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.

940 comments

  1. Lisa Thorley

    Hi Linah,

    It sounds like you’re having a difficult time, though your privacy is important, your health is more important than this. If you don’t take ARVs your HIV won’t be under control.
    When you go to the clinic ask the nurses to close the door, if they won’t then try another clinic. If you’re in South Africa, please contact the following: https://www.tac.org.za/

    Though there is still a degree of stigma associated with HIV, you’ve nothing to be ashamed about. Having HIV shouldn’t be an issue.

  2. Linah

    Many ppl will die of hiv yet there is treatment because the nurses in the clinic are shouting us if u skip and the reason to skip on the first place is that we are afraid to be embarrassed in front of the negative ppl, we r questioned like y u didn’t use a condom if u go to Nellmapius clinic they don’t even close the door or even something they read the file on the que n ask u why ur here even mamelodi hospital its been 3years now I don’t take treatment because its hard,the is totally no privacy I knw im positive but I choose very few ppl to disclose to I can’t to everyone I just can’t I wish I had medical then ill be treated with dignity

  3. Lisa Thorley

    Hi Eventia.

    Your HIV is under control, it’s under control because your viral load is undetectable, this is good.
    With regards to your CD4 count, this could just be a blip, this is common. What’s your CD4 count history?
    As you’re already on ARVs, you’re already doing the best thing possible for your HIV as well as your CD4 count.

    If you’re feeling tired and have headaches, you should talk to your doctor about this.

  4. Eventia

    Hi doc ,m on ARV for 9 years now and my viral load is undetectable but my CD 4 count is dropped is 172 and m always tire,headache and I have sleeping problem. I had marital challenges which I believe is the cause of cd4 dropping because of stress,what can I do to up my cd4 count and m taking my treatment very well.

  5. Lisa Thorley

    Hi Lesego,

    You’ve said that your viral load is going up, what is it now?

    If you’re viral load is rebounding and you’re adhering to your meds, the rebound could be a sign that you’re meds are no longer working. If could also be a lab error, either way your going to need to talk to your doctor about this.

  6. LESEGO

    HI

    I have been on HRV for the past 7 years ,last month i was told that mr viral load is going up what could be the problem

  7. Immaculate

    Hi doc may you please advice, I’m hiv positive started treatment in 2016,my viral load remains undetectable since I started medication, but my cd4 count is at 250,and I’m losing weight, I don’t know what I’m I doing wrong because I take my treatment everyday on time, I’m committed to it, please help what should I do.

  8. Lisa Thorley

    Hi Immaculate,

    Due to your viral load being undetectable, this means that your HIV is under control, which is important. With regards to your CD4 count, since starting ARVs in 2016, what’s your CD4 count history?

  9. Lisa Thorley

    Hi Lala,

    If you’ve not taken ARVs for 2 years and you’re losing weight and your tiered, this could be a sign that your CD4 had dropped and that it’s low. You’re going to need to have this checked. You’re also going to need to have your viral load test done. Both of these tests will need to be conducted in either a clinic or a hospital. Though this might be an issue for you, it’s important that you engage in appropriate care.

    With regards to accessing ARVs from other sources, this will depend where you live. However, you still need to see a HIV specialist.

    The question to you is, why don’t you want to go to a clinic or hospital?

  10. Lala

    Hi doc, I haven’t taken medicine in two years was using herbs I see no progress as I’m getting tired and losing weight drastically, I use a towel for my sweat. I want to go back to using arv medication but don’t want to go to clinics,how can I get government medication without going to clinic and hospital

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