A number of studies have been done on vitamin A deficiency and how it affects people with HIV/AIDS. So far, researchers have determined a few important facts, but many results have been varied an inconclusive.
• Vitamin A deficiency correlates to a higher morbidity rate (more secondary illnesses) in people with HIV/AIDS, and possibly with a faster progression of HIV/AIDS and higher mortality rate.
• Children with HIV/AIDS clearly benefit from taking vitamin A supplements, including improved growth and a halved mortality rate over the course of a year.
• Vitamin A supplements are safe for both children and adults with HIV/AIDS.
• Studies on the benefit of vitamin A supplements for adults with HIV/AIDS have shown mixed results. Some show benefits from taking vitamin A supplements, and some do not.
• Vitamin A supplements have no impact on the transfer the HIV from mother to child during pregnancy, on the likelihood of a pre-term birth, or the likelihood of still births.
• One study has found that a large percentage of vitamin A taken as a supplement is lost through urination. This study suggests that not enough of vitamin A from the supplement is remaining in the body to offset the vitamin A deficiency, and that taking more vitamin A supplement may provide benefits for adults with HIV/AIDS.
What does this mean for people with HIV/AIDS?
Anyone who has a child with HIV/AIDS should speak with a doctor about getting the child on a vitamin A supplement as soon as possible. A doctor will be able to advise how much vitamin A the child should take. Some insurance companies will cover all or part of the cost of nutritional supplements with a doctor’s prescription.
An adult with HIV/AIDS may speak with their doctor about testing to see if they have a vitamin A deficiency, and whether or not a supplement may be beneficial. Because there isn’t any definite information on the effect of vitamin A supplements on HIV/AIDS, each person will need to work with their doctor to make their own best assessment of what is right for them. If a person with HIV/AIDS decides to start taking a vitamin A supplement, it may be worth asking their doctor about the possibility of taking a high dose then is usually recommended. This may counter loss of the supplement through urination, so that the body can benefit from the supplement. Taking increased levels of vitamin A may have risks that taking the recommended levels does not, or may have interactions with other medication, so it is important to talk with a doctor before making decisions about how much vitamin A supplement to take.
Overall, most studies need to be done before anything is known for certain on whether or not vitamin A can help most people with HIV/AIDS. What is known now is that taken under a doctor’s supervision, it doesn’t make things worse, and may help.