Multivitamins in HIV and AIDS.




New England Journal of Medicine

Related Monographs

Consumer Data: Multivitamin Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS)
Professional Data: Multivitamin Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS)


First recognized as a disease in 1981, AIDS now ranks high among the world's most urgent public health problems. AIDS is currently the fifth leading cause of death among adults between the ages of 25 and 44. "Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome" is a severe depletion of the immune system that seriously weakens the body's defenses against infection. Death due to AIDS is not caused by the immune deficiency itself, but by infectious organisms that take advantage of the ravaged immune system. A normal, healthy immune system is fully able to fend off most of the diseases that kill people with AIDS.

Once it invades the body, the HIV virus enters the "T4 helper cells," white blood cells that coordinate the various cellular functions of the immune system. The virus then penetrates the T4 cell nucleus and commandeers the cell's DNA, instructing it to make copies of the virus. In effect, HIV turns the T4 cells into virus-making factories. Eventually these cells are destroyed, leaving the immune system crippled. The HIV infected person now has AIDS.

A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine stated that observational studies indicate that the status of micronutrients may affect the progression of HIV. This study involved 1078 pregnant women who tested positive for HIV. These women received a supplement of vitamin A, a multivitamin, placebo or both. These women were followed for 71 months. 271 women received the multivitamin and of these, 67 became critically ill (stage 4 disease) or died. In the placebo group, of the 267 women, 83 became ill or died. The addition of the multivitamins increased the CD4+ and CD8+ cell count and reduced viral loads. The vitamin A did not show any benefits. The authors concluded that, “Multivitamin supplements delay the progression of HIV disease and provide an effective, low-cost means of delaying the initiation of antiretroviral therapy in HIV-infected women.”1


1. Fawzi WW. A randomized trial of multivitamin supplements and HIV disease progression and mortality. N Engl J Med. 2004 Jul 1;351(1):23-32.