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

June 24, 2010

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Vitamin B12

  • What It Does: B vitamins (including B12) regulate the body's metabolic processes, which include producing energy, regulating the heart and maintaining healthy nerve cells.
  • What B12 Deficiency Can Cause: diarrhea, fatigue, lack of concentration, neurological damage (in extreme cases), peripheral neuropathy, some types of anemia
  • People at Higher Risk for B12 Deficiency: people over 50, vegetarians, people with gastrointestinal problems
  • Types of B12 Supplements: B12 is often found as part of a "B complex" vitamin that includes other B vitamins. It's available as a dietary supplement in pill form or as a lozenge. It's also available by prescription as a nasal spray or an injection.
  • How Much Is Needed: U.S. RDA is 2.4 mcg (micrograms) for people over the age of 13 (more if you're pregnant or lactating).
  • Foods in Which It's Most Commonly Found: meats (especially beef and other red meats), fish, clams, milk, cheese, eggs
  • For More Information: Visit our vitamin B index page.


  • What It Does: Zinc helps to produce testosterone and preserves sexual function, both of which can often be a concern for men living with HIV.
  • What Zinc Deficiency Can Cause: diarrhea, immune system damage
  • People at Higher Risk for Zinc Deficiency: heavy alcohol drinkers, people with gastrointestinal or digestive problems, pregnant/lactating women, vegetarians
  • Types of Zinc Supplements: Zinc supplements are generally taken in pill form, although a number of over-the-counter medications (especially cold remedies) contain zinc, as do some throat lozenges, nasal sprays and gels -- caveat: there have been some reports of people losing their sense of smell by taking zinc supplements through their nose. Also, note that the more zinc you take, the lower your body's levels of copper (which is necessary for proper immune function) tend to become. That is why zinc supplements often contain copper as well.
  • How Much Is Needed: U.S. RDA is 11 mg for men over the age of 18 and 8 mg for women over the age of 18 (more if you're pregnant or lactating).
  • Foods in Which It's Most Commonly Found: shellfish, meats, dairy products, some beans, nuts
  • For More Information: Visit our vitamin index page.

Multivitamins: The All-in-One Solution

A daily, complete multivitamin pill can serve as a good source for many of the nutrients listed above, as well as a number of others. There are also indications that multivitamins help delay the progression of HIV disease, as found in a long-term, randomized trial that was conducted in Tanzania, Africa.

However, figuring out which multivitamin to use can be a dizzying experience. There are a large number of different multivitamin pills sold by different companies, all of which contain different dosages of a wide range of nutrients. You may be best off speaking with your doctor or nutritionist to first learn more about what nutrient deficiencies you may have; then you can compare multivitamins to see which is likely to fill your needs best. Visit our "multivitamins and HIV" index page to learn more.

Additional reporting for this article was provided by Myles Helfand.

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This article was provided by TheBody.
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More on Supplements and HIV/AIDS

Reader Comments:

Comment by: Brett Maas (AZ) Fri., Aug. 14, 2015 at 3:00 pm UTC
Great article. My favorite supplement to take has to be amino acids. I think that they are the most effective and on top of that my overall health has improved since taking them. This is the one I take if anybody wants to check it out
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Comment by: Judy (Egypt) Thu., Mar. 1, 2012 at 8:24 pm UTC
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 UTC
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 UTC
how did you became positive please can you explain

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

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

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

Comment by: Anonymous (Detroit, Mi) Tue., Jan. 4, 2011 at 2:54 pm UTC
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 UTC
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 UTC
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 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 UTC
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 UTC
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 UTC
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 UTC
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 UTC
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 UTC
supplements do not help but make bacteria grow.
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Comment by: Mathew (Niger) Mon., Aug. 2, 2010 at 5:40 pm UTC
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 UTC
dietery supplements are not relevant the important thing is to keep a good diet ..stay away from sugar fructose corn syrup [hfcs] fresh fruits and vegetables an use oilve oil to cook natural no sodas or things like that
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Comment by: Myles Helfand ( Fri., Jul. 9, 2010 at 1:14 pm UTC
@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 UTC
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 UTC
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 UTC
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 UTC
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 !!!
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Replies to this comment:
Comment by: mocahbrown36 Tue., Jan. 13, 2015 at 6:29 pm UTC
Do you really believe the fda and the pharmaceutical industry give a crap about you? If they did they wouldn't create toxic life threatening medication. You're right it is all about the money and thats exactly why they wont
inform you about a breakthrough when it comes to suppliments. Please don't discourage those who are simply trying to better their health..its a ruff road for them. I have sicknesses to and blueberry has helped me alot

Comment by: Debbie (Florida) Mon., Jul. 5, 2010 at 1:51 am UTC
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.
and look for LeVive or you can get a power pack email candace at
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 UTC
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 UTC
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 UTC
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 UTC
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 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 UTC
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 UTC
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 UTC
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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