Caring for the Inside: HIV and Nutrition
May 28, 2014
Aging brings wear and tear on your heart, liver, and kidneys. HIV adds to it. But medications, diet, and lifestyle can all help fight those trends.
"I'm a mother of five, grandmother of 10, woman, best friend," says spunky Nancy Santiago, 55, of Philadelphia, who works part-time at a needle exchange that helps keep drug users free of HIV and hepatitis C. "HIV doesn't define me!"
Luckily, Santiago's never had many problems with her HIV since she was diagnosed in 2002, after having sex with a boyfriend who didn't tell her he was HIV-positive. What she does she really struggle with?
Her diabetes. "I have to do my insulin five times a day, and I have to be careful with what I eat and how much I eat, because almost everything contains some amount of sugar. I don't buy snacks when I shop, because once those snacks get in the house, I'm in trouble!" she says with a giggle, "Instead, I fantasize that I'm eating it. And I have an orange at night instead."
In some ways, Santiago's scenario is typical, because research shows that even when HIV is well managed, folks with HIV over 50 still have a higher incidence of organ-related complications, such as heart disease, liver disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure (which can damage the kidneys), than their HIV-negative peers. Organ decline appears to happen faster in folks with HIV than other middle-agers and seniors. Often, it's because of a mix of the years-long toll of HIV meds, HIV causing amped-up inflammation in the body, the presence of co-infections like hepatitis B or C, and a history of smoking, alcohol, and/or drug use.
Thankfully, as with all complications of HIV and aging, there are concrete action steps you and your doctor can take to buck this trend. Let's have a look:
Get screened regularly. If you're seeing your HIV doctor every three months or so, make sure they're doing basic screening of your organ functions. This includes testing your cholesterol levels (lipids) as a measure of heart health, blood-sugar levels, liver function tests (ALT, AST, alkaline phosphatase, PT, INR, albumin, and bilirubin) and kidney (renal) function tests (BUN, creatinine, and creatinine clearance). Ask your doctor to go over these results, and what they mean, with you.
Review all your meds. Certain meds are more likely to cause problems with your heart, liver, or kidneys than others. Read up in the POSITIVELY AWARE HIV Drug Guide, or other online resources, and talk to your doctor about the pros and cons of different meds.
Talk to your doctor about organ-protective meds. Drugs called statins (such as Lipitor) can not only bring down your cholesterol level and boost your heart health, they also have a beneficial anti-inflammatory effect. High-blood pressure medication, a daily baby aspirin, turmeric, fish oils -- they can all play a role in keeping your organs healthy. Talk to your doc about them, as well as over-the-counter supplements before starting them.
This article was provided by Positively Aware. Visit Positively Aware's website to find out more about the publication.
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