It may seem strange to completely switch gears and talk about something besides just HIV for a change, but it all fits together. HIV is increasingly bringing to the table risk factors for other diseases and conditions -- among them, heart disease.
The increasing prevalence of many of these risk factors may be due in part to the virus itself, but are also associated with the use of HIV medications, anabolics, and lipodystrophy syndrome (LDS). High cholesterol, high triglycerides, and high glucose (blood sugar) can be the result.
Compounding the problem are several factors, some of which can be controlled, and some of which cannot. Common risk factors for heart disease include family history, age, gender, diabetes, high blood pressure (hypertension), high cholesterol/triglycerides, lack of exercise, smoking, drinking alcohol, and being overweight. Obviously, family history, age, and gender cannot be controlled. However, the rest of the risk factors can be controlled -- to a large extent -- by you!
It is important to realize that controlling these risk factors can be crucial to your healthcare. Unfortunately, high cholesterol, high triglycerides, and high glucose can persuade your doctor to change a medication regimen that might be working for you. This can put you at risk for developing a resistance to those drugs or classes of drugs. If you can control these lab values with the right regimen of diet and exercise, it may mean that you are able to stay on your current HAART treatment longer!
- Avoid foods that are high in saturated fat. Saturated fat is found in animal products like meat and dairy. Fried foods, fast food, fatty meats, processed foods, and snack foods are often high in saturated fat.
- Increase your intake of essential fatty acids. These can be found in nuts and seeds (great sources include walnuts, pecans, almonds, and flaxseed). Fish is an excellent source of essential fatty acids. Salmon, mackerel, and tuna are great fish choices. Some green leafy vegetables (spinach, broccoli, purslane, and leeks) also contain these beneficial fats. When using fat in cooking, choose canola or olive oil.
- Increase the fiber in your diet. Legumes like black beans, kidney beans, and lentils are excellent. Try fresh fruits and vegetables with the peels. Also, complex carbohydrates like whole grains (oats, wheat, barley, and quinoa), oatmeal, non-sugary cereals, whole grain breads, and brown rice are good sources of fiber.
- Include foods that are rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. Colorful fruits and vegetables are great sources of these important elements. A daily multivitamin/mineral can also be helpful.
- Some supplements can also be helpful -- especially if you are not able to consume the foods that you need to keep you healthy. Fish oil capsules, flaxseed oil, L-carnitine, whey protein, or an extra B-complex vitamin might be options for you if diet and exercise are not enough.
- Exercise can be one of the most effective treatments in lowering cholesterol, triglycerides, blood sugar, and blood pressure! Aerobic exercise is the best defense. Walking, running, jogging, swimming, bicycling, and jumping rope are great activities. Treadmills, stationary bikes, and elliptical machines are also available in gyms.
- Exercise for 20-30 minutes a day, at least three times a week. If you can't do 20 minutes today, try five minutes, and work your way up, increasing your time slowly.
- Remember to get your heart rate up! You should be able to answer a question in one or two words, but you should not be able to carry on normal conversation.
- Always talk to your doctor about starting an exercise program. Exercise is fine for almost everyone, but you should find out what types of exercise are the best for you.