12 January - 20 June 2016

The importance of good nutrition for HIV patients on antiretroviral treatment

04 June 14

Roughly 25 million people in Africa are living with HIV, though the use of antiretroviral treatment (ART) has improved the lives of many patients and controlled the development of HIV to significantly reduce the number of deaths from AIDS related illnesses over the past decade.

Though ART is powerful and generally effective, it is still the case that, in some countries, up to 25% of patients die within three months of starting treatment. A contributing factor in these deaths is suspected to be malnutrition, which allows the virus to develop more strongly than in non-malnourished patients.

A recent study carried out jointly between University of Copenhagen and Jimma University, Ethiopia showed that provision of a dietary supplement alongside ART was beneficial to patient health, leading to increased lean body mass, more weight gain, and better grip strength compared to a control group. Patients were provided with a daily supplement of 200g peanut butter fortified with whey or soy protein, vitamins, and mineral additives packaged in 100g sachets, with their consumption monitored by counting the empty sachets returned.

It is possible that because ART can have the side effect of weight gain, malnutrition in patients and its effects may have been somewhat overlooked. This study highlights the beneficial effects of weight gain due to good nutrition rather than medication, noting that whilst weight gain as a side-effect of ART is due to increased fat and does not bring health benefits, taking the supplements increased the patients' lean body mass - loss of which has been associated with mortality in HIV sufferers. [MedicalNewsToday]

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