Dietary Supplement Selenium Reduces HIV Viral Load, Increases CD4+ T Cell Count, Study Says

Article Date: 25 Jan 2007 – 21:00 PDT

The dietary supplement selenium can reduce HIV viral loads and increase CD4+ T cell counts in HIV-positive people, according to a study published in the Jan. 22 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine, the Los Angeles Times reports (Chong, Los Angeles Times, 1/23). Selenium is a mineral found in many foods and sold as a supplement for less than $10 per one-month supply. It helps regulate the thyroid and the immune system and creates antioxidants that protect the body from molecules that can damage cells, the Miami Herald reports.

Previous studies have found that HIV-positive people with low selenium levels are at an increased risk of a wide range of health conditions (Goldstein, Miami Herald, 1/23). For the study, Barry Hurwitz, a professor of psychology and medicine at the University of Miami, and colleagues randomly assigned 262 HIV-positive adults with normal selenium levels to take either a placebo pill or a 200 microgram capsule of high-selenium yeast for nine months, Reuters Health reports (Gale, Reuters Health, 1/22). Only 174 of the participants completed the nine-month follow-up period (Hurwitz et al., Archives of Internal Medicine, 1/22).

According to the Times, about two-thirds of the participants were taking antiretroviral drugs and about one-third of the participants were not. The study, which was funded by NIH, found that for the 50 participants who regularly took the selenium pills, HIV viral loads decreased an average of 10,000 viral particles per milliliter of blood, or by 12%, after nine months. The researchers also found an average CD4 increase of 30 cells per microliter of blood among the participants who regularly took selenium. According to Hurwitz, selenium had a positive effect among participants on antiretrovirals regardless of which drugs the participants were taking.

Among the 83 participants in the placebo group, viral loads increased by 10,000 to 20,000 viral particles per milliliter of blood and CD4 cells decreased by about 30 cells per microliter in the same time period, the study found. Forty-one participants were classified as “nonresponders” because they did not adhere to their selenium schedule or because of gastrointestinal problems that prevented them from absorbing the mineral, the Times reports. This group had the same results as the placebo group, the study found.

Reaction, Next Steps

“What [selenium] appears to do is make [HIV] more docile, less virulent and less likely to replicate,” Hurwitz said (Los Angeles Times, 1/23). He added that selenium is “a simple, inexpensive and safe adjunct therapy” (Miami Herald, 1/23). Jeffrey Blumberg, a nutrition professor at Tufts University, said that because selenium appears to be beneficial and to have no negative side effects, it can be used in conjunction with traditional therapies.

Jeffrey Lennox, principle investigator for Emory University’s HIV Clinical Trials Unit, said selenium’s effect appears to be smaller than a variation that can be seen in some people living with HIV/AIDS from week to week. The supplement likely does not have wide scale implications in the U.S. because of the availability of therapies that are aimed at reducing viral loads to undetectable levels, according to Lennox. He added, “The conclusions are intriguing, but they don’t change current medical practice. In people not receiving optimum therapy, selenium might be a benefit.” According to the Times, the researchers are analyzing data on selenium’s effects beyond nine months, and Hurwitz said the effects likely are long lasting (Los Angeles Times, 1/23).

The study is available online.

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