my CD4 count without taking treatment.

Answer

Hi, how are you doing?

The only way to increase your CD4 is to use HIV treatment (ART).

Your doctor is giving you good information and advice.

Nothing else, including multivitamins, supplements or herbal remedies can increase your CD4 count. Looking after yourself is important – for example, eating a balanced diet, keeping physically and mentally active, reducing stress, sleeping well etc.  But increasing your CD4 count is only proven by using effective HIV meds.

Even though some companies advertise this vitamins and supplements can help your CD4 count, these are scams. There is no such thing as an “immune booster” and no “immune booster” will help your CD4 count or help control HIV.

Why do you want to delay ART or look at other options? HIV meds are really effective – this is what they were designed for.

ART stops HIV from replicating.  The main aim is to reduce your viral load to an undetectable level (less than 50 copies/mL). As your viral load goes down, your immune system start to repair itself.  This means that your CD4 count will slowly go up to higher levels again.

Currently South Africa recommendation starting treatment when the CD4 count is below 500 cells/mm3. This may change in the future and treatment might be recommended at any CD4 count. (Note: South African later changed to recommends treatment at any CD4 count).

Here is a link to more information about starting treatment.  Please take your time reading it and if you have any further questions do write back to me.

Are you receiving any support from other people? Getting support from your local support group or a counsellor can help you to come to terms living with HIV. Also you will be able to gain and share experiences with others who are in the similar situation as you, rather than having to deal with it in isolation.

This answer was updated in January 2019 and January 2016 from a question first posted on 2 March 2012.

878 comments

  1. Roy Trevelion

    Hi Florence,

    Have you talked to your doctor about this? If you’ve lost a lot of weight it’s a good idea to have a check up with the doctor.

    You can ask to see a dietitian who can advise you about gaining weight. And please see this guide to a balanced diet and your health. There’s a lot of tips here about food that’s high in calories and nutrients.

  2. Florence

    Hi have been talking ARVs for three years and am loosing weight why?

  3. Roy Trevelion

    Hi Tracy,

    It’s great that you want to start taking ARVs. The START study showed that HIV treatment (ART) has important benefits for your health, even if your CD4 count is still high.

    Modern HIV meds are easier to take and have fewer side effects than the early meds. Please speak to your doctor about wanting to start ART.

    Some people have mild side effects that go away within the first few weeks when they start ART. And some people have no side effects.

    Please see the Introduction to ART for more info about starting ART.

  4. Tracy

    hi i am HIV positive for 8years now but i wanna take the ARVs bt am scared of the side effects how long will they get used to my body

  5. Roy Trevelion

    Hi Avril,

    It’s good to hear your sister wants to go back on HIV treatment.

    She can go back to her doctor or clinic and talk to them about starting again. But it’s a good idea if she could tell them why she stopped. For example, it could have been because of side effects. So starting again could be with HIV meds that are easier for her to take.

    The clinic should check that her meds will still work well if she goes back on the same treatment.

    Does she have access to her viral load and CD4 count? Please let us know the results.

  6. Avril

    Please tell me my sister has not been taking her treatment for 8 months but now she wants to go back on her treatment what can she do ?

  7. Roy Trevelion

    Hi Bow,

    This looks like your HIV meds are working well. It’s great that your CD4 count recovered from 60 to 359 in about 7 months on HIV treatment (ART). It’s also great that your viral load is undetectable at <20 copies.

    Starting ART means that viral load is dramatically reduced quickly. However, CD4 count takes a while to recover and this usually goes up slowly.

    But, yes, it does look like a good path to be on.

    Please see this page from ART in Pictures. It shows what happens to viral load and CD4 count on starting ART.

  8. Bow

    Hi question : after 6weeks on meds my CD4 went 266 to 350 & my load went to 60.
    After another three months my CD4 only went up to 359
    & my load is <20.
    Another 3 mts cd still the same but now totally undetectable .
    Is that a good path to be on ??

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