By Avni Kaul
AIDS or Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome is a disease which is caused when Human Immunodeficiency Virus or HIV attacks the body’s natural defense mechanism leaving it exposed and defenseless against disease and infection. This slow acting virus weakens the body due to which all kinds of bacteria, viruses, and parasites attack the body causing diseases like pneumonia, tuberculosis, and oral thrush.
Depending on general health and nutritional consumption of the patient before and during the attack of the HIV virus, the disease grows. Usually, it takes up to 10 years for the disease to be full-blown.HIV/AIDS is not curable. However, some of the infections and cancers, called opportunistic because they infect an AIDS patient, may cause fever, coughing, itching, difficulty in breathing or swallowing and chronic diarrhoea can be prevented, treated or even cured.
The antiretroviral(ARV) drugs, which have been recently developed, directly attack the HIV virus and slows down its growth in the body. Those drugs, however, are expensive and not easily available.
HIV is only transmitted through the exchange of bodily fluids and not through handshakes, hugging, sharing food or toilet with the infected person or through insect bites. However, some people may appear healthy while carrying the disease. Therefore, in case of any suspicion of ill-health, it is advisable to contact the doctor immediately.
The Relation Between Nutrition & HIV
Nutrition and HIV are caught in a vicious cycle for malnourishment is caused when the immune system fails a patient which in turn worsens the condition of an HIV carrier leading to rapid progression to AIDS. It is important for everyone to take good care of self while emphasizing on good nutrition so that there is improved resistance to infection and disease with better energy levels. A person who eats good, nutritious food on a regular basis is generally stronger and active with a better immune system. A person infected with HIV needs to be well-nourished so that he is able to cope with and then beat the disease to whatever extent he is able to. There are more chances of an HIV infected person to be malnourished due to the following reasons:-
1. The food intake of the infected person reduces due to lack of appetite or an infection or fever and it leads to malnourishment. Some medications also leave an unnatural taste in the mouth due to which the patient loses interest in eating. The patient may also be unable to meet the dietary requirements because they may get depressed on realising the enormity of the disease and the social stigma attached to it.
2. Consumption of good, nutritious food, with protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins. Minerals and water, does not always get absorbed by the body due to HIV infection and this causes diarrhoea. The intestinal cells also get damaged due to HIV which negatively affects the immune system.
3. The poor nutrient absorption brings about changes in metabolism due to which the digestive system gets affected.
4. A person infected with HIV gets frequent fever and infections due to which the nutrient requirement increases through the absorption of these nutrients in the body decreases. The reduced appetite due to illness leads to reduced food intake and loss of weight.
Coping With HIV
HIV patients, both adults, and children lose weight and lean muscle tissue and have a damaged immune system. They may have some of the following symptoms too which may lead to malnourishment:-
1. ANOREXIA or loss of appetite occurs when the HIV patient is suffering from an infection and fever. Also, unhappy people with no one to provide emotional support during the illness may also suffer from anorexia.
2. DIARRHOEA may occur due to dirty drinking water, infections, parasites or if some medical treatment does not suit the patient. The loss of water, nutrients, and minerals during diarrhoea leads to dehydration in the patients. Reduced appetite and poor nutrient absorption are some of the effects of diarrhoea but if it continues for a long time, then severe malnutrition occurs.
3. FEVER may be due to HIV or any other infection but the requirement of nutritious food increases during the fever because its utilization and absorption decreases at this time.
4. NAUSEA or frequent vomiting due to the medication also results in poor appetite and absorption of the consumed food.
5. THRUSH is a fungal infection in the form of whitish spots on the inside of the mouth, tongue, vagina or anus. They are uncomfortable and this may lead to loss of appetite due to the difficulty in eating. The reduced food intake thus results in weight loss. This is a very common infection in HIV infected people.
6. ANAEMIA occurs when there are inadequate number of red blood cells in the body which may be due to lack of iron in the diet or loss of blood. Progression of HIV infected persons to AIDS is faster if the person is anemic. HIV patients suffer from poor food intake and nutrient absorption. Their metabolism gets disrupted due to chronic infection which leads to wasting of muscle mass and lean body tissues.
The caregivers of the HIV infected patients also need to take good care of themselves and their nutritional needs so that they can provide good care for as long as is needed. They need to consume adequate amounts of macro-nutrients which include proteins, carbohydrates and fats, and micronutrients which include vitamins and minerals while providing the same to the HIV infected patients. HIV infected patients typically need to increase their protein intake by 50-100 percent and carbohydrate intake by 10-15 percent because their reduced food intake and poor absorption of nutrients distort the balance of their metabolism which affects cell growth, digestion, and immunity.
Patients also need to consume adequate amount of vitamin A, B6 and B12 to build up their immunity so that infections can be prevented. Specific foods like chicken or supplements help in building stronger immune system which slows down the progression of the disease. Adequate nutrition recommended by a professional prevents malnutrition so that the body weight and strength is maintained. A strong immune system, fortified by good, nutritious food, helps the body fight the opportunistic infections and thus prevent them. The treatment becomes more effective when it gets the support of good food and the medicines get better absorbed.
The progression of HIV can thus be stopped or at least slowed down. The quality of life becomes better when one feels better despite the disease.
DISCLAIMER: While we have taken steps to check the accuracy of information & practices shared here; it is not a replacement for a doctor’s opinion. it is important to first always check with your own doctor before trying any medication, practice or suggestion from this site.