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Should You Take Vitamin D To Help With HIV/AIDS Treatment?

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Some medical research shows that vitamin D can play a role in helping those with HIV or AIDS to manage their condition.

Around the world, 33 million people live with HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) or AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome).

About 120,000 Americans suffer from one of these conditions. Approximately 22,000 Americans die each year from HIV/AIDS.

HIV is an infection that compromises the immune system. According to HIV.gov:

HIV is a virus spread through certain body fluids that attacks the body’s immune system, specifically the CD4 cells, often called T cells. Over time, HIV can destroy so many of these cells that the body can’t fight off infections and disease.

What is the difference between HIV and AIDS?

HIV/AIDS represent a range of immune system deficiency conditions. If untreated, HIV usually leads to AIDS, the most severe phase and the final stage of HIV infection. As mentioned above, HIV reduces the body’s infection-fighting cells (T cells), making it more difficult to fight off other infections and diseases.

With severely damaged immune systems and fewer T cells to fight infection, those with AIDS have more difficulty dealing with diseases and infections. Opportunistic infections take advantage of the person’s weakened immune system to make them ill. For many people who live with HIV or AIDS, diseases and cancers are often the cause of death, not HIV itself.

Risk Factors

Some people have a higher risk for HIV and AIDS than others. Behaviors such as the choice of sex partners, certain behaviors and where a person lives are common factors. In the United States, most people get HIV through unprotected sex with someone who is HIV positive or through sharing needles and other drug paraphernalia with an HIV-positive individual.

Treating HIV/AIDS

There is no cure for HIV/AIDS. However, HIV can be managed with proper medical care. Antiretroviral therapy (ART) is a commonly used medicine for treating HIV. Introduced in the mid-1990s, ART is not a cure.

However, when it is taken daily, it can lengthen people’s lives, keep them healthy and decrease the chance of infecting others. Treatment with ART before HIV becomes very advanced can allow a person to live almost as long as someone without HIV.

Can Vitamin D Help Those with HIV/AIDS?

In general, vitamin D plays a vital role in immune system functioning. Some medical research shows that vitamin D can beneficial in helping those with HIV/AIDS to manage their condition. Below is a review of several research studies.

Cape Town, South Africa: Immune Response to Vitamin D

HIV leads to immune system deficiency. Vitamin D is an immune system booster. Based on these facts, a team of researchers examined the link between vitamin D levels and HIV severity among two ethnic groups in Cape Town, South Africa.

Two factors led them to Cape Town: In 2012, more than six million South Africans were infected with HIV. Also, Cape Town has seasonal UV-B rays along with one of the world's highest rates of HIV-1 infection.

UV-B and Vitamin D
When direct sunlight (specifically UV-B) strikes the skin, the human body naturally synthesizes vitamin D. 
Not getting enough vitamin D from the sun is one reason why many people are deficient. 

The researchers specifically wanted to discover:

...how seasonal differences in exposure to ultraviolet B radiation, dietary vitamin D, genetics, and pigmentation affected vitamin D levels, and whether high-dose supplementation improved deficiencies and the cell's ability to repel HIV-1.

Findings

The study discovered that high doses of vitamin D can reverse immune system deficiency associated with HIV/AIDS and also improve immune response. Their report in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences states:

Vitamin D may be a simple, cost-effective intervention, particularly in resource-poor settings, to reduce HIV-1 risk and disease progression.

Botswana: High Doses of Vitamin D

Low vitamin D is common among people with HIV. In 2014, researchers conducted a study among HIV-infected children and adults in Botswana. The study looked at the safety and efficacy of high doses of D3 in helping treat HIV.

60 subjects from five age groups received two daily oral doses of D3. For 12 weeks, half received 4000 IU per day while the other half received 7000 IU of D3 per day. The subjects were then evaluated for vitamin D, HIV, parathyroid hormone, safety levels, and growth status.

Findings

Both doses were concluded to be safe for all participants. The study leaders also presented the following results:

In the present study, vitamin D supplementation was associated with improved weight and BMI status in children and adolescents, with improved height in those on 7000IU per day. BMI increased in adults (20 to 50 years), despite the relatively short 12-week duration.

Our results in this pilot study suggest that high dose vitamin D supplementation is safe in the African setting. Additionally, the 7,000IU per day may convey a growth in height advantage in children and adolescents.

EuroSIDA: Vitamin D Level and HIV progression

As stated above, HIV-infected persons are also frequently vitamin D deficient. A 2011 study of 2000 randomly selected persons looked at the relationship between vitamin D levels and disease progression in HIV infection.

According to the results, vitamin D deficiency, “was frequent in HIV-infected persons (83% on combined antiretroviral therapy), and was independently associated with a higher risk of mortality and AIDS events.”

Findings

Since vitamin D plays such a vital role in numerous process in the body, the study concluded that this deficiency can aggravate infections and conditions unrelated to HIV/AIDS in people with these conditions.

Charleston, South Carolina: Vitamin D and Bone Health

One side effect faced by some HIV sufferers is bone loss, specifically, decreased bone density. A team from the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston wanted to find out if, “High-dose vitamin D supplementation given for 12 months decreases bone turnover markers in HIV-infected youth with vitamin D insufficiency,”

102 HIV-infected youth between the ages of 8 and 25 with low vitamin D levels participated in the study. At the beginning of the study, the team administered three doses of vitamin D to three groups - 2 capsules of either 9,000 IU, 30,000 IU, or 60,000 IU. Bone mineral density and bone turnover markers were measured at the beginning of the study.

Each group received their specified dose each month. All the participants then returned every 3 months for study visits. After 12 months, bone mineral density and bone turnover markers were measured again.

Findings

At the end of the study, the authors of the study concluded that:

...high-dose vitamin D supplementation (120,000 IU/month) decreases bone turnover markers, which may reflect an early, beneficial effect on bone health in HIV that could result in clinically meaningful changes over time. Likewise, a higher dose of vitamin D supplementation is needed to achieve optimal 25(OH)D concentrations for this population.

Although all three groups showed improvement in their bone mineral density, the high-dose group in the study showed the most significant decreases in bone turnover markers.

Benefits of Vitamin D for HIV/AIDS Patients
It reduces the risk of bone mineral loss and osteoporosis.
Vitamin D boosts immune system functioning and produces proteins that help fight bacteria and viruses.
It improves muscle strength.
Vitamin D reduces inflammation by moving protein production away from the inflammation.

It improves blood sugar control and reduces the risk of diabetes.


Vitamin D Can Slow the Progression of HIV/AIDS

Vitamin D cannot prevent HIV. It also cannot stop HIV from progressing to AIDS. At the same time, high doses of vitamin D can reduce the risk of HIV and can slow its progression. Those with HIV/AIDS should have their vitamin D checked regularly and, if deficient, be given supplements to bring their levels up to beneficial and acceptable amounts.

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