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Dietary Supplements May Increase Longevity Of HIV Patients

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Published: Nov 8, 2009 1:17 pm
Dietary Supplements May Increase Longevity Of HIV Patients

HIV positive individuals may find long term benefits from using dietary supplements in combination with antiretroviral medication.

A midterm report of a study conducted by the Tamil Nadu State AIDS Control Society showed that body mass index and hemoglobin count improved in HIV positive individuals that used nutritional supplements with antiretroviral therapy.

Body mass index is a calculation of percentage of body fat, and hemoglobin levels are proteins in red blood cells that carry oxygen.

Low body mass index and low hemoglobin levels are often problematic in those with HIV. Low hemoglobin levels can increase the risk of developing anemia, a condition in which red blood cells and hemoglobin in the blood are below normal. Anemia can often be caused by shortage of iron, vitamin B12, or folic acid.

According to a study published in the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes, over 50 percent of people with HIV use alternative therapies, such as herbal medicines and dietary supplements.

Research has shown that B vitamins, selenium, and spirulina are three supplements that can be beneficial for HIV patients.

Vitamin B

Vitamin B12 deficiency has been associated with decreasing CD4+ cells, which are white blood cells that help fight infection in the body. Some studies have shown that without supplements, up to 95 percent of those with HIV may have B12 deficiencies. Vitamin B6 has also been shown to improve CD4+ cell counts.

According to the Mayo Clinic, vitamin B12 can be obtained from eating one chicken breast, one hard boiled egg, and one cup of plain non-fat yogurt daily.


Selenium also helps strengthen the immune systems by creating antioxidants that protect the body from invaders that may damage cells. Eating foods and supplements with antioxidants are beneficial for HIV positive individuals. Beans, blueberries, blackberries, and cranberries have high levels of antioxidants.

In a study published in Archives of Internal Medicine, the supplement selenium was found to reduce the amount of HIV in the blood and increase CD4+ cell levels.

Participants who took 200 micrograms of selenium daily for nine months had a 12 percent decrease in viral loads. Participants in the control group, who were not given selenium, experienced increased viral loads and decreased CD4 levels in the same nine month period of time.

Brazil nuts, tuna, and beef are common foods that contain selenium. Brazil nuts are the highest with up to 544 micrograms per ounce. However, because of the high presence of this supplement, it is recommended that people watch their intake of these nuts.


Spirulina has also been proven beneficial by multiple research studies. Spirulina is blue – green alga that contains vitamin A, vitamin B1, B6, B12, vitamin C, proteins, and minerals.

A study published in the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome found that the use of spirulina inhibited HIV replication in the blood. Taking extract concentrations between 0.3 and 1.2 micrograms per milliliter reduced viral production by about 50 percent.

Spirulina can be found at most health food stores in a powder form, which can easily be added to smoothies or drinks.

What To Avoid

While supplements may seem harmless, potentially seriously drug interactions may occur.

The common herb St. John’s Wort can negatively interact with many medications given to HIV patients. St. John’s Wort is processed by the enzyme p450, which many other supplements and antiretroviral medications also use. Different interactions may occur that raise or lower levels of antiretroviral medicine in the blood.

Specifically the use of St. John’s Wort with Crixivan (indinavir sulfate) reduced the effectiveness of this medication. Other protease inhibitors are thought to respond similarly to this drug combination.

Other supplements that are processed by p450 should potentially be avoided. These include garlic, milk thistle, melatonin, and ginseng. Other studies have shown that vitamin A may also have an effect on the p450 enzyme.

According to the National Institute of Health, garlic supplements may adversely react with ritonavir (Norvir) and increase levels of this drug in the body. However, additional studies on ritonavir and garlic did not suggest a serious interaction.

Patients experiencing side effects such as diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting with any supplement may want to discontinue use for a period of time to see if symptoms subside.

As with any medication or supplement, taking excessive amounts may be harmful. It is important that patients discuss the addition or discontinuation of any dietary supplements with their physician.

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  • Cindy Fonner said:

    It is a very good idea to check with a medical professional before taking nutritional supplements. Even healthy people have serious interactions if they’re not careful.

  • Jennifer said:

    Anyone needing a healthier immune response should look at the research behind Beta glucan. A proven immunomodulator, recent studies published in the Journal of the American Nutraceutical Association show Beta glucan to increase chemotaxis, phagocytosis, and hematopoiesis. The studies can be found in the Pub Med library, or by visiting http://www.transferpoint.com/t-glucan300research.aspx

  • Amal Hazra said:

    Can you please tell me what are the nutritional supplements to be given to increase the life of hiv positive people. Can any supplement that increase immune system given to hiv positive people to increase his length of life? Please reply me at my e-mail id nindia5331 [at] rediffmail {dot} com.

  • Thomas said:

    Can taking suppliments suppress/stop hiv progression ie:Spirulina and Selenium instead of antiretretroviral.

    If yes,at what stage is one suppossed to satrt taking the suppliments

  • Beacon Staff said:


    No, there are no supplements — including spirulina and selenium — that can suppress HIV and stop disease progression; only antiretrovirals can do that. The best supplements can do is help strengthen and support your immune system. If you are supposed to be taking antiretrovirals, you should continue to take them, and you can talk to your doctor about the possibility of adding some supplements to your regimen if you wish.

    Please let us know if we can provide any additional information.

  • Tina Latham said:

    To: Beacon Staff

    I am writing on behalf of a patient who’s HIV has developed to AIDS. She is in a developing country as such the access to antiretrovirals is close to non-existent. As such right now we are confined to trying our best to prolong her life through nutrition and what ever hospital care we can get for her. At present here condition is such that she is fortunately not bed ridden and is able to walk okay. However her immune sytem frequently fails resulting in her getting ill (to different extents including extreme infection disallowing her to eat solids) which so far we have been able to combat with mediction. Our question to you is whether there is any dietary suppliment or emphasis in particular vitamins which we can either adopt or buy for the west which can maybe boost her immunity and health so as to hopefully prolong her life ?

    Your reponse to our email will be hugely appreciated (lathamcap@gmail.com). Thank you in advance.

    Tina Latham

  • Beacon Staff said:


    There are a lot of studies to try to find supplements that may help prolong life or delay antiretrovirals for people with HIV in the developing world, for the reason you gave (i.e., limited access to antiretrovirals). In addition to the supplements listed above — vitamin B, selenium, and spirulina — there is a little bit of evidence that zinc might help, as well as vitamins C and E. These might be especially helpful if your patient is suffering from nutritional deficiencies.

    However, you might want to consult a physician or dietician who specializes in people with HIV, since we are not doctors or experts in the topic. DHIVA, for example, is a group of dieticians based in the U.K. who specialize in HIV and AIDS:


    They may be able to provide you with some additional information. Please let us know if we can provide any other assistance.

  • Danyel Williams said:

    Please research Maitake mushroom and HIV. This mushroom has kiiled HIV in-vitro. I don’t want to give any false hope, but I have used this for 8 years and have maintained excellent health. I purchase maitake mushroom supplements at Whole Foods or on-line.

  • Lost & Confused said:

    I would like to know if it’s possible to take Alfafa instead of Spirulina? Are these products work the same? Furthermore, I read somewhere that the level of Glutathione found in the body would play an important role while fighting against HIV virus as it’s direct cause and effect. What’s the different between Sheep/Ovine Placenta and Glutathione as both of them are contained with Amino Acid. Hope to hear from you soon. Thanks a lot

  • Lost & Confused said:

    Waiting for your response still !

  • Beacon Staff said:


    In answer to your questions,

    1) To our knowledge, alfalfa has not been shown to have the same effects as spirulina. Spirulina is actually an algae, not a plant like alfalfa, so the two may have fairly different effects.

    2) Sheep placenta is advertised as an anti-aging supplement, both for its antioxidant properties (similar to glutathione, which is also an antioxidant) and for other ingredients like vitamins, iron, and other amino acids. However, it is not clear whether these claims have been verified in scientific studies.

    If you are interested in nutritional supplements and their specific role in HIV, you might want to contact a nutritionist. Some nutritionists specialize in HIV, or they may be able to provide more information on the best supplements for keeping a healthy immune system. Also, if you are taking antiretrovirals, be sure to speak with your physician before starting any supplements, as some of them can interfere with the medications.

    Please let us know if we can provide any additional information.

  • Lost & Confused said:

    Thanks for your reply and could you please tell me what are the difference between Chlorella and Spirulina as both of them are algae so which one works best?

  • Beacon Staff said:


    Chlorella and spirulina are both thought to boost the immune system. However, the studies specific to HIV have so far been conducted on spirulina; it is not clear whether chlorella would have the same benefits. Again, however, you should always consult your physician before starting any new vitamins or supplements; he or she may also have more information on which might be best for you.

  • bmsts said:

    I’m actually surprised to find an article on HIV and suppliments. It’s important for us “lay folk” to remember the confines with which doctors or any “experts” have to operate in giving (or believing) information. I was literally on my deathbed and nutrition/foods brought me back to life. The drugs are HIGHLY toxic (at BEST) and even if they “work” on your CD4′s and decrease viral load (which they did for me), you’ve still got major over-riding health vulnerabilities/issues due to the toxicity of the pharmecueticals. And the real truth is, there is a PAINFUL (and in my view immoral) LACK of research on nutrition – due to the fact they bring no revenue to pharmecuetical companies (you can’t patent Vitamins and the like). I know for a FACT nutrition was what saved my life, elleviated ALL my symptoms within 3.5 yrs(I was in bed with full body shut down /nerve pain for a year and a half, almost died 3 times.) . I’m now back to full health. There ARE solutions and the drugs may make you worse (as they did for me and many others). So it’s really worth doing your own research and do your own trial-and-error and making your OWN decisions for your health. Doctors know just about squat about nutrition so don’t count on them to be your guide for nutrition answers. Mine told me I was “foolish” for going off my meds and using healthy/wholistic home/food remedies. I’m walking today with a full quality of life back. So call me foolish.

  • bmsts said:

    BTW – I’ve used all the suggestions above – but the spirulina – to great success. But there are many other immune boosting food solutions and overall healthy eating (a learning process) that will also help you. It’s very challenging to change our eating habits – as everyone knows. But if you’re serious – and willing to learn how to eat for health and a greater chance at survival – it’s worth the work! Good luck!

  • bmsts said:

    One more thing. I was forced due to health to get off my meds (all 15 of them!) and getting off them was no picnic either. Ideally you WOULD do it under a Drs. supervision – but most doctors will NOT be supportive of you doing it anyway. So really do your homework as to how to go off/taper off any drug. And realize if you ever DO go off HIV drugs – you can develop resistance that would make your regimen ineffective and dangerous to restart. So don’t just go back ON HIV drugs without getting a resistance test – should that be your path. In other words – utilize your doctor as much as possible – then do your homework and use your brain and intuition.