Photo: Mackenzie Stroh
Q: I'm an HIV-positive woman. Can I make my immune system stronger through nutrition?
— Marvelyn Brown, Brooklyn, New York
A: Yes, nutrition—especially poor nutrition—can have a powerful effect on anyone's immune system. Eating junk food and not getting enough fruits and vegetables will depress your immunity and leave you more vulnerable to this virus. So the first thing to do is to be sure you're eating right. Set a goal of getting nine servings of produce daily. Also, protein helps your body generate white blood cells and the antibodies that fight infection; look for lean sources such as fish, poultry, eggs, and dairy.
And while you're following a balanced diet, be sure that you're eating enough. HIV can trigger dramatic weight loss and leave you in a dangerously weakened state.
As for specific nutrients, B vitamins influence antibody and blood cell production; you can get them from nuts, seeds, grains, and vegetables. Of the numerous vitamins in the B complex, B2 (riboflavin), B5 (pantothenic acid), B6 (pyridoxine), B9 (folate), and B12 (cobalamin) are known to strengthen immunity. A multivitamin containing at least the recommended daily amounts of these will help ensure you're getting enough.
Last, a recent clinical trial suggests that the mineral selenium, at a dose of 200 micrograms a day, may help suppress HIV viral load. Since this dose appears to be quite safe, adding the supplement to your regimen makes sense—either alone or in a multivitamin.