Nutrient Deficiencies and Their Symptoms in HIV

Nutrient that may help eliminate a particular symptom are listed after the symptoms, in parentheses:

  • Fatigue: Vitamin B12, folic acid, essential fatty acids, vitamin E ascorbate, iron, magnesium, chromin. Coenzyme Q10.
  • Skin problems: Zinc, essential fatty acids, vitamin A, beta-carotene, vitamin E, vitamin B6.
  • Weight loss: biotin, multiple nutrients.
  • Loss of sense of smell or taste: zinc, essential fatty acids, potassium.
  • Loss of memory or ability to concentrate: vitamin B12, thiamin.
  • Some types of nerve pain: biotin, choline, inositol, vitamin B12, folic acid, B6, thiamin.
  • Depression and anxiety: B12, B6, multiple nutrients.
  • Muscle cramps: magnesium, calcium, vitamin E.
  • Canker sores: B12, folic acid, niacin, iron.

Although many symptoms may be related to nutrient deficiencies, they may, of course, be tied to infections, drug side effects, HIV itself, or other problems. Is is important to assess all symptoms carefully to determine all possible factors that may be contributing to a given symptom. For example, B12 deficiency is extremely common among people with HIV disease and often occurs early on (when CD4+ counts are still in the 500 to 800 range). In these cases, supplementing with B12 can improve quality of life –by reducing extreme fatigue- and may even boost CD4+ counts. At more advanced stages of the disease, B12 deficiency can cause neuropathy and dementia or lesser form of memory loss and cognitive dysfunction. In some people it also causes tinnitus (ringing in the ears).

However, for any of these symptoms, there may be other causes that are equally important to examine. For example, fatigue may be caused by the presence of Candida overgrowth or parasites (which should be treated medically), by drug side effects (the potential for which must be addressed by your physician), by abnormal hormone levels (which must be addressed by your physician conducting proper tests and treating the problem accordingly), by the presence of certain infections (which must be treated medically), and so on. In addition, a number of other nutrients can, if deficient, contribute to fatigue –including essential fatty acids, magnesium, chromium, and vitamin E. Often a particular symptom has several causes at work and they must all be addressed for the most complete resolution of the problem.

It is important to look at symptoms that have been classified as untreatable or that have been determined to be “treatment resistant” to identify whether nutrient deficiencies may be contributing to them. Often, people do not “just have to learn to live with them” because there is a potential agent for their resolution-nutrient supplementation.

A total HIV protocol, consisting of a medical-treatment strategy and a solid, balanced nutrition program, not only works to slow disease progression and prevent infections, but also to reduce symptoms and improve quality of life and, quite possibly, to provide a greater will to live because people feel better. This is integrated medicine at its best. As with every aspect of a program for living well with HIV, all additions to your program should be made in consultation with a licensed health care practitioner qualified to monitor your progress.