Selenium slows HIV

Antiretroviral treatment is the main treatment for HIV and AIDS. Antiretroviral drugs are designed to slow the replication of HIV in the body. But the drugs cannot completely stop the replication so some HIV is able to survive despite continuous treatment. When HIV replicates, it is not exactly the same as the generation before, which leads to drug resistant strains of HIV. When resistance develops, a person usually has to change drug regimens.

HELP IN A SUPPLEMENT: Researchers from the University of Miami have studied the supplement selenium as a way to slow the progression of HIV. Selenium is a powerful antioxidant that helps boost the immune system. It is essential to the human diet and comes from foods such as meat, fish, eggs and Brazil nuts. Researchers tested a selenium supplement in 262 HIV-positive patients, of whom 174 completed the nine-month follow up. Half of the patients in the study received 200 micrograms of selenium and the other half received a placebo. Patients did not know what they were receiving, nor did researchers know which patients were in which group.

Study results show viral load stayed the same or even decreased in those taking selenium, but viral load increased in those taking placebo. Greater levels of selenium were significantly associated with decreased HIV viral load, compared with those in the placebo group. That decreased viral load correlated with a significantly increased CD4 count.

One theory on why selenium may benefit patients with HIV is that the supplement may repair damage to immune cells. Barry Hurwitz, Ph.D., from the University of Miami adds another strong possibility is that selenium works directly to suppress HIV replication.

"I liken the effect of selenium to a lion tamer in a zoo," Dr. Hurwitz told Ivanhoe. "What it tends to do is make viruses more docile and they are less likely to replicate. The effect of selenium appears to be acting directly on the virus."

SAFETY: There were no adverse effects associated with taking selenium supplements. In fact, the dose used in the study is just half the maximum daily allowance of selenium. This same dose has been studied for many different types of cancer. "Many people have been exposed to this particular level of dosage of selenium and it's been found to be very safe," Dr. Hurwtiz said.


Omar Montejo
University of Miami
(305) 243-5654

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