What People with HIV/AIDS Need to Know about Vitamin A

Vitamin A, also known as retinol, is an important nutrient that helps maintain healthy skin, good vision (especially in low light) and mucus membranes such as the lining of the mouth and nose. Vitamin A deficiency – that is, low levels of vitamin A in the body – is common in people with HIV/AIDS.

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.

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  1. [...] more subtle. Deficiencies in some nutrients are common in people with HIV/AIDS, including selenium, vitamin A, zinc, iron and others. These deficiencies often go undetected unless doctors order tests for them [...]

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