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An Introduction to Dietary Supplements for People Living With HIV/AIDS

June 24, 2010

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Introduction

Staying healthy when you're HIV positive is about so much more than taking antiretrovirals. Yes, HIV medications are the most important part of the equation for most people. However, they're not the whole story: For instance, ensuring that your body maintains optimal levels of key nutrients can be critical in maintaining your health.

Much of the time, people with HIV can maintain good nutrient levels simply through a balanced diet, regular exercise and a healthy overall approach to the way they take care of their body. But it's not always easy to do this -- and sometimes, no matter how hard you try, it's still not enough to ensure that you get all the nutrients you need. When this happens, taking supplements can help fill the gaps.

This article will answer a few common questions about vitamins and supplements for people with HIV/AIDS, and provide quick introductions to some of the more popular supplements that HIV-positive people take.

Please note that this article is not meant to be a comprehensive review of everything a person with HIV needs to know about supplements. It's just the beginning of the conversation, and we hope you'll add your own thoughts in the comments section to help that conversation along.


Why Bother With Supplements?

Vitamins and supplements.

Vitamins and supplements.

The word "nutrients" refers to a group of chemicals that aid in all of the body's natural functions, whether it's cognition, digestion or immunity. Nutrients include vitamins, minerals and amino acids.

You get most of your nutrients by eating food. But if you're living with HIV, food might not always be enough, since the virus can impair your immune system or force it to work in overdrive. This is when supplements can come in handy. Supplements are substances you can take to make up for not getting enough nutrients through your everyday life. Although supplements are usually taken in pill, capsule or tablet form, they can also potentially be in powder or liquid form, and sometimes are required to be injected.

Supplements can control or improve many aspects of your health, including:

  • bone health
  • brain function
  • dehydration
  • depression
  • diarrhea
  • fatigue
  • focus
  • lipids (such as cholesterol and triglycerides)
  • muscle mass
  • nausea
  • neuropathy
  • sleep disorders

Many supplements also have antioxidant qualities, which relieve a condition called "oxidative stress." Oxidative stress occurs in our bodies because every metabolic process produces chemicals that can damage healthy cells. Although oxidative stress happens naturally through illness, aging and other triggers, that stress can perpetuate the activity of HIV within the body. Antioxidants are the shields that protect the body from some of this oxidative stress.

That being said, bear in mind that supplements cannot replace HIV medications. There is no substitute for antiretrovirals when it comes to keeping HIV at bay. There are definitely side effects and other downsides to taking HIV medications, but overall, the long-term side effects of untreated HIV are far more dangerous. And no supplement has yet been found that, conclusively, reliably fights HIV itself -- although there are several supplements that people over the years have claimed can do so.

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See Also
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More on Supplements and HIV/AIDS

Reader Comments:

Comment by: Judy (Egypt) Thu., Mar. 1, 2012 at 8:24 pm EST
What about astragalus? I read a book by Dr. Andrew Weil and he recommended this for people with chronic immune conditions like HIV. This and maitake mushrooms,calcium,garlic and some others this article addresses.
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Comment by: MsCharlie (south africa) Thu., Jul. 28, 2011 at 8:06 am EDT
Over the weekend I found out I was positive, Im 27yrs old, my CD4 is 1004. Wat supplements can you suggest. I havent told anyone except my boyfriend, dont think Im going to tell anyone. Im all alone please advise.
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Replies to this comment:
Comment by: basilia (png) Sat., Sep. 7, 2013 at 1:43 am EDT
how did you became positive please can you explain


Comment by: Social Worker (India) Fri., Jun. 3, 2011 at 4:29 pm EDT

1) Good diet
2) Exercise
3) Enough sleep
4) Stay away from drugs
5) No to unprotected sex

Increase your CD4...
Reply to this comment
Replies to this comment:
Comment by: Mosley (Dietitian) (south africa) Tue., Aug. 16, 2011 at 8:00 am EDT
you are very right social worker


Comment by: Anonymous (Detroit, Mi) Tue., Jan. 4, 2011 at 2:54 pm EST
I drink green tea every day,take a multi vitamin with 200mg selenium and do yoga. This regimin took my cd4 from 400's to 600.
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Comment by: Jay (houston Tx) Sun., Jan. 2, 2011 at 5:58 pm EST
coconut oil is very good 2 tbls a day
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Comment by: Christos (athens) Tue., Dec. 28, 2010 at 10:51 am EST
hi from athens Greece.... for 2 years I had undetectable virus load but my immune system had stabilized around 230 cd4. Before one month my doctor told me that my immune system dropped at 180 cd4...
I had to do something so I started to take daily (zinc,drinking a lot of fresh orange juice, selenium,Omega3 ,A,D,Q10,L-carnitine,tetosterone) and I went back after 3 weeks to count my cd4....it went up at 350 from 180 ....I was at 230cd4 for more than 3 years with undetectable virus load....I m taking norvir/intelence/presista /truvada ...I dont which of all helped me to increase immunes cells but I will keep going with this combination...Good luck to all of us...but supplements are helping a lot...
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Comment by: EUCABETH (Kenya) Tue., Sep. 21, 2010 at 2:17 am EDT
As far as i know supplments should be recommended to hiv patient in situations that patient has recorded a high instance of a particular nutrient diffiency thats attributed by the related factors or generally inadequacy of the intake of that nitrient in terms of dietary intake,maybe to correct the diffiency.
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Comment by: Stephanie (East London) Fri., Sep. 3, 2010 at 9:19 am EDT
All types of supplements and pills of all sorts are invented to help maintain the patients health and also to help them with the prevention of lacking certain nutrients. I am a nutritionist and in my profession, if you have the money to buy supplements as such then the patient should buy it indeed. But in a poverty stricken situation, clearly we discourage the unnecessary spending on these pills which will then promote and provide sufficient disposable capital to the patient to spend on nutritious foods instead of pills. There is advantages and disadvantages to using supplements with any sickness, however ignorant people shouldn't slander against such supplements.
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Replies to this comment:
Comment by: Mosley (dietitian) (limpopo) Tue., Aug. 16, 2011 at 8:03 am EDT
it is not very necesary to take supplements if you can take adequate diet orally even if you have money you dont have to but them


Comment by: ralph (tn) Sun., Aug. 29, 2010 at 9:52 am EDT
Your Dr. Should Question you well on your Overall Well-Being and have Him/Her Suggest the Right Sups for You,Ig not "ASK" .But I Know these Sups won't work for Everyone,we're all different taking different meds on different Hiv Levels. I'm a 2 year old Vet of HIV and I'm still learning the ropes. Think/Consult your Dr. Before you Act on these Sups.You may save yourself some or Alot of unnessary Grief.Thank You
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Comment by: (Des Moines, WA) Mon., Aug. 23, 2010 at 11:56 pm EDT
you people shut up because if this information does not benefit you then leave it behind nobody is forcing you to do it! what doesnt people you may help somebody else.
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Comment by: marie (michigan) Thu., Aug. 12, 2010 at 3:47 pm EDT
supplements do not help but make bacteria grow.
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Comment by: Mathew (Niger) Mon., Aug. 2, 2010 at 5:40 pm EDT
We should always back our atricle with real proof and not by mere writing. People wit hiv should not be led to spend their money unecessary. God is watching. The sickness may be any of us. Thank u
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Comment by: s.l (jamaica) Tue., Jul. 13, 2010 at 4:30 pm EDT
dietery supplements are not relevant the important thing is to keep a good diet ..stay away from sugar fructose corn syrup [hfcs]..eat fresh fruits and vegetables an use oilve oil to cook ..eat natural no sodas or things like that
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Comment by: Myles Helfand (TheBody.com) Fri., Jul. 9, 2010 at 1:14 pm EDT
@George: Actually, there's a whole section on calcium and vitamin D on page 3 of this article. :) It's also worth noting that the most compelling info we have on bone density issues for HIV-positive women is among *postmenopausal* women, where studies have shown a higher risk of not just low BMD, but actual bone fractures.

All that said, though, I just want to take a moment to remind y'all of a point made a couple of times within the article itself: This is by no means meant to be a comprehensive list of supplements to take, or of specific vitamin deficiencies you need to watch out for, if you're living with HIV. We've got lots of other articles on our site that provide additional information; this one is meant to help get you started on some of the important issues. Your comments help add a lot to the discussion! (Well, those that aren't from trolls trying to sell their products. :) )
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Comment by: George (Palm springs) Thu., Jul. 8, 2010 at 1:44 pm EDT
This is really superficially done. There have been loads of findings about vitamin d3 deficiency in people with HIV. Why isn't that here? Plus loads of stuff about calcium because of bone density issues in people with HIV (particularly in women). This little guide is not for HIV positive people.
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Comment by: James (Atlanta) Tue., Jul. 6, 2010 at 4:16 pm EDT
Supplements are great! I became resistant to Atripla a couple of years back and after doing research discovered the benefits of selenium and alpha lipoic acid. I took these two supplments faithfully. I recently went back to my doc. I have no mutations and I currently take Atripla again.
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Replies to this comment:
Comment by: Joe (Florida) Tue., May. 10, 2011 at 11:07 pm EDT
James, what benefits have you gotten from these supplements as far as your CD4 count and anything else that you think would be beneficial for a guy?


Comment by: Drew (Sydney , AUS) Mon., Jul. 5, 2010 at 7:07 am EDT
This is all about MONEY... There is no Science to back up Vitamins/Supplements

I urge everyone to think twice in regards to using these pills.

Capitalism never cares about the HIV Communities health only profit margins $$$$$$

Be warned !!!
Reply to this comment


Comment by: Debbie (Florida) Mon., Jul. 5, 2010 at 1:51 am EDT
My Best friend is HIV positive and I have tried finding so many products to help him find some relief. I was told about a product from a lady named Candace halls that has changed his life, he feels a lot more energized and a lot stronger. So if you are willing to try something that might help you go to. Ardysslife.com/candacehalls
and look for LeVive or you can get a power pack email candace at candace_charity@hotmail.com
I hope this will help someone the way it's helped my best friend.
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Comment by: Leslie (Manitoba, Canada) Sun., Jul. 4, 2010 at 10:01 am EDT
With all these drugs that are used to deal with HIV, I think Milk Thistle would be an invaluable addition. I read from several sources that it aids the Liver and since this organ processes everything that goes through the body. it should be included.
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Comment by: L. C. (Chicago, IL) Fri., Jul. 2, 2010 at 10:56 am EDT
I attended a complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) and HIV presentation a few years ago. The presenter (an MD)mentioned that astragalus (a Chinese herb) has been shown to stimulate the immune system, protect it from chemotherapy/RT, increase CD4 count. It has also been used to treat hep C. He said the recommended dose is 1,000-1,500 mg daily.
Has anyone out there heard more on the subject?
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Comment by: Rick (North Carolina) Fri., Jul. 2, 2010 at 6:00 am EDT
D.J. Thanks for the very useful supplement information.
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Comment by: Gary (Wichita) Thu., Jul. 1, 2010 at 11:47 pm EDT
EGCG, the main component of green tea, has been shown to be very effective in increasing the immune response, thereby lowering the viral load and increasing CD+4. EGCG also seems to lessen many of the side effect of taking antiretrovirals. Drink lots of green tea or take lots of powerful green tea extracts. Cell Pro 7 is a good one. Go to www.pubmed.gov and search for HIV EGCG and see all of the research.
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Comment by: Mark (London) Thu., Jul. 1, 2010 at 4:51 pm EDT
I wouldn't touch most of those supplements with a 10ft bargepole, even if you paid me, unless I had a diagnosed medical need to be taking them and had discussed that need with a dietician.

Like Karen, I take a daily cheap pharmaceutical grade multivitamin and mineral tablet; but beyond that, this long-term survivor gets by just fine on a sensible and uncomplicated varied diet.

If you are going to supplement, don't go for unsupervised megadosing or any of the ludicrously expensive patent formulations that are so unscrupulously marketed to part the HIV-positive with their money - all you will get if expensive urine and the possibility of a needless toxic overdose or an unexpected adverse interaction.

Keep it simple, keep it sensible, get professional advice and be honest with your doctor about what, and how much, you are taking.
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Comment by: Karen Geronymo RDLD/N (Miami Beach, Florida) Tue., Jun. 29, 2010 at 3:19 pm EDT
Though I don't generally recommend a large variety of vitamin and mineral supplements for the average stable person living with HIV as many supplements are frequently not well studied for benefits/disavdvantages/interactions with medications, their content and production location is often unregulated by the FDA, and they can be costly for those on a limited budget. I do, however recommend a Pharmaceutical grade or USP (United States Pharmacopia) designated multivitamin and antioxident supplement IN ADDITION TO a healthy and varied diet. Whenever possible, a person with HIV should meet with a Registered Dietitian at least one time to help assess their needs and provided education as necessary.
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Comment by: D.J. (Wilton Manors, FL) Sat., May. 22, 2010 at 1:46 pm EDT
I think we missed some important supplements in this article. Niacin (Extended Release)- to reduce Cholesterol and Triglycerides, Potassium - purely for the vasodilation properties and taken 2 - 1 to Calcium as Calcium is a vasoconstrictor, CLA - to help move and balance fat deposits (buffalo hump and visceral fat), Fish Oil - to help with Cholesterol and Triglycerides as well, Selenium and Vitamin A as Beta Carotene - in combination stave off Thrush and actually reversed the Leukoplakia I had developed. Since taking Selenium and Beta Carotene I have not has a single sore throat or incident of Thrush...things that plagued for for over 2 years.

I think Evening Primrose Oil is also a recommendation as it has helped me with Insulin Resistance. I have stopped taking EPR 3 times and all three times my doctor has mentioned that my blood sugar has risen. She now recommends all of her patients take Evening Primrose Oil.
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