Micronutrients for Living Well with HIV –Part 1 of 3

Published 31, Jul, 2010

I have been recently presenting workshops on HIV and nutrition. What I have come to understand and acknowledge over the 15 years of speaking on nutrition...

I have been recently presenting workshops on HIV and nutrition. What I have come to understand and acknowledge over the 15 years of speaking on nutrition, many poz persons have not fully integrated nutrition as part of their health regimen.

Unfortunately, many staff and volunteers at ASOs/NGOs in Canada or across then world, who work in treatment or outreach with PHAS have minimal knowledge of impact of nutrition on immune system.   As the Vienna Conference is over,

with not a single word, abstract or presentation on nutrition-no big surprise! In 2006 International AIDS Conference there were 2 sessions on nutrition and 3 poster presentations on nutrition and complementary medicine. In 2008 International AIDS Conference, there were a total of 2 abstracts on nutrition and complementary medicine and one presentation on food shortage.

Antiretrovirals (ARV) are crucial to our health, but 70 percent of the immune system is in the gastrointestinal system. Hence the key to maintain optimal immune functions and overall health lies in what foods we ingest. I was reading a recent article in The Body called An Introduction to Dietary Supplements for People Living With HIV/AIDS. You can read it at, http://www.thebody.com/content/art56659.html?getPage=3

Over all, it is a good read and it listed Alpha-Lipoic –Acid, Calcium and Vit D 3, Carnitine, Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), Zinc and B 12. However, the article has missed a few gems notably Omega 3 oils and NAC (N-acetyl cysteine). Another comprehensive resource on nutrition is the Practical Guide to Nutrition for PHAS, Get a free copy at www.catie.ca.

As a strong advocate of nutrition for PHAS, there is research documenting the role of micronutrients for good health and minimizing many of the side effects of HIV drugs. Micronutrient depletion starts at the onset of HIV infection, hence it is wise to supplement early vs. when health needs are chronic. In a nut shell, healthy nutrition consists of providing the cells, tissues, and organs of the body with adequate micro-nutrients to function at optimal level. Medications also need nutrition to break it down, be processed, absorbed and metabolized by cells and tissue. And all solid and liquid foods are processed by the liver. New HIV drugs may come onto the market, but all drugs have their slew of side effects.

During HIV infection, many researchers have observed an increase in free radicals (extra unpaired oxygen molecules). The cause of this increase is not completely understood. Free radicals are produced mostly during metabolism and exposure to toxins and cause much damage in the cell. A decrease in antioxidants in general and glutathione in particular, has also been observed. All antioxidants are crucial in eliminating free radicals from your body. To control the oxidation process, our body produces an antioxidant called glutathione in the walls of our cells. Glutathione as a strong antioxidant has a crucial role to combat free radical damage in the cells. An easy source of glutathione is NAC. In all the years, I have presented on nutrition and micro supplements, many PHAS still have never heard of glutathione or NAC

N-acetyl cysteine was first used by PHAS when there was no anti-HIV medication available. In the dark days, PHAS who survived the epidemic, took NAC found it helped to keep their CD4+ at a decent level and prevented opportunistic infections. NAC is converted to glutathione in the body and glutathione is the single most important antioxidant the cells need. It is found inside every single cell in your body. "Glutathione is a vital protein that cells need to function. Many studies have documented low glutathione in people with HIV. Dr. Luc Montagnier's work with CD4 cells from PWAs suggests that even cells without HIV can grow weak and die, but with added GSH can regain their vigor. This is where NAC comes in. NAC is broken down by the body into cysteine. Researchers have also noted that low levels of cysteine in PWAs. The body uses cysteine to replace glutathione" (The Body).

While it is important to eat healthy, since 70 percent of the immune cells live in the gastrointestinal tract. HIV is most abundant where the immune cells are, most of HIV lives in the gastrointestinal cells. We do not know if anti-HIV medications are successful in minimizing HIV replication in the gastrointestinal cells. If you are interested to know more of the gastrointestinal system and HIV, look up GALT online. GALT stands for 'gut associated lymphoid tissue'.
As such digestion is compromised for many PHAS inspite of healthy eating. Only 2 percent of HIV is found in your blood. We also know that HIV infection causes inflammation and on a cellular level accelerates the aging process.