Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Eating Right with HIV: The Role of Probiotics

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a retrovirus that causes acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). Since people with HIV have suppressed immune systems that leave the body open to higher risk of infections and cancers, it is especially important to follow a healthy and balanced diet as much as possible. 

Some studies show that probiotics can help improve the health of people with HIV. For instance, the journal Nature Medicine published an article that reported the connection between probiotic consumption through yogurt and the gastrointestinal health of people with HIV. Since HIV infection can disrupt the natural balance of healthy bacteria in the gut, a plan for eating right with HIV may include adding probiotics to your diet.

CD4 Cells and Probiotics

Doctors determine the health of the immune system of a person with HIV by measuring how many functioning CD4 cells are present in the blood. CD4 cells are a type of T-cell that initiate the immune system’s response to infection. People with HIV tend to have lower counts of T cells, including CD4 cells, than healthy individuals. 

The gut of a healthy person is home to a large abundance of CD4 cells. However, when a person is infected with HIV, gut health is compromised and the amount of CD4 cells decreases. This causes the body to become more prone to infections. The probiotics found in yogurt and other sources may help in restoring CD4 counts so that the immune system is more prepared to fight against HIV-related infections. 

Promoting Healthy Gut Bacteria with Probiotics

The gut is home to countless microorganisms that are imperative for proper digestion and a healthy immune response. When HIV infects the body, the balance of healthy microorganisms (healthy bacteria) diminishes, which allows unhealthy microorganisms, including fungi and “bad” bacteria to grow out of balance. Probiotics can help in repopulating the gut with “friendly” bacteria. When there are enough beneficial bacteria in the gut, there is a stronger chance that the good bacteria will outcompete the bad bacteria for nutrients, which will ultimately improve the person’s digestion and immune system.

Tips for Taking Probiotics

Some people experience bloating, gas, and general abdominal discomfort from taking probiotic supplements or foods that are high in probiotics. These symptoms can be especially prevalent in people with serious illnesses such as HIV. Check in with your doctor before making changes to your diet so that side effects can be avoided whenever possible.
Knowing about different options for probiotics may also help you to find a probiotic product that works best for you. For instance, you may find that probiotics in food sources cause fewer side effects than probiotic supplements, or vice versa. 

If you choose a probiotic supplement, be sure to check the expiration date on the product. Probiotics are living organisms and will expire at some point. Many probiotic supplements require refrigeration, so be sure to read storage instrctions as well so that the supplement remains effective for as long as possible. 

With a quality probiotic supplement or by consuming foods that include probiotics, you may be able to improve the health of your gut. Many people with HIV have a reduced appetite due to certain medications or other factors. Consuming a daily smoothie that includes probiotic-rich yogurt and fruit will help to add healthy calories to your diet while improving your gut health. Be sure to choose a natural yogurt that is free of additives and that includes probiotics such as acidophilus and lactobacillus. 

In addition to taking probiotic supplements or consuming foods with probiotics, focus your diet on nutrient-rich foods. A well-rounded healthy diet plan is one of the best ways to improve your energy levels, your immunity, and your overall wellbeing.

Written for RiseUpToHIV by Valerie Johnston 
Valerie is a health and fitness writer located in East Texas. With ambitions of one day running a marathon, writing for ensures she keeps up-to-date on all of the latest health and fitness news.

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