Part of the way the body protects itself against infection is called autophagy. Basically, a cell that is infected is supposed to destroy itself, so the virus can’t replicate and spread to other cells. One of the reasons HIV is able to overwhelm the immune system is that it interferes with autophagy – prevents cells from destroying themselves to stop HIV.
Vitamin D is important for autophagy. When the body has enough vitamin D cells are more likely to destroy themselves, making it easier to stop an infection from spreading. People with HIV/AIDS who have low levels of vitamin D have faster disease progression, and are more likely to get some opportunistic infections.
Having enough vitamin D makes it possible for cells that are infected with HIV to destroy themselves, even though HIV tries to stop them. This means that a person with enough vitamin D has some protection against getting infected by HIV, and if infected, has a stronger chance of fighting the infection and slowing the progression to AIDS.
Getting Vitamin D
Vitamin D is rather famous as the vitamin you can get just by sitting in the sun. Sunlight triggers production of vitamin D. UV-B rays (the same ones your sunscreen protects against) are the key to vitamin D production. Unfortunately, just sitting in the sun soaking up UV rays isn’t exactly a safe thing to do, so it’s important to try and get your vitamin D from other sources, and try not to spend ore than 15 minutes a day in the sun without protection.
Luckily, vitamin D is also found in a variety of food. The best sources of vitamin D are fatty fish, with cod liver oil, swordfish and salmon all having well over the daily recommended intake for vitamin D in one serving. In the US and several other countries, vitamin D is also added to some foods, so milk products and orange juice also contain lots of vitamin D.
Supplements for vitamin D are also available. It may be worthwhile for peopel with HIV/AIDS or at high risk of HIV infection to take vitamin D supplements, so they can be certain of getting enough vitamin D.
Vitamin D isn’t a miracle cure, it won’t get rid of HIV. But making sure you have enough vitamin D can help you stay healthy, slow the progression of HIV, and fight off opportunistic infections.