Protocol components of a Ph.D thesis on the effectiveness of Sutherlandia OPC in controlling HIV/AIDS

1. Objective

Determining the effectiveness of an herbal mixture consisting of extracts of Sutherlandia Frutescens and Nerium Oleander on increasing the CD4 cell count of advanced HIV/AIDS patients with a starting CD4 count of less than 300.

2. Study Abstract

The purpose of the study is to ascertain the effectiveness of an herbal supplement consisting of Sutherlandia Frutescens and Nerium Oleander in increasing the CD4 counts of HIV positive patients in the later stages of HIV/AIDS when their CD4 cell counts are below 300. Twenty randomly selected adult patients in the age group 18 to 64 each receives on a daily basis for sixty days 200ml of a locally produced commercially available soy based mixture enriched with the recommended daily requirements of essential vitamins and minerals. Ten of the mixes contain, in addition to the vitamins and minerals, 15 ml of the herbal mix to be tested. The mixes are allocated on a random basis and neither the patients nor the administering staff knows which patients receive the added herbal supplement. Each of the patients is allocated a number and receives the similarly numbered mix each day. Only the Principal Investigator knows which mixes contain the herbal supplement. The Cd4 count of each patient is tested by a pathology lab before the study, after a period of thirty days and again after sixty days. The herbal mix has already been in use as an herbal food supplement for a period of 3 years with anecdotal reports of success and with no reports of any adverse reactions, and there is thus virtually no risk in its administration during the study. However, nursing staff are required to report in writing any adverse reactions during the study period. Should the study prove the effectiveness of the herbal supplement, it could become an important and inexpensive addition to the treatment of HIV/AIDS. It could also open the way for a more comprehensive study with more patients and over a longer period.

3. Statement of Purpose and Background per Dissertation Proposal.

Since Robert Gallo announced in 1984 that the virus responsible for AIDS had been discovered, billions of dollars have been spent on finding a cure. During this time, some researchers, like Peter Duesburg, have questioned the causative link between Gallo’s HIV virus and AIDS on the basis that it does not comply with the requirements of Koch’s Laws relating to the differentiation between correlation and causation, that it is totally uncharacteristic for a retro-virus to act in this way, that the concentration of HIV viruses in CD4+ cells, even in advanced AIDS cases, are too low to explain the virulent nature of advanced AIDS, and the extraordinary as well as unpredictable long period between the initial HIV infection and the development of full-blown AIDS. (Bialy, 2004; Duesberg, 1995; Farber, 2006). They have also questioned the changing definition of AIDS, the inaccuracy of the various tests for HIV anti-bodies, the variability of the tests in different countries and the relevance of concepts like “viral load” when tested by using the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) method. (Bialy, 2004; Culshaw, 2007)

Other researchers, convinced that HIV was the single cause of AIDS have tried their best to find ways of destroying it. In pursuit of this objective, pharmaceutical companies have spent billions of dollars on “anti-retrovirals” to delay the onset of full-blown AIDS. Unfortunately, all the ant-retrovirals have side effects that can be quite severe. These effects can be liver failure, severe anemia and even destruction of cd4 T-cells. (Farber, 2006)

Although the controversy about the connection between HIV and AIDS has not been resolved satisfactorily, many researchers believe that AIDS is the result of the destruction of CD4+ T-cells mediated by the HIV virus. Exactly how this happens is not yet clear. It is thus not surprising that a third group of researchers, including Luc Montagnier, the co-discoverer of the HIV virus, have postulated that certain “co-factors” are required before HIV, a member of the family of normally harmless retro-viruses, can become a virulent T-cell killer. (Farber, 2006, p89) And it is this aspect that should be of great interest to herbalists and other practitioners of alternative therapies.

Anti-viral herbs have been used for centuries, especially in China, to combat various viral diseases like shingles, herpes simplex, measles, chicken pox, influenza and the common cold and they may well have a role to play in the unknown c-factors that have been postulated in the development of full-blown AIDS.

Herbal remedies are normally used in a palliative role with HIV/AIDS (supporting the immune system, fighting opportunistic infections and relief of the side-effects of anti-retrovirals). In Sub-Saharan Africa where AIDS is reported to be pandemic, various herbal concoctions are being administered by traditional healers who claim various degrees of success. Such claims, although anecdotal, may well be based on the fact that substances derived from plants, including alkaloids, coumarins, flavonoids, lignans, phenolics, quinines, saponins, terpenes, sterols and xanthones all have some degree of anti-HIV activity (Singh et al, 2005). On a more scientific basis, it has been shown that the Trichosantin in the Chinese herb Trichosantes kirilowiithe can inhibit HIV infection through its action on the chemokines and chemokin receptors. (Zhao, et al, 1999). Aqueous extracts of the African Sutherlandia frutescens and Lobostemon trigonus have been shown to have anti-HIV activities (Harnett, et al, 2005). In 1997, an extract of Nerium Oleander was patented in the USA under the name Anvirzel and, in the patent application Dr Ozel, who used the extract for more than 30 years in Turkey as a treatment for cancer, made the claim that it is also effective in controlling HIV/AIDS (Ozel, 1992).

In South Africa, where the research will be conducted, HIV/AIDS has become a major problem. Combined with this is the government’s reluctance to implement the general administration of pharmaceutical anti-retrovirals on a national scale due to the influence of those who question their efficacy. The government, through the Minister of Health, has also indicated that they see a role for natural medicine in combating the disease. This attitude has led to widespread criticism in the media and a general ridicule of natural remedies in this field. A properly conducted, placebo controlled study of a locally produced herbal mix will contribute to dispelling the so-called “unscientific” basis of natural remedies and, should the results be positive, provide an affordable treatment of HIV/AIDS without the lethal side-effects of the presently used anti-retrovirals like AZT and Nevirapine.

The specific reasons why the herbal mix of Sutherlandia frutescens and Nerium oleander will be used in the research are:

  • the ingredients are readily available and are not expensive 
  • toxicity tests have already been done on the ingredients at established research institutions (Southern Research Institute, Birmingham, AL; Southwest Research Institute, San Antonio, TX; Medical Research Council of South Africa)
  • The herbal mix has already been in use as a “herbal food supplement” in South Africa for the past three years with many anecdotal reports of success, even in advanced cases of AIDS.

It is important that human subjects at an advanced stage of the disease be used because it is specifically this subgroup that has been neglected in respect of effective treatment. Should the results of the study prove positive, it is almost certain that the government will fund a much larger research project so that the mix can be used in the rest of Africa as well as in places like India where the spread of HIV/AIDS is becoming a major problem.


Bialy, H. (2004). Oncogenes, Aneuploidy and AIDS: A Scientific Life and Times of Peter H. Duesberg. Berkley, CA. North Atlantic Books.

Culshaw, R. (2007). Science Sold Out: Does HIV really cause AIDS? Berkley, CA. North Atlantic Books.

Duesberg, P. (1995). Infectious AIDS: Have we been misled? Berkley, CA. North Atlantic Books

Farber, C. (2006). Serious Adverse Events: An uncensored history of AIDS. Hoboken, NJ: Melville House Publishing.

Harnett SM et al,(2005). Anti-HIV activities of organic and aqueous extracts of Sutherlandia frutescens and Lobostemon trigonus. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 2005 Jan 4; 96(1-2).

Ozel, HZ (1992). Extracts of Nerium species and use therefor. US Patent#5,135,745, August 4, 1992

Sing, I,P et al, (2005). Anti-HIV Natural Products. Current Science, Vol 89, No2, 25 July 2005.

Zao et al, (1999). The ability of anti-HIV agent trichosantin to stimulate chemotaxis and G protein activation. Journal of Experimental Medicine, 1999 Jul 5; 190(1)

4. Subjects.

The subjects to be recruited will be patients with advanced HIV/AIDS symptoms at a Clinic in Johannesburg. The specific criteria will be the following:

  • Age group 18 -64 years of age
  • CD4+ T-cell count < 300
  • Both male and female
  • Pregnant women to be excluded
  • Not receiving anti-retrovirals
  • Must not be cognitively impaired
  • Must be literate to understand the contents of the consent form

Participation will be on a voluntary basis. The purpose of the study and the procedures for administering the herbal supplement will be explained to small volunteer groups of potential participants (identified by nurses and caregivers at participating clinics and/or hospices) in their own language. Virtually all people living in the Johannesburg have English as a second language and are mostly conversant in that language. Schooling is done in English and most people are literate in English, more so than in their own languages. However, provision will be made for an interpreter fluent in both Zulu and South Sotho, the other two languages spoken in the region.

The Clinic will be responsible for maintaining physical care of the blood draws. Blood will be drawn under supervision of a senior nursing sister. The Physician Notification Document (attached hereto) will be signed by the head of the clinic.

5. Research Design and Methods.

Twenty volunteers will be selected on a random basis from the final group of volunteers that meet the criteria specified (The PARTICPANTS). Each of the PARTICIPANTS will sign a consent form that has been translated into his/her home language. Before the study commences, blood samples will be taken from each of the PARTICIPANTS under supervision of the supervising physician and this will e analyzed at a professional pathology laboratory to confirm his/her HIV status and CD4+ T-cell count. The Principal Investigator will select on a random basis 10 people from the PARTICIPANTS who will receive the herbal mix (the HERBAL GROUP). During the sixty days of the study, each one of the PARTICIPANTS will receive on a daily basis 200ml of a locally produced and commercially available long-life soy mixture, fortified with the recommended daily requirements of important minerals and vitamins. After the selection of the HERBAL GROUP, the Principal Investigator will prepare 60 containers of the 200ml soy mixture for each of the 20 PARTICIPANTS (the duration of the study will be 60 days). By arrangement with the producer of the soy mixture, he will add 15ml of an herbal mix consisting of Sutherlandia Frutescens and Nerium Oleander to the soy mixture of the HERBAL GROUP. Each of the 200ml containers will be clearly marked with the name of the participant for whom it is intended so that no mistake can be made as to which person receives the plain soy mixture and which one receives a mixture containing the herbs. Neither the PARTICIPANTS nor the administering nurses will know which containers have the herbal mix as they will all be identical., apart from having the names of the PARTICPANTS on them,

After thirty days, a further blood sample will be taken from each of the PARTICIPANTS and the CD4 T-cell count will again be established by a professional pathology laboratory. This procedure will be repeated after 60 days, at the conclusion of the study. Statistical analysis will be done of the data to establish whether there is a statistical difference between those individuals who received the herbal mix and those who did not

If, as is expected, there will be a noticeable difference between the HERBAL GROUP and the rest of the PARTICIPANTS after 60 days, those PARTICIPANTS who had not received the herbal mix will be given the option of receiving it on a daily basis for the following 60 days.

The soy mixture and the herbs will be supplied free of charge to all the PARTICIPANTS.

Copies of the consent forms, adverse event forms and data recording forms are attached hereto as Addenda.

6. Potential Benefits.

The participants in the study will effectively be those unfortunate individuals who have been designated as cases where the hope of recovery is either negligible or non-existent. This study may be the last opportunity that they have of survival. If the results should prove to be positive, it will give a great impetus to those practitioners who believe that herbal treatment is an important modality in the yet-unresolved HIV/AIDS crisis. It will also be an important step towards finding treatments without the debilitating side-effects of current and still controversial HAART (Highly Active AntiRetroviral Therapy) treatments. The present use of AZT for pregnant mothers-to-be, sometimes on a non-voluntary basis, can have devastating effects on the future of the yet-to-be born child. A harmless herbal remedy may well be a welcome substitute.

7. Risks.

There are no known risks for participants in the study. All anecdotal and other evidence after 3 years of use of the herbal mix show that it has no adverse side-effects. More than 500 individuals have been using it on a regular basis. Toxicity studies of both ingredients have shown that there is no dose-limiting toxicity of either. Both herbal ingredients are water extracts prepared by a trained and experienced herbalist (Dr Wilma Van der Walt, graduate of the College of Herbal Medicine, London). The oleander extract is standardized to specific gravity of 1.08 and is prepared strictly in accordance with Dr Ozel’s instructions as contained in the Anvirzel oleander patent application. Research participants who receive the herbal supplement will only ingest a maximum amount of 15ml per day of the water extract. As toxicity studies of oleander have shown that there is no dose-limiting toxicity of the hot water extract, this relatively small amount is completely safe. A good example of the safety of the mix was provided recently by a medical doctor in Cape Town who provided 500ml of the mix to one of his AIDS patients. The patient took 250ml of the mix at one time, 16 times the daily dosage for the research project, and reported heart palpitations. This condition returned to normal without any medication within a period of 6 hours.

According to Dr Ozel, the harmful substances in oleander, including Oleandrin, the main cardiac glycoside, are inactivated after 3 hours of boiling at 100 degrees centigrade. (Ozel, 1992) This is probably due to the fact that the heat changes the structure of the glycoside AND that oleandrin is insoluble in water Most of the insoluble oleandrin crystals are filtered out of the aqueous solution during preparation. The oleander solution used in the Sutherlandia/Oleander mix is boiled for a minimum of 4 hours. All solids are then filtered out and the solution is then boiled for a further 2 hours after which any remaining solids are filtered out again. Tests have shown that the oleander filtrate contains 5 polysaccharides and 2 cardiac glycosides. The remaining glycosides seem to be inactive in respect of any deleterious cardiac effects.

In order to further minimize the risk, the study will be done in a clinical setting and adverse-event feedback will be required from nurses administering the herbal mix. The nurses will be informed about the typical symptoms of oleander poisoning, including nausea, vomiting and heart palpitations. Although it is not expected, should any of these symptoms occur with a patient at the low dosages administered during the research, the specific patient will immediately be taken off the project and will receive appropriate treatment at the clinic.

8. Confidentiality.

Apart from the doctors and nurses who are already aware of the HIV status of the participants, only the Principal Investigator will have access to the names and personal particulars of each participant. The final results and statistical analysis will not require any personal details of participants to be made public and access at all times will be limited to the Principal Investigator.

(The final results of the above study which is presently under way at a clinic in Johannesburg, will be published on this web page when they are available)