WASHINGTON — Patients with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, often develop vitamin deficiencies. A new study has found that giving these patients a multivitamin with a mineral supplement helps improve their immunity and slows the disease's progression.
Sub-Saharan Africa has always been the center of the AIDS epidemic. In Botswana, despite aggressive prevention campaigns, one out of every four adults is infected with HIV. Professor Marianna Baum based her latest research there.
Baum recruited almost 900 newly infected adults who had not yet received the anti-AIDS drugs that target the virus.
These adults were then divided into groups that randomly received different combinations of vitamins B, C and E, the mineral selenium or a placebo.
Most patients with HIV become deficient in these vitamins, which help boost immunity. Baum said she initially thought the multivitamins alone or selenium alone would be effective in strengthening the immune system, but found that to be incorrect.
“We were surprised to find that only the combination was effective,” said Baum.
Research shows that when people with HIV receive anti-retroviral drugs shortly after infection, they can remain healthy and are less likely to pass the virus to their sex partners. For many countries, however, the cost of these anti-AIDS drugs is still prohibitive.
Baum said the vitamin and mineral combination therapy should help low income countries better control the virus.
“A simple multivitamin supplementation with selenium provided early in HIV disease can actually slow the HIV disease progression and it is safe. It is low cost and it should be provided very early in HIV infection,” said Baum.
Baum said the supplements are not meant to replace anti-retroviral therapy, but can help those who cannot obtain the drugs.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, a world renowned expert on AIDS, disagrees.
"I haven’t read the paper, but having taken care of HIV-infected individuals for three decades, I would doubt that vitamins are going to have a major effect on suppressing the virus," said Fauci.
Fauci said vitamin and mineral supplements may make a patient generally healthier, but the only thing that truly works to suppress HIV is anti-retroviral therapy.
Baum's study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.