Everyone needs proper nutrition to be healthy including macronutrients (fats, proteins and carbohydrates) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). HIV+ people, however, need to pay special attention to nutrition so as to support the immune system an help detoxify the body. Generally speaking, one should be able to get ample amounts of nutrition from a diet rich in whole foods, but given the high staks associate with not getting enough of a given nutrient, adding supplements is often a good insurance policy.
Below is a list of supplements that may be helpful in supporting your body’s efforts to stay healthy with HIV and to help counter some of the adverse effects of HIV medications. This is a partial list only, and I encourage you to explore the wide range of supplements that are available. I have also included a dosage chart that can serve as a starting point for taking many of these supplements. Ultimately I hope you will discuss your nutritional needs with a dietitian so that you can make informed choices about which supplements and in what dosages are appropriate for your unique needs. It is also very important to inform your physician or healthcare provider of any supplements you are taking as some supplements are not advisable with some medications.
Remember: This is ONLY a guideline to help you get started. READ ALL LABELS and store your supplements properly.
Guidelines for taking supplements
• When possible, try to take the daily supplements in three doses.
• Take with food for best absorption.
• If you miss a day, DON’T double up. Just resume where you left off.
• DO NOT replace healthy food with supplements. They are there to complement food, not replace it.
• If you have any adverse reaction to a supplement, stop taking it and contact a professional.
The following dosages are a general guide only. Your gender, heath status and other variables will alter your daily needs, so be sure to consult a professional.
|Vitamins||Amount Per Day|
|B Complex||300 mg|
|Minerals||Amount Per Day|
|Iron||consult your doctor|
|Herbs & Other||Amount Per Day|
|Co-enzyme Q-10||50 mg|
|Acidophilus||2 capsules (or as directed on label)|
|Green food||As directed on label|
|Psyllium husk||1 tablespoon mixed in water or juice|
|Astragalus root||2 capsules (or as directed on label)|
|Garlic||1-2 cloves at bedtime or odorless garlic (as directed on label)|
|Reishi mushroom||(as directed on label)|
|Protein supplement||1-2 servings per day (read label)|
Vitamin C: This micronutrient is one of the most touted supplements around. It appears to be good for just about everything, and keeping a strong and healthy immune system is no exception. Among other things vitamin C is believed to work with the body’s immune system to combat viruses—thus its association with preventing the flu. There is some thought that it may help the body in its fight against HIV as well. In fact, in his book Healing HIV, Dr. Kaiser cites a study in which continued exposure to vitamin C resulted in a noticeable inhibition of the HIV virus. This vitamin can also be helpful with anemia, which is a common side effect of several HIV drugs. In any event, vitamin C is excellent for maintaining good health and keeping the immune system strong.
Vitamin E: Running a close race with vitamin C, vitamin E is an excellent antioxidant. Numerous studies have demonstrated that vitamin E improves immune response dramatically. It is also believed by some researchers that vitamin E complements some HIV drugs in blocking or slowing the virus’ ability to replicate. This micronutrient is something all people should be sure to get enough of, but people living with HIV will find it especially helpful. (See also selenium.)
Vitamin B: All of the B vitamins are excellent for the immune system, among other things. B6 in particular is known for its effect on CD4 cells as well as the production of antibodies. In Healing HIV, Dr. Kaiser notes that a B6 deficiency was found to be “widely prevalent” among HIV+ individuals. B6 is not the only B vitamin that can be useful in maintaining health, however. B3 (niacin), for example, is being used by some doctors to combat the high cholesterol seen in some people who take HIV drugs. A good B complex supplement can help in preventing a depletion in these important vitamins.
Vitamin A: While this vitamin is not usually associated with immune function, but it is instrumental in keeping the tissues of the body healthy. It is excellent for the eyes and for skin, bones, hair and nails. According to Earl Mindell in his book The Vitamin Bible, beta-carotene is a more effective form of vitamin A with less potential for toxicity.
Iron: A deficiency in iron is known as anemia. This condition is found most often in women. However, some of the HIV medications can cause anemia in both men and women. The primary symptom is a lack of energy, and an iron supplement may help. Because too much iron is not good, be sure to consult your healthcare provider before taking this supplement. They can run a simple blood test to see if you are anemic and advice you about dosages.
Selenium: This is an excellent antioxidant mineral that works in conjunction with vitamin E. It is essential for proper immune functioning and has been associated with better health among HIV+ individuals, though I have not found any studies to validate that claim. Although it is important to make sure enough is present in the diet, too much can be toxic, so be sure to read labels.
Co-enzyme Q-10: This is one of my favorite supplements and it is gaining in popularity for good reason. It works with the mitochondria (the part of a human cell that produces energy). Lower levels of co-enzyme Q-10 have been associated with premature aging, immune suppression, heart disease and low energy. In addition to its benefits to the immune system, it may also be helpful for individuals who are on HIV drugs, as some of these drugs adversely affect the mitochondria.
Acidophilus: Living inside your digestive track are organisms with which we have a symbiotic relationship. In effect we provide them with a place to live, and they help us to maintain good health. However, chronic antibiotic use, diets high in refined sugar, and a lack of fiber can wipe out the healthy organisms that we need so much for health. Acidophilus and other probiotic supplements help to replace lost bacteria. Many HIV treatments are very unfriendly toward these healthy organisms, so replacing them on a daily basis is very important.
Psyllium husk: Psyllium is pure fiber. It is the active ingredient in things like Citrucel, but in its unrefined form, I find it to be much more effective. Taking psyllium husk on a daily basis will keep your colon healthy and clean. In addition, many of my students who are on cocktail drugs and have chosen to take psyllium husk have experienced a decrease or a complete halt in diarrhea. You can get psyllium husk in loose form or in capsules. The loose form is MUCH less expensive, but the capsules are a bit easier to take. You can also get the powered form which may be a bit easier to tollerate.
Protein powder: One of the chief concerns among HIV+ individuals is wasting syndrome. This is especially a concern if you are taking older drugs like AZT, which have been known to cause wasting. Making sure you are getting enough protein as well as all the essential amino acids can help prevent wasting. This is possible through diet alone, but supplementing a diet with a protein power can ensure you are getting the amino acids you need. There are many different kinds of protein drinks available, so be sure to consult a nutritionist or someone knowledgeable with these products to find the one that is right for you. One note of caution, however. Some protein supplements contain fillers that are very harmful. Try to find a brand that is as natural as possible.
Healing HIV by Dr. Jon D. Kasier, M.D.
Nutrition and HIV: A New Model for Treatment by Mary Romeyn, M.D.
Nutrition & HIV by Vivian Pribram
Earl Mindell’s Supplement Bible by Earl Mindell, R.Ph., P.D.
Cooking for Life: A Guide to Nutrition and Food Safety for the HIV-Positive Community by Robert H. Lehmann
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