Vitamins, Minerals and Supplements

Vitamins and minerals are called micronutrients because they are needed in very small amounts. They cannot adequately be made by the body and must be obtained from diet and/or supplements. Vitamins and minerals do not provide energy but perform vital functions that regulate the many activities and chemical reactions that take place inside the body. Without adequate intake of these micronutrients, symptoms of a deficiency can develop. If not treated, some deficiencies can cause sickness and death.Recommended intake levels have been developed for each vitamin a mineral to give guidance as to how much should be taken every day to  prevent deficiency. These are usually described as the RDA (recommended daily allowance). For many micronutrients, experts have also set an Upper Tolerable Limit (UL), which is the maximum daily amount a person should consume. Remember that these recommendations are set for the general population and do not take into consideration any disease state, like HIV. In this chapter, we try to provide guidance about your specific needs as a person living with HIV.

Micronutrients and HIV 

A person with HIV might be deficient in a micronutrient for any number of reasons: side effects make it hard to eat, nutrients from food are not absorbed, or the body needs more nutrients to fight the virus. Several studies have shown that people with HIV are at increased risk of developing micronutrient deficiencies. In turn, these deficiencies can increase the rate of HIV disease progression to AIDS and can increase the risk of dying. For this reason it is believed that the micronutrient requirements for people with HIV are higher than the RDAs for the general population.

However, there are still unresolved issues. Some scientists and healthcare experts say that micronutrients have therapeutic value at very high doses, up to 10 times the RDA, but others disagree and prefer to take a more conservative approach. Studies are difficult to interpret, but recent clinical trials of multivitamins have demonstrated benefits, and many healthcare providers now believe that everyone living with HIV will benefit from taking a multivitamin-mineral each day. When making decisions about supplementation, be well informed and involve your healthcare team in your decisions.