A Daily Dose Of Vitamin D 'Helps Fight HIV'

Low levels of vitamin D may limit the effectiveness of HIV treatment in adults, scientists have found.

While most people diagnosed as being HIV positive can live a long and healthy life, some begin to struggle with their health over time.

That decline is caused by the immune system being unable to effectively respond to common pathogens.

HIV drugs work to improve the number of CD4+T cells - a vital type of immune cell - in the body.

Dr Amara Ezeamama, an assistant professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of Georgia's College of Public Health, said: 'HIV destroys the capacity of the body to mount effective response to pathogens.

HIV sufferers who have sufficient levels of vitamin D in the body, produce, on average 65 more, CD4+T immune cells, than those with a deficiency in the 'sunshine' vitamin. CD4+T cells are vital immune cells, which help boost sufferers' immune systems to ward off the infection
'Given different vitamin D levels, HIV-positive adults recovered at different rates. We found a relationship between vitamin D and CD4+T cells.'

Dr Ezeamama conducted an 18-month longitudinal study in which the immune status of 398 HIV-positive adults was measured at the start as well as at three, six, 12 and 18 months.

Dr Ezeamama, said: 'Because of the immune-destroying effects of HIV, infection usually results in relatively quick death without treatment.

The magic of antiretroviral therapy, the name for drugs to treat HIV, lies in its ability to restore immune function.

'With antiretroviral drugs, people with HIV are beginning to live longer lives.

'Our goal was to understand whether vitamin D deficiency limits the amount of immune recovery benefit for persons on HIV treatment.'

Vitamin D is relatively cheap. If we intervene with it, it could give individual HIV-infected persons a modest immune recovery bump that will likely translate to big public health impact
Dr Amara Ezeamama, University of Georgia

The researchers, through observation, related the rise in immune function to whether or not individuals had adequate levels of vitamin D.

Specifically, Dr Ezeamama found that vitamin D helped the adults' CD4+T cells recover more quickly.

CD4+T cells are a type of T cell that helps the immune system fight off pathogens.

For HIV-positive adults, CD4+T cells are critical because of their weakened immune systems.

Dr Ezeamama found that participants with sufficient levels of vitamin D recovered more of their immune function - on average 65 CD4+T cells more - than those with vitamin D deficiency.

The benefit of vitamin D sufficiency seemed greater for younger and underweight HIV-positive adults.

During the study, the participants were taking highly active antiretroviral therapy, or HAART, which normally consists of three or more drugs and is currently the most common - and most effective - treatment for HIV-positive adults.

Those on HAART take it daily.

HIV destroys the capacity of the body to mount an effective response to invading pathogens. The 'magic' of antiretroviral drugs lies in their ability to restore immune function, said researchers. They added, sufficient vitamin D levels further boosts the ability of the immune system
'It's a cocktail of several medicines that controls the virus,' Dr Ezeamama explained.

'In addition to HAART, ensuring vitamin D sufficiency may also be helpful in restoring immune function.

'As researchers, we want to know what we can do to help.

'Vitamin D is relatively cheap. If we intervene with it, it could give individual HIV-infected persons a modest immune recovery bump that will likely translate to big public health impact.'

In the future, Dr Ezeamama wants to look at how vitamin D affects immune recovery and long-term health outcomes in HIV-positive children.

'We are now in an era of hope for persons with HIV,' she said. 'We know that HIV treatment works, and now people can live for several decades with HIV.

'We can further delay the progress of the disease and maintain survivors on a higher quality of life if we understand the factors that limit the effectiveness of HIV treatment.'

The findings were published recently in the journal Clinical Nutrition.

By Lizzie Parry, DailyMail


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