Watch CBS News

Multivitamin, selenium supplements may delay onset of AIDS

Taking certain multivitamins and a selenium supplement may be able to delay the progression of HIV to AIDS, a new study suggests.

Research published in JAMA on Nov. 27 showed that patients with HIV who were not taking anti-retroviral drugs were more likely to delay the progression of their disease to AIDS if they took the supplements.

“Giving a simple supplement of vitamins and selenium will be helpful to patients without costing a whole lot of money and needing a complicated infrastructure of laboratories and pharmacies,” study author Marianna Baum, professor in the department of dietetics and nutrition at the FIU Robert Stempel College of Public Health and Social Work, said to Bloomberg. "This new insight is very accessible and applicable to all populations across the world."

The two-year study focused on about 900 HIV-infected patients in Botswana who had not been taking any medication to prevent the virus from getting worse. The patients were either given a multivitamin containing B, C and E vitamins; a selenium supplement; both the multivitamin and selenium; or a sugar-pill placebo.

The results for those that took the multivitamin or selenium only were about the same as the group that took the placebo. But, those that took both the multivitamin and selenium were 50 percent less likely to have disease progress compared to those who took the placebo.  

While the numbers were statistically significant, the researchers pointed out that the overall risk of the disease becoming worse in just two years was low.

The authors said that it was unclear what the effect of taking these supplements would be on people who were taking anti-retroviral medications to keep AIDS at bay. 

More than 1.1 million people in the U.S. are currently living with HIV, according to government estimates. Almost one in five may not know they have the virus that causes the disease.

The majority of people in the U.S. will take an anti-retroviral treatment when diagnosed, but there may be reasons that people refuse or are unable to take these medications, especially in third world countries. The authors noted that the multivitamin and selenium supplement were relatively cheap, just costing just pennies a day.

"It is incredibly useful to find new strategies to delay the progression of HIV disease," said Dr. Jared Baeten, an associate professor of global health at the University of Washington in Seattle who was not involved in the study, said to HealthDay. "Not every HIV-infected person is immediately willing, or able, to initiate anti-retroviral therapy. Inexpensive, proven treatments ahead of starting anti-retroviral therapy can fill an important role."

Dr. Bruce Hirsch, attending physician in the division of infectious diseases at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, N.Y., told that previous studies have looked at how nutritional deficiencies can negatively affect diseases of the immune system like HIV/AIDS, so it makes sense that a multivitamin can help in this case. However, the study wasn't clear on the nutritional status of the subjects, and he wasn't sure if people who had got proper nutrition would benefit from the additional supplements.

Baeten pointed out that the study showed that these specific supplements works, so he cautioned that HIV/AIDS patients shouldn’t assume that any multivitamin on the market would be effective.

"Only the combination of vitamins plus selenium was effective," Baeten said. "For U.S. patients, this latter point is relevant, as there's a huge variety of supplements available. I would suggest talking with a doctor before taking any supplements."

Hirsch said that while taking supplements probably wouldn't hurt most people, there have been a few studies that suggested that taking some supplements may cause negative effects.

"If a patient is taking multivitamins, I probably would not dissuade them, but I would also emphasize a healthful diet rich in healthy foods and fruits," he said.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.