A daily dose of multivitamins and minerals in the early stages of HIV infection can delay progression of the disease that causes AIDS by as much as 54 percent in people who are not receiving antiretroviral drugs, according to a study published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association and led by a Florida International University professor of dietetics and nutrition.
Researchers from FIU and Harvard University followed 878 HIV-infected patients in Botswana and tracked the progression of their disease for two years, finding that patients who received daily supplements of vitamins B, C and E plus selenium had a lower risk of depleting the number of immune response cells in their bodies.
The supplements also reduced the risk of other measures of disease progression, including AIDS symptoms and AIDS-related deaths, of which there were four in the study group.
Vitamins B, C and E are essential for maintaining a responsive immune system, and selenium may also play an important role in preventing HIV replication, said Marianna K. Baum, the FIU researcher and lead investigator in the study.
“The disease impacts metabolism and increases the requirement for vitamins and minerals,’’ Baum said, “and if people don’t take additional vitamins and minerals they become deficient, which in turn impacts immunity.’’
Baum said the findings were significant in countries such as Botswana, where HIV-infection rates are among the world’s highest and healthcare systems struggle to provide antiretroviral medications to low-income populations.
Multivitamins and minerals, Baum said, are “a low-cost alternative’’ and easily accessible therapy that proved safe and effective in delaying progression of HIV.
“These are over-the-counter vitamins and minerals,” she said.
Patients participating in the study received three to five times the recommended daily amounts of the vitamins, and about 200 micrograms of selenium every day, Baum said.
Researchers met with the patients every three months. If they were diagnosed with AIDS, those patients were finished with the study and placed on antiretroviral therapy, which according to the standard of care in Botswana begins when the number of immune response cells in the body reach a certain count.