Multivitamin with Selenium May Slow HIV
A special multivitamin with selenium can significantly slow the progression of ill health in people with HIV, reveals a recent study co-authored by researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH). The study was published in the Nov. 27, 2013 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).
"The results are potentially groundbreaking. If we can slow the progression to AIDS with a special multivitamin preparation, it could save a lot of lives for a small price," said Richard Marlink, executive director of the Harvard School of Public Health AIDS Initiative (HAI) and the Bruce A. Beal, Robert L. Beal, and Alexander S. Beal Professor of the Practice of Public Health at HSPH. "We now also need to figure out the exact reasons why this preparation works. In doing so, we may learn a lot more as to how to slow HIV’s destruction of patient’s immune systems."
The vitamin, which is very safe with no side effects, will be helpful in African countries where antiretroviral therapy (ART) can be difficult to obtain for those in early stages of the disease.
Harvard researchers were prompted to study the effect of multivitamins on people living with HIV after noticing that they tended to have deficiencies in micronutrients like B vitamins, vitamin C and E, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and folic acid. These deficiencies may accelerate the progression of HIV.
Working under the knowledge that selenium can help maintain a responsive immune system, researchers decided to follow up on a 2004 Tanzanian study that suggested that HIV-positive pregnant women taking a multivitamin stayed healthier than those who didn’t. The new study focused on women in various stages of the disease, while the new study looked at those patients not yet eligible for ART, both men and women, in early stages of the disease.
The researchers looked at 878 HIV-positive patients in Botswana from 2004-2009. The patients had never received ART, and were given either a multivitamin, selenium, a combination of both, or a sugar-pill placebo.
Results revealed that those who took only the multivitamin or only selenium fared about the same as the placebo group, while those who took the multivitamin with selenium had a 50 percent reduced risk of getting sick or dying from AIDS over 24 months. They were also much more likely to have higher CD4 counts.
Researchers touted the findings as a way to keep people who refuse to start ART healthy, or to help those in third world countries who were unable to access these regimens.
"It is incredibly useful to find new strategies to delay the progression of HIV disease," said Dr. Jared Baeten, an associate professor of global health at the University of Washington in Seattle who was not involved in the study, said to HealthDay. "Not every HIV-infected person is immediately willing, or able, to initiate anti-retroviral therapy. Inexpensive, proven treatments ahead of starting anti-retroviral therapy can fill an important role."
Marlink was excited by the results, but cautioned that multivitamins should not be used as a substitute for ART.
"Scaling up ART in Africa is what all of us [doing AIDS research at HSPH] have been working on for more than a dozen years," Marlink said. "We’re not there yet, though. Depending on the country, we’ve probably only met about half, if you’re very optimistic, of the urgent need in the world of people who need ART drugs right now, today. So anything else that can be done would be a positive thing."
Winnie McCroy is the Women on the EDGE Editor, HIV/Health Editor, and Assistant Entertainment Editor for EDGE Media Network, handling all women's news, HIV health stories and theater reviews throughout the U.S. She has contributed to other publications, including The Village Voice, Gay City News, Chelsea Now and The Advocate, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.