Not as many studies have been done on zinc as on other micronutrients, such as vitamin A, so not as much information is available. The studies that have been completed are beginning to form a partial picture of the impact zinc and HIV/AIDS have on each other.
One of the earliest studies linking zinc and HIV/AIDS was published in 1991, and found that there was a connection between levels of zinc and the progression of AIDS. The study found that low levels of zinc in the blood were an indication of how far the disease had progressed – to the point that the progression of HIV/AIDS could be predicted based on the levels of zinc.
Two other, more recent, studies had very different findings. One, in 2010, found that HIV, and viral load levels, have no impact on the amount of zinc found in the saliva of people with HIV/AIDS. Surprisingly, the study found that people on HAART drugs did have lower levels of zinc in their saliva.
The second study, published in 2009, found that people with HIV/AIDS who had inflammation had lower levels of zinc, and that supplements did not increase their zinc levels. People who did not have inflammation, on the other hand, were more likely to have healthy levels of zinc in their blood, and did benefit both from taking supplements and increasing the foods they ate that contained zinc.
While nowhere near conclusive, these studies suggest that the presence of HIV has no impact on the body’s zinc levels, but that as HIV/AIDS progresses, inflammation may prevent the body from absorbing zinc properly. Not being able to absorb the zinc would explain why the people who were experiencing inflammation didn’t benefit from taking zinc supplements.
Only a few studies have been done on how taking zinc supplements affects people with HIV/AIDS. One found a small benefit to children with HIV/AIDS – the study participants who took zinc supplements had a lower rate of diarrhea. So far no benefit has been found for adults or pregnant women with HIV/AIDS.
Zinc supplements are safe for people with HIV/AIDS, and especially if a blood test shows low levels of zinc, there is no harm in taking them. However at this point there is no reason to believe taking the supplements will have any benefit for most people with HIV/AIDS.
If inflammation in people with HIV/AIDS is preventing zinc from being absorbed by the body, then it is possible that people without inflammation could benefit from zinc supplements. Certainly several studies not involving people with HIV/AIDS have shown zinc has a beneficial effect on immune function.
Anyone who is considering taking zinc supplements should speak with their doctor first. Zinc supplements have been tests as safe for people with HIV/AIDS. With the information available, it appears that taking zinc supplements are unlikely to provide benefits to many people with HIV/AIDS.