New research suggests that multivitamin supplements taken long-term, alongside a micronutrient called selenium, delay HIV progression in patients with early stages of the disease and reduce the risk of immune decline and illness. This is according to a study published in JAMA.

Investigators from Florida International University in Miami, led by Marianna K. Baum, note that micronutrient deficiencies are known to influence immune function, are common before the development of symptoms of HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), and are linked to increased HIV progression.

Previous studies have demonstrated that micronutrient supplementation improves markers of HIV progression, the researchers say, but they add that these studies were conducted in patients who were at the late stages of the disease, or in pregnant women.

For this most recent study, the investigators wanted to determine whether certain micronutrient supplements would slow HIV progression in HIV-infected patients who were in the early stages of the disease, and who had not received antiretroviral therapy (ART).

The researchers randomized 878 patients from Botswana with HIV subtype C to receive daily multivitamins and/or micronutrient supplements for a period of 24 months. Patients received either multivitamins (vitamins B, C and E) alone, selenium alone, multivitamins with selenium, or placebos.

The investigators say the vitamins and selenium are nutrients that the body needs in order to maintain a responsive immune system, while selenium may also play a part in preventing HIV replication.

The results of the study revealed that patients who took a combination of multivitamins and selenium had a lower risk of reaching a CD4 cell count of 250/µL or less – a level that prompts initiation of ART in Botswana – compared with patients who took placebos.

Furthermore, a mix of multivitamins and selenium was found to reduce the risk of a combination of measures for HIV progression, including CD4 cell count less than 250/µL, acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS)-defining conditions, or AIDS-related death.

Commenting on their findings, the researchers say:

This evidence supports the use of specific micronutrient supplementation as an effective intervention in HIV-infected adults in early stages of HIV disease, significantly reducing the risk for disease progression in asymptomatic, ART-naive, HIV-infected adults.”

The investigators add that the reduced risk of HIV progression demonstrated in the study “may translate into delay in the time when the HIV-infected patients experience immune dysfunction and into broader access to HIV treatment in developing countries.”

Although the study was conducted in HIV-infected patients from Botswana, the researchers point out that their findings are “generalizable” to other cohorts.

These include those that are infected with HIV subtype C in settings with limited resources, where use of ART is being increased, introduced or is not yet available, and in conditions similar to Botswana at the time of the study.

Medical News Today recently reported on a study detailing the discovery of an HIV vaccine clue in the structure of a key infection protein.