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July 5, 2004
Multivitamins Keep AIDS at Bay

Findings of a study in Africa have revealed that daily doses of multivitamins may slow the HIV virus. Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health and from Muhimbili University College of Health Services in Tanzania randomly assigned 1,078 HIV infected women to receive a daily dose of one of four regimens: vitamin A alone, multivitamins excluding A (with B-complex, C and E), multivitamins containing A, or a placebo. All women received standard doses of antenatal folic acid and iron.

The study, which was published on July 1, 2004 in The New England Journal of Medicine, began in 1995 and analysed women that were given multivitamins or a placebo (a useless dummy) pill. Only 7% of the 271 women who took the multivitamins developed aids, compared with 12% of 267 women who took the placebo pill.

Women who took multivitamins had higher CD4 immune cell counts, lower viral loads, and reduced complications of HIV infection including oral thrush, difficulty in swallowing, diarrhea and fatigue.

"Its a low cost intervention that could result in major savings and be helpful to many individuals in terms of better quality of life", said Dr. Wafaie Fawzi of the Harvard School of Public Health, who led the study reported. "Introducing these supplements would enhance monitoring prior to clinical eligibility for antiretroviral drugs for later stages of the disease, avert adverse events associated with them, and result in better quality of life among HIV infected persons and significant treatment-related cost savings".

The researchers who conducted the study stress that while vitamins are no substitute for AIDS drugs, vitamin supplements should be used to delay the need for AIDS drugs. The high-dose multivitamin containing vitamins B, C and E used in the study costs about US$15 for a year's supply per person, compared to AIDS drugs in Africa which cost about US$300 a year. The study was supported by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, and also by the Fogarty International Center at the National Institutes of Health.