HIV Vitamin

HIV-positive people may be deficient in vitamins A, C, E, B6, B12, folic acid, selenium, zinc and beta carotene. Nutrient deficiencies are often the result of inadequate dietary intake and intestinal malabsorption but it is not well known how individual nutrients are affected by the disease. As any nutrient deficiency leads to lower immune function, it is very likely that deficiencies affect progression to AIDS in HIV-positive people.

HIV VitaminRDA levels are almost certainly inadequate for people with HTV. Optimal dietary intake of all vitamins and minerals is essential and most experts recommend supplements which supply at least 100 per cent of the RDA for all nutrients. It is particularly important to consume adequate amounts of nutrients which strengthen immune function, including antioxidants and B vitamins.                                                            


Blood levels of antioxidants are often low in AIDS patients. This leads to increased oxidative and inflammatory damage which can adversely affect the immune system. Increased oxidative damage also affects the nervous system and leads to mental problems. Recent studies have found that HIV patients with the lowest levels of antioxidants may progress to AIDS more quickly than those with high levels. Multiplication of HIV may also be affected by the concentration of antioxidants, and low levels of antioxidants may shorten the time taken for those who are HIV-positive to develop AIDS.

HIV: Vitamin A

Vitamin A deficiency is often seen in HIV-positive people. It may be due to metabolic changes associated with HIV infection. A1995 study done on HIV- infected drug users in the US found that there was a higher risk of death in those with vitamin A deficiency. Research has shown that development of a deficiency of vitamin A is associated with lower CD4+ lymphocyte counts, and there is some evidence that returning vitamin A levels to normal can increase CD4+ lymphocyte counts.

Vitamin A deficiency is often seen in HIV-positive pregnant women. This is particularly common in developing countries, although it has been seen in the USA. Severe deficiency increases infant mortality and the risk of mother-to- child transmission of HIV. This may be due to impaired immune responses in both mother and baby; an increase in the amount of HIV breast milk and blood; and abnormalities in placental and vaginal tissues. A 1997 study done on HIV- positive pregnant women in New York State did not find a link between vitamin A levels and transmission of the virus.

HIV: Beta carotene

Beta carotene levels have been shown to be deficient in HIV-positive patients. Research has shown that large doses of beta carotene may boost immune function. In a Yale University study done in 1995, researchers found that daily supplements of 60 mg beta carotene given to seven AIDS patients for a period of four weeks increased CD4+ lymphocyte cell counts. A 1996 double- blind study which looked at the effect of oral beta carotene supplements over a three-month period did not find the same effects. However, both groups in the study were given multivitamin supplements which may have masked any beneficial effect. It is possible that natural carotene supplements or increasing intake ofcarotenc-rich foods may be more beneficial than using synthetic beta carotene supplements.

HIV: Vitamin C

Vitamin C supplements are likely to be useful in HIV-positive individuals as they have been shown to boost the immune system and prevent damage to nerves. However, caution should be used with very high doses as they can cause diarrhea. Vitamin C has been shown to inhibit HIV in the laboratory and may also kill HIV-infected cells.

HIV Vitamin E

Research has shown that many HIV-positive people have a deficiency in blood levels of vitamin E early in the course of their disease. In a 1997 study involving 121 people, researchers showed that these levels decreased significantly over a 12-month period.

High levels of vitamin E seem to be linked to slower disease progression. In a study published in 1997, researchers at Johns Hopkins University working on the Multicenter AIDS Cohort Study found that those patients with the highest vitamin E intakes had a 35 per cent decrease in risk of progression to AIDS when compared to those in the lowest intake group. The study involved 311 patients followed for a period of nine years.

B vitamins

Recent research from the US Multicenter AIDS Cohort Study suggests that high intakes of B group vitamin supplements may be associated with improved survival in HIV patients. The average increased survival time was up to 1.3 years. In particular, vitamin B6 intake of more than twice the recommended dietary allowance was associated with longer survival. Vitamin Bl and B2 intakes of more than five times the RDA were also associated with improved survival.

HIV Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is vital for healthy nerve and immune system function. Low blood vitamin B12 levels are common in HIV infection and may help predict those patients in whom the disease will progress most rapidly. Results from the Multicenter AIDS Cohort Study showed that HIV-positive individuals with low serum B12 levels had around four years AIDS-free time whereas those with higher levels were free of the disease for around eight years.

AIDS patients often show signs of nerve damage, including numbness and tingling in the hands and toes. These symptoms may be due to vitamin B12 deficiency and may lessen after treatment with supplements. Fven marginal vitamin M12 deficiency is likely to contribute to impairments in mental function. Normalization of vitamin B12 levels seems to imnrove this.

HIV Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6 deficiency is common in HIV-infected people. In a 1991 study, University of Miami researchers examined the relationship between deficiency and immune dysfunction. The results showed that while CD4+ and CD8+ cell numbers were not be affected, other measures of immune system function were.


As part of the antioxidant enzyme, glutathione peroxidase, selenium is necessary to help prevent oxidative damage. Levels of this enzyme have been shown to be low in some HIV-positive patients which may increase immune suppression and nerve damage. In a 1997 study done in Germany, blood serum selenium levels were determined in 104 HIV-positive patients at various disease stages. Results showed that both selenium levels and glutathione peroxidase activity in hospitalized AIDS patients were significantly lower compared to healthy subjects and patients with no symptoms. Low selenium levels appear to be associated with low CD4+ lymphocyte counts and with higher death rates in AIDS patients. The results of a 1997 study suggest that deaths from AIDS are higher in areas where soil selenium is low.


Anemia is often seen in HIV-positive people, but why this happens is not well understood. Iron deficiency may be associated with reduced immune response in HIV-positive people. However, as HIV disease progresses, body iron stores increase. This enhances oxidative damage, impairs the function of the immune system, and directly promotes the growth of micro-organisms. Some experts believe that reducing the amount of iron in the diet may help minimize the adverse effects of excess iron.


Zinc is probably the most important mineral for immune function. It strengthens the immune system, is vital for cell-mediated immunity, and acts as an antiviral agent. It is also necessary for transport of other nutrients such as vitamin A. The antioxidant enzyme, copper-zinc superoxide dismutase, has been shown in laboratory experiments to inhibit the replication of HIV.

AIDS patients may suffer from zinc deficiency, which may adversely affect immune function. In a 1995 Italian study, zinc sulfate supplements (200 mg per day for 30 days) were given to patients receiving the medication, azathioprine (AZT). Results showed stabilization in body weight and increases in CD4+ lymphocytes and the immune stimulating hormone levels.

Low zinc levels have been shown to increase the risk of opportunistic infection in AIDS patients. In a recent study, researchers at the San Francisco General Hospital measured zinc levels in 228 patients with AIDS. They found that those with zinc deficiency had a significantly higher incidence of bacterial infections than did patients with normal zinc levels. The frequency of some opportunistic infections was also reduced after zinc supplementation.

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