Three recent trials found that HIVers with extra immunity-building nutrients are slower to get sick. HIV nutrition educator Lark Lands, PhD, calls these “very solid conclusions,” though not new to those who’ve long seen health improvements in HIVers taking booster nutrients.
481 Thai HIVers not on HIV meds were monitored; those with less than 200 CD4 cells who took a high-dose 21-nutrient supplement for one year had 61 percent fewer deaths than a placebo group, though without boosts in CD4s or drops in viral loads. “The likeliest theory,” says study co-leader Andrew Tomkins, MD, “is that the high doses of antioxidants helped reduce tissue damage” and thus improved immune-cell function, if not numbers.
In an eight-year study of 1,078 pregnant Tanzanian HIVers not on HAART, those on a superpowered three-vitamin combo experienced 30 percent less disease and death than a placebo group. This time, vitamin-takers’ CD4 counts rose and viral loads fell “irrespective of [their original level of] nutritional deficiency,” says study director Wafaie Fawzi, MD, of Harvard University. While cautioning that “it’s hard to generalize findings from Africa to the U.S.,” Fawzi says, “it is possible that these supplements could benefit” American HIVers, who are generally better nourished.
And in a 12-week study of 40 U.S. HIVers on HAART, the CD4 counts of those who added a 33-item high-dose nutrient formula jumped 24 percent versus 2 percent for placebo poppers.
The studies used different formulas, but all had antioxidants and high doses (see “Getting a Complex,” below). All packed vitamins C and E; the Thais added zinc and selenium; the U.S. trial added alpha-lipoic acid, N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) and acetyl-l-carnitine. (Study leader Jon Kaiser, MD, thinks these ingredients, along with the superdose levels, “caused the CD4 rises in such a short time.”) No study reported nutrient side effects.
More African and Asian studies are underway, and Kaiser is trying to launch a larger U.S. trial.
Getting a Complex: How to Choose Vitamins and Supplements (and tell Doc everything you take)
range and potency In one pill or a handful, get the whole B complex (50–100 mg/day) and antioxidants:
HIVers need high doses; a tablet with 50-plus mg of B complex is strong enough. If you’ve got hepatitis C, too, it’s best to avoid iron.
quality Brands with no additives, fillers and binders may work better, with less gastro upset (always take vits with meals). Look for yeast- and allergen-free products; nix artificial colors, caramel, polysorbate 80, BHT, aluminum, sodium metavanadate and sucrose (sugar).
cash Multis like SuperNutrition’s SuperBlend cut costs, combining most essentials. Some HIVer buyers’ clubs offer deals. The biggest: newyorkbuyersclub.org (718.573.8123), houstonbuyersclub.com (800.350.2392) and bostonbuyersclub.com (800.435.5586). State Medicaid and ADAP programs may cover a few supplements (if MD-prescribed); ask about nutrient-loaded food/protein supplements like Resurgex and NutriVir.