By Dr. Mercola
In the US, more than one million people are living with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).1 The virus causes serious damage to your immune system, which leaves you vulnerable to disease-causing organisms, and may progress into AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome).
While there is currently no known cure, the virus is typically treated with antiretroviral therapy (ART), which consists of a combination of at least three antiretroviral drugs designed to help suppress the HIV virus and stop the progression of disease.
Nutritional therapy, however, is an often-overlooked alternative, which important new research has shown may be effective in delaying HIV progression without the use of drugs.
The Beginnings of Nutritional Therapy for HIV and AIDS
Bolstering your immune system's ability to function may be key in preventing HIV-related symptoms and progression, and nutrients play a key role in your immune function.
Dr. Harold Foster pioneered the use of selenium and amino acids, plus antioxidants, for HIV and AIDS some years ago. In 2003, for instance, he published a study that revealed HIV did not appear to spread as well in populations that have adequate dietary intake of selenium.2
He later suggested that people eating diets with higher levels of amino acids and selenium may be somewhat protected from HIV infection, as this "antioxidant defense system" may act as an initial defense against viral infection.3
In 2004, he published additional research noting the importance of nutritional interventions in treating AIDS, noting:4
"Physicians involved in a selenium and amino-acid field trial in Botswana … are reporting that this nutritional protocol reverses AIDS in 99% of patients receiving it, usually within three weeks."
According to Dr. Foster, nutrient deficiencies are at the foundation of the disease progression from HIV to AIDS. He explained:5
"AIDS is a deficiency disease caused by HIV… HIV-1 contains a gene that is virtually identical to that which allows humans to produce the enzyme, glutathione peroxidase. As the virus is replicated, it begins to seriously compete with its host for the four nutrients needed to make this enzyme, specifically the trace element selenium and the three amino acids, glutamine, cysteine and tryptophan.
As infection increases, serious deficiencies of these nutrients develop. Inadequate selenium causes the immune system to collapse, the thyroid to malfunction and depression to develop.
Glutamine deficiency leads to muscle wasting and diarrhea. Shortages of cysteine result in skin problems such as psoriasis and greater susceptibility to infection. A lack of tryptophan causes diarrhea, dermatitis, dementia and ultimately death.
It becomes easy for other pathogens to infect the patient. In short, the infected person has developed the disorder we call AIDS. The treatment of HIV/AIDS, therefore, should always include diets elevated in these four nutrients to reverse such deficiencies."
Micronutrients and Multivitamins Delay HIV Progression
Similarly, the new study found that HIV-positive people who took multivitamins (B vitamins and vitamins C and E) and selenium fared much better than those who did not.
Compared to the placebo group, those taking both a daily multivitamin and selenium were half as likely to have drops in CD4 immune cells to levels that would typically be treated with anti-HIV drugs.6 Further, those taking the supplement combination were also half as likely to develop or die from AIDS.
The researchers concluded that the multivitamin-selenium combination, when taken for 24 months, was safe and significantly reduced the risk of immune decline and morbidity, noting that it "may be effective when started in the early stages of HIV disease." As reported in the study:
"Micronutrient deficiencies, known to influence immune function, are prevalent even before the development of symptoms of HIV disease and are associated with accelerated HIV disease progression. Micronutrient supplementation has improved markers of HIV disease progression (CD4 cell count, HIV viral load) and mortality in clinical trials…
The B vitamins, vitamins C and E, and the trace element selenium are essential nutrients necessary for maintaining a responsive immune system. Selenium may also have an important role in preventing HIV replication."
Why Natural Alternatives for HIV Treatment Are So Important
It's thought that your body cannot rid itself of the HIV virus once infected, although it can reduce its viral load to virtually undetectable levels (generally defined as under 40-75 HIV copies in a sample of your blood).
Your body can help to reduce its viral load naturally, but anti-HIV drugs are also used for this purpose. Interestingly, about 0.5 percent of HIV-infected individuals are able to naturally control the infection without any need for drugs. These individuals, known as "elite suppressors," appear to have a more effective immune response to HIV.7 Some of the noted side effects of standard anti-HIV drugs include:
Nausea and vomiting
Fat loss in arms legs or face, sometimes redistributed to your abdomen or back of neck
Changes in heart rhythm
Severe liver problems
Lactic acid buildup
Elevated blood sugar levels and triglycerides
Decreased bone density
Unfortunately, the drugs used to suppress the virus in the majority of HIV patients are quite toxic and carry significant side effects that can interfere with your quality of life. Some can even be life threatening. Even WebMD states:8 "The main goal of HIV treatment is to fight HIV in the body. But another goal is to do this without causing extreme side effects." What makes the featured study so important is that it showed nutritional therapy as a highly effective tool for safely delaying disease progression and symptoms without toxic side effects.
Nearly 200 Studies Show the Potential for Natural Anti-HIV Substances
GreenMedInfo has compiled 184 studies showing the therapeutic potential of natural substances for HIV.9 One of the main tests used to determine the level of HIV in a person's blood is with the CD4 cell count. Generally, the higher your viral load, the lower your CD4 count will be. Because CD4 cells play a key role in your body's ability to fight off infections, keeping their levels higher is important for keeping you healthy, and research suggests natural substances are quite useful here.
One study found, for instance, that whey protein supplementation raises CD4 cell counts in people with HIV.10 Neem leaf has also been found to increase CD4 levels in HIV and AIDS patients,11 and so has selenium.12 Natural substances work against HIV via other mechanisms as well. Epigallocatechin gallate, or EGCG, is a component of green tea that inhibits the progression of HIV by binding itself to the exact spot HIV needs to infect a healthy T-cell, a kind of white blood cell crucial to fighting infections.13
Fruit and vegetable concentrates containing polyphenols have also been shown to benefit HIV patients,14 as has curcumin, which may help treat HIV-associated diarrhea, weight loss and abdominal pain.15 Other natural compounds that have shown promise against HIV include:16
A Healthy Gut May Also Boost Health in HIV Patients
HIV infection is known to cause damage to your gastrointestinal tract, where about 80 percent of your immune system resides. Research suggests that consuming beneficial bacteria known as probiotics may help to lower risks of infection and inflammation in HIV patients and even enhanced gastrointestinal immune function.17
Maintaining optimal gut flora, and "reseeding" your gut with fermented foods and probiotics may therefore be one of the most important steps you can take to improve your health if you have HIV (or any other chronic disease). Even healthy people should strive to optimize their gut flora in this way. It's worth noting that each mouthful of fermented food can provide trillions of beneficial bacteria—far more than you can get from a probiotics supplement, which will typically provide you with colony-forming units in the billions.
I thought this would be a good analysis, so I tested fermented vegetables produced with our probiotic starter culture to determine their probiotic potency and was astounded to discover they had 10 trillion colony-forming units of bacteria. Literally, one serving of fermented vegetables was equal to an entire bottle of a high-potency probiotic! Fermented foods also give you a wider variety of beneficial bacteria, so all in all, it's a more cost-effective alternative.
5 More Immune-Boosting Natural Tips
If you have HIV, it's important to work closely with an experienced holistic health care provider who can guide you on how best to stay well. Generally speaking, however, the tips that follow will help to bolster a positive immune response, which will help to ward off infections and chronic disease.
- Focus on eating more immune-boosting foods, including mushrooms, leafy greens, fermented foods, whey protein, and coconut oil
- Get proper sleep
- Minimize stress using the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) or other stress-management tools
- Optimize your vitamin D levels (vitamin D deficiency is common among those with HIV18)