Information is only beginning to become available regarding nutrition?s role in preventing and treating AIDS, but it is known that more than two-thirds of HIV-infected individuals have a vitamin and/or mineral deficiency. Malnutrition weakens immunity and makes a person susceptible to infection and disease including HIV infection. It is common to find AIDS patients nutritionally deficient even when consuming a nutritionally adequate diet or supplementing with vitamins and minerals. Researchers speculate that HIV alters nutrient metabolism or contributes to poor absorption, and results in nutrient requirements greater than RDA levels. Levels for vitamins A, E, B6, and B12 and the mineral zinc are affected in particular. Low serum zinc levels have been noted in AIDS patients and correlate to the severity of the disease and extent of immune dysfunction. Zinc deficiency may be responsible for many of the secondary conditions including anorexia, gastrointestinal malfunctions, diarrhea, central nervous system malfunction, and hypoalbuminemia.
The T lymphocytes play a major role in the body?s cell-mediated defense against viruses. It is the T lymphocytes that are most associated with nutrition-related defects in
immunocompetence. Malnourished individuals have suppressed T lymphocyte activity and fewer circulating T cells. As AIDS is a disease resulting from a defect of cell-mediated immunity and is most prevalent in people with nutritional deficiencies associated with cell-mediated immunity, there is likely a link between nutrition and the prevention of AIDS.
Deficiencies of vitamin and minerals have also been linked to immunosuppressions. An inadequate intake of vitamin A increased the incidence of bacterial and viral infection. Such alterations might be orchestrated by cell-meditated immunity. Vitamin E deficiency interferes with the propagation of lymphocytes, and deficiencies of several B vitamins are associated with both cell-mediated and humoral immunity. The number of antibody producing cells is reduced by a deficiency of copper and iron, and zinc deficiencies are associated with a variety of adverse changes in cell-mediated immunity. In particular, zinc deficiency causes a decrease in antibody response, a deterioration of the thymus gland, and depression in T lymphocyte activity. Consequently, some researchers suggest zinc supplements as an adjunct therapy for AIDS patients.
A significant inverse relationship between AIDS progression and dietary intake of several nutrients has been shown by some studies. One such study assessed nutrient intake of 281 HIV-infected men and tracked the status of their disease for about seven years. The men with the highest intake of vitamin C, vitamin B1, and niacin had the slowest progression rates to AIDS. In another study, AIDS patients taking a high-dose-beta-carotene supplement had increased numbers and activity of lymphocytes and natural killer cells. Selenium supplementation improves disease symptoms but does not appear to improve immune function in HIV-infection.
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