Thursday, May 22, 2014

Nutrition Key in First Months of HIV Medication

By Esther Nakkazi

At least one in every four HIV infected patients that are started on antiretroviral therapy (ART) die within the first three months of commencing the medication. Malnutrition, which causes the HIV-virus to develop more aggressively is to blame.

A team of researchers from University of Copenhagen, Denmark and Jimma University in Ethiopia have now shown that a dietary supplement given during the first three months of HIV treatment significantly improves the general condition of HIV patients.

For three months, patients received a daily supplement of 200 grams of peanut butter to which soy or whey protein, along with other vitamins and minerals, was added.

The advantage of the supplement is that it is rich in energy and nutrients and low in water content, allowing it to be better preserved in warm climates, said the study published in the journal BMJ May 15th 2014.

The supplement was originally developed for severely malnourished children, but modified for the research project to satisfy the needs of adults living with HIV.

The research project also demonstrated that it is possible to integrate short term nutritional supplementation into the lives of Ethiopian patients without disrupting cultural, social and religious practices regarding diet according to a press release on

According to this collaborative study, patients gained three times as much weight as those who took ART without the nutritional supplement. And, in contrast to the medication-only group, the supplement takers didn’t just gain fat – a third of their increased weight came from gained muscle mass.

"Furthermore, grip strength improved, and thereby the ability of patients to maintain their work and manage daily tasks," says PhD Mette Frahm Olsen, who is one of the project researchers and together with Alemseged Abdissa, the main author of the BMJ article.

About the the immune system, the study says it is suppressed by HIV, which was characterised by massive weight loss that made the role of nutrition impossible to ignore yet usually the significance of a nutritious diet in conjunction with HIV treatment is often forgotten.

"We know that malnutrition fuels the AIDS epidemic, in part because poor nutrition facilitates the virus’ attack on the human immune system. As a result, a patient’s doctor may believe, mistakenly, that the patient’s nutritional state has been normalised. However, if the patient has not had an adequate nutritious diet, the weight increase may be without benefit and consist mainly of fat," says PhD Mette Frahm Olsen.

About 25 million Africans live with HIV, many of whom now have access to antiretroviral treatment (ART).

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