Eating Well as an AIDS Patient: Nutrition & Supplements to Help Maintain Weight

Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) is a health condition where the immune system is compromised and the patient is unable to fight off infections. AIDS is an extremely complex disorder without any cure currently.

While the search for a cure continues, current medical practice aims to reduce the progression of the disease. Some of this may also be possible with nutritional change and supplements recommended by health professionals.

In fact, nutrition intervention should take a high priority from the moment an individual receives a positive diagnosis for the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection. The initial nutrition assessment evaluates the individual’s current nutrition status and establishes baseline parameters from which to monitor changes.


When to Start with Nutrition Therapy

It’s most effective to begin nutrition therapy in the early stage of HIV infection when reduced food intake is more likely to lead to malnutrition – rather than in the later stages, when repeated infections and hyper-metabolism quickly deplete nutrient stores.

Clinicians usually encourage gradual improvement in eating habits before you become debilitated and the task of keeping yourself adequately nourished becomes too difficult.

1. Start by Watching Your Weight 

Most AIDS patients lose weight or suffer from diarrhoea – which can be severe and unresponsive to drug therapy.

Weight maintenance is the first strategy in nutrition therapy.

  • A high protein and high calorie diet is able to achieve this strategy.
  • Patients should also consume whole foods instead of processed foods as whole foods contain higher quantity of vitamins and minerals.

2. Get the Right Supplements

HIV infected patients tend to suffer from multiple nutritional deficiencies.

In the early stage of detection, HIV positive patients are suggested to follow immune-enhancing formulas that include omega-3 fatty acids, arginine, and nucleotides. Also, hydrolysed protein and fish oil may help prevent weight loss and reduce the frequency of hospitalisation in the early stages of HIV infection.

Some HIV patients undergo enteropathy (protein loss) where the weight loss is due to chronic diarrhoea and abnormal intestine function. Clinically, HIV patients are given gluten-free diets that containing food to reduce the episodes of diarrhoea. With control of chronic diarrhoea, the patients are able to gain weight during the gluten-free periods.

3. Start Resistance Training

Most HIV patients tend to lose strength and lean body mass. Anabolic steroids are used to address this complication. Hence, in nutrition counselling, we always suggest the patient undergo progressive resistance training such as weight training to substitute the drug therapy.

Patients should have resistance training about three times per week for eight weeks to increase their lean body mass. Not only that, research has proven that such training three to four times per week is able to slow down the progression towards death.

Suggested Nutritional Supplements 

Generally, AIDS patients often have multiple nutritional deficiencies and as such, a broad-spectrum nutritional supplement may be beneficial. It is clinically proven that patients consuming multivitamin-mineral supplements had slower onset of AIDS.


1. Selenium

Selenium deficiency also increases mortality among HIV-positive people.

Why: Selenium supplement is able to reduce rate of infection, allow better intestinal function, improve appetite and heart function.

How much: Patients with HIV-related cardiomyopathy (heart abnormalities) should take 800mg of selenium for 15 days, followed by 400mg per day for eight days.

2. N-acetyl cysteine (NAC)

Why: The amino acid, N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) is able to inhibit the replication of the HIV virus.

How much: One research has found the supplementing of a patient’s diet with 800mg per day of NAC slowed the rate of decline in immune function in people with HIV infection.

3. Vitamin A

Why: Vitamin A deficiency is common among people with HIV infection. Decrease of blood level vitamin A increases the disease’s severity and increases the risk of transmission of the virus from a pregnant mother to her infant. Vitamin A supplements are helpful at halting the disease progression.

How much: HIV-positive children given two consecutive oral supplements of vitamin A (20,000 IU), coupled with influenza vaccination are able to display a decrease in their bodies’ viral load.

4. B-complex vitamin

Why: B-complex vitamin supplements can also help delay progression to death from AIDS. Thiamine (B1) deficiency has been identified in nearly one-quarter of people with AIDS. The deficiency contributes to neurological abnormalities. Vitamin B6 deficiency was associated with decreased immune function among HIV patients.

Besides, supplements of vitamin B6, B12 and folic acid are needed among HIV patients.

5. Vitamin C

Why: Vitamin C has been proven to inhibit HIV replication and a reduced risk of progression to AIDS.

How much: The amount used ranges from 40g to 185g per day – and such high dosage supplementation has to be monitored by a medical officer. This amount is used to treat herpes simplex outbreak and Kaposi’s sarcoma among AIDS patients.

6. Vitamin E

Why: Vitamin E enhances the effectiveness of the anti-HIV drug zidovudine (AZT) while reducing toxicity. Zinc supplementation can also protect against AZT toxicity.

7. CoQ10

Why: The blood level of the coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is low in people with HIV infection.

How much: In a clinical trial, people with HIV infection took 200mg per day of CoQ10 and it found that 83% of them experienced no further infection up to seven months and the counts of infection-fighting white blood cells improved in three cases.

8. Iron supplements

Why: Iron supplements can help our body fight against bacterial infection and improve the immune response system.

10. Other supplements

Why: The combination of glutamine, arginine and amino acid derivative, hyroxymethylbutyrate has been found to prevent loss of lean body mass in people with AIDS.

11. Herbs

Why: There are many types of herbs which may be helpful to HIV-infected patients. Some of the common herbs include andrographis, St John’s wort, garlic, licorice, turmeric, Asian ginseng, echinacea, maitake, reishim shiitake, tea tree oil and others.



Edited by The HealthWorks Team
Contributed by Dr Leow Chee Seng, Regional Director of British Institute of Homeopathy

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