Vitamin E Supplements May Help Reduce Viral Load, Improve Other Signs in

BACKGROUND: Several studies have found that supplemental antioxidants can improve the health of people infected with HIV (human immunodeficiency virus). Often, dosages well above the Reference Dietary Intake are needed to achieve "normal" blood levels of these nutrients in these individuals. Vitamin E is of particular interest because its antioxidant action inhibits the activity of a protein, "nuclear factor kappa beta," which the virus needs for replication. The vitamin also quenches free radicals, which can otherwise stimulate HIV replication.

RESEARCH: Researchers treated 18 HIV-infected men and women for 60 days, giving half of them only anti-viral drugs plus placebo and the other half anti-viral medications plus 800 mg of vitamin E daily.

RESULTS: Viral loads (i.e., concentrations of HIV) decreased in both groups but was significant only among patients taking vitamin E and anti-viral drugs, but not among those taking only the medications. After 60 days, there was no difference in viral loads between the two groups. People taking vitamin E also had a trend toward increases in beneficial CD4 immune cells and an improved ratio of CD4 to CD8 immune cells. In addition, levels of hemoglobin and the number of red blood cells rose slightly among patients taking vitamin E, possibly because the vitamin helped protect the membranes of red blood cells from free radical damage.

IMPLICATIONS: The use of vitamin E supplements may enhance the therapeutic effects of anti-viral treatment in patients with HIV infections. Vitamin E may also help restore higher levels of immune cells and red blood cells. Continued evaluation beyond 60 days will help to understand the beneficial effect of vitamin E on immune system recovery.

Spada C, Treitinger A, Reis M, et al, "An evaluation of antiretroviral therapy associated with alpha-tocopherol supplementation in HIV-infected patients," Clinical Chemistry and Laboratory Medicine, 2002;40:456-459.

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