Nov. 27 (Bloomberg) -- Common vitamins plus selenium slowed illness in HIV patients in the early stage of their disease, according to a study suggesting the supplements may provide an effective, low-cost approach for delaying AIDS.
Patients taking a daily combination of vitamins B, C and E along with selenium for two years were able to delay their need for antiretroviral therapies by about half compared with those given a placebo, according to research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The study followed 878 HIV-infected adults from Botswana, a nation with one of the highest rates of infection of the AIDS virus.
The findings are the first to show that vitamins and selenium can postpone illness in newly diagnosed HIV patients. Using inexpensive supplements early in treatment could help reduce cost of care, as well as free up access to HIV medicines, particularly in poor countries by delaying when patients would need the drugs, said study author Marianna Baum.
“Giving a simple supplement of vitamins and selenium will be helpful to patients without costing a whole lot of money and needing a complicated infrastructure of laboratories and pharmacies,” said Baum, a professor of dietetics and nutrition at Florida International University in Miami.
Patients in the study had never taken antiretroviral drugs. The 878 patients were given multivitamins alone, selenium alone, multivitamins with selenium or placebo for 24 months.
Those taking the combination of multivitamins and selenium had a 54 percent lower risk of reaching a blood measure where they would need to start antiretroviral medicines than those taking a placebo. Those taking just the multivitamin or just selenium saw no benefit, Baum said.
Vitamins B, C and E and selenium are needed to maintain a healthy immune system while selenium may also play a role in preventing HIV replication, the authors said.
After the study ended, the researchers continued to follow the patients and saw a benefit even when the patients had stopped taking the supplements, Baum said.
Since the supplements study was conducted, international health agencies have recommended that antiretroviral treatments begin earlier in the disease, said Kenneth Mayer, medical research director at Fenway Health in Boston and co-chairman of the Fenway Institute, which operates the first U.S. community-based HIV research program. Still, there may be a place for supplements, particularly in developing countries, he said.
“In a resource-constrained environment, while people are asymptomatic and before they have access to antiretroviral therapies, multivitamins plus selenium can be helpful in slowing progression,” Mayer, who wasn’t affiliated with the research, said in a telephone interview. “If we can show this is helpful when people are not on treatment, maybe this could be a useful adjunct when people are on treatment.”
Based on the results, Baum said, doctors should recommend the supplements to their patients who are in the early stage of HIV to slow their disease progression.
“The supplementation should be given very early, as soon as people are diagnosed, because it does slow the disease progression and it is safe,” she said.
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