Nutrient Deficiencies in HIV-Infected People

Nutrient Deficiencies in HIV-Infected People. Eating well can do a great deal to ensure that your food is both safe and nutrient rich. However, even the best diet is probably not sufficient to meet all your nutrient needs. There are man different causes for nutrient deficiencies in people living with HIV: the high demand for antioxidants, the increased metabolism that begins in the earliest disease stages, malabsorption because of damage to the intestines (by HIV or other infections), and decreased intake of food because of mouth or throat problems, loss of appetite, fever, nausea, and vomiting. The end result is frequently serious deficiency of important nutrient, many of which are critical for supporting immune function.


The use of antibiotics and other medications that destroy the body’s “friendly” gastrointestinal bacteria also cause nutrient deficiencies. Gastrointestinal bacteria are necessary for the breakdown and absorption of certain food substances. Without them, foods (especially dairy products) cannot be digested properly and become useless to the body as a source of nutrients. Moreover, maldigested food may cause other problems, including diarrhea. Gastrointestinal bacteria also produce several different vitamins, including thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, folic acid, choline, biotin, and vitamin K. Sulfa-based antibiotics (such as TMP/SMX: Bactrim or Septra), tetracycline, and most other broad-spectrum antibiotics are especially problematic because their use diminishes production of these vitamins. Many people with HIV use sulfa antibiotics on a long-term basis, since they are the most common medication used to prevent PCP, a common disease associated with HIV. With each round of antibiotics, an important source of vitamins for the body is destroyed.

Antibiotics should be used when prescribed, but only when needed. If prescribed, be scrupulous about replenishing the body’s supply of gastrointestinal bacteria by taking acidophilus supplement. It is also important for anyone using an antibiotic to consider supplementing with biotin (which is a critical for the proper metabolism of fat and for the synthesis of fatty acids and, being in short supply in most foods, is mostly supplied to the body by the intestinal bacteria) and a daily multiple vitamin/mineral.