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Micronutrient Supplements May Be Beneficial For People With HIV (AIDS 2010)

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Published: Aug 19, 2010 2:08 pm
Micronutrient Supplements May Be Beneficial For People With HIV (AIDS 2010)

Research presented at the 2010 International AIDS Conference suggests certain vitamins and minerals, known as micronutrients, may help delay HIV disease progression and improve immune health of people living with HIV.

“The positive effect of micronutrient supplements in HIV patients goes beyond their positive effect on the immune system,” said Dr. Marianna Baum, Professor of Dietetics and Nutrition at Florida International University Stempel School of Public Health, in email correspondence with The AIDS Beacon.

“They improve mood, depression, quality of life, energy levels, capacity to exercise, and [illnesses] among other factors of daily living,” she added. Dr. Baum was the lead researcher on the studies.

The supplements in the studies contain micronutrients, which are vitamins and minerals that the body needs in very small amounts to produce enzymes, hormones, and other substances necessary for growth and development.

Although two of the studies are small and need to be confirmed by larger studies, results suggest that specific micronutrients may help improve immune system health of people living with HIV/AIDS.

Micronutrient Supplements May Slow HIV Disease Progression

The first study investigated whether micronutrient supplementation could improve immune function and delay the onset of AIDS in HIV-positive adults in Botswana. Results showed that supplementation with micronutrients was safe and significantly delayed the progression of HIV to AIDS.

The study enrolled 875 HIV-positive adults and was carried out over 24 months. Participants started with CD4 (white blood cell) counts greater than 350 cells per microliter. None were on antiretroviral therapy.

Participants were randomly assigned to receive either a placebo or a nutritional supplement containing vitamin B-complex, vitamins C and E, and selenium. Researchers then monitored the participants’ HIV disease progression by tracking their CD4 cell counts.

Participants whose CD4 counts dropped below 250 cells per microliter were diagnosed as having progressed to AIDS and were started on antiretroviral therapy.

Results showed that over the two-year study period, taking micronutrient supplements reduced the probability of a participant’s CD4 count falling below the 250 threshold by 38 percent.

The researchers concluded that supplements may increase the amount of time before people with HIV show symptoms or need to start antiretroviral therapy.

Additional studies are currently in progress on the effect of micronutrient supplementation on illness and mortality rates in people with HIV.

Zinc May Help Prevent Immune System Failure In HIV-Positive Adults

Results from this small study suggest that zinc supplementation is safe and may help prevent immune failure in HIV-positive adults on antiretroviral therapy.

Zinc is an important micronutrient that the body requires to develop CD4 cells and activate the immune system. Zinc is naturally found in beans, nuts, whole grains, and certain types of seafood, but can also be taken as a supplement in pill form.

Immune system failure occurs in people with HIV when their CD4 cell count is too low to protect the body from infection. When this happens, patients are at a greater risk of disease progression and death.

For the study, researchers monitored 40 HIV-positive adults who were on antiretroviral therapy and had achieved viral suppression (viral load, or amount of virus in the blood, of 50 copies per milliliter or less).

Participants were randomly assigned to receive either a zinc supplement or a placebo. CD4 cell counts and viral loads were monitored over 18 months. Immune system failure was defined as having a CD4 count of 200 cells per microliter or less.

By the end of the study, four participants in the placebo group (21 percent) experienced immune system failure. None of the participants taking zinc supplements experienced immune system failure.

The researchers concluded that zinc supplements may help maintain immune system health when taken with antiretroviral drugs. However, long-term studies with more participants are still needed to conclusively assess the benefits of zinc supplementation in people with HIV.

Antioxidants May Improve Immune Health And Reduce Mitochondrial Damage

This small study found that taking antioxidants may help improve immune system health and reduce mitochondrial damage.

Mitochondria are the power centers of cells. They provide the energy that cells need to move, divide, and perform other functions. HIV infection and long-term antiretroviral therapy have been associated with mitochondrial damage.

Antioxidants can help prevent damage to cells and mitochondria by scavenging free radicals – highly reactive chemicals that can damage DNA, proteins, and other biological molecules. Antioxidants are found in many fruits, vegetables, nuts, and some meats.

The purpose of this study was to see if antioxidants could help improve immune function and prevent mitochondrial damage in people with HIV who are taking antiretroviral drugs.

The study involved 25 HIV-positive adults on antiretroviral therapy. Participants were randomly assigned to receive either an antioxidant supplement or a placebo for 8 weeks. The supplement contained vitamin B-complex, vitamins C and E, zinc, selenium, N-acetyl cysteine, and α-lipoic acid.

Both groups were evaluated at the beginning and end of the study to gauge changes in CD4 count, viral load, mitochondrial damage, insulin levels, and body size and proportions.

Results showed that participants taking antioxidants had reduced mitochondrial damage compared to participants taking a placebo.

They also had small increases in the proportion of CD4 immune cells and small decreases in insulin resistance, although these were too small to be significant in this small study. There were no safety issues observed with the supplements.

The researchers concluded that antioxidants may help with immune system recovery and reduce mitochondrial damage in HIV-positive adults. However, long-term studies with more participants are still needed to confirm the benefits of antioxidant supplements in people with HIV.

For more information, please see the AIDS 2010 conference website.

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