Selenium Suppresses HIV

By Jeremy Appleton, ND, CNS

Healthnotes Newswire (March 1, 2007)—Supplementing daily with the essential trace mineral selenium can suppress the progression of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and improve immune cell counts, new research shows. The results support the use of selenium as an additional therapy for HIV and AIDS.

A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine evaluated the effects of selenium on HIV viral load and T helper cell count. (Viral load is the amount of virus circulating in the blood at any given time; T helper [CD4+] cells are immune cells that HIV exploits to infect a person.)

“Complete control of HIV over time using antiretroviral drugs is unlikely, and this limitation leaves a significant void in the treatment arsenal,” said Barry E. Hurwitz, PhD, of the Behavioral Medicine Research Center at the University of Miami and lead author of the new study. “And despite promising findings that selenium may improve immune functioning, definitive evidence of its impact as an adjunct treatment for HIV and AIDS has been lacking.”

A deficiency of selenium can cause heart muscle abnormalities and immune dysfunction, especially in parts of the world where the mineral is lacking in the soil. Selenium deficiency has also been observed in people with HIV infection and AIDS. Mortality rates among HIV-infected adults and children are higher when blood concentrations of selenium are low. In selenium-deficient people, HIV becomes more virulent, the activity of “natural killer” immune cells is diminished, and the disease’s progress is hastened. Test tube studies suggest that selenium can suppress HIV replication.

The nine-month Miami Selenium for Heart and Immune Health Trial evaluated the effect of selenium supplementation (200 mcg per day) on blood selenium levels and its impact on HIV-1 viral load and CD4 cell count in HIV-positive men and women. Blood levels of selenium increased significantly in the selenium-treated group but not in the placebo-treated group. Greater levels predicted decreased HIV-1 viral load, which in turn predicted increased CD4 cell count. In a follow-up analysis, those who stuck to the treatment regimen had no change in viral load and an increase in CD4 count. In contrast, those with poor adherence to the protocol had increased HIV-1 viral load and decreased CD4 counts.

“This study is the first of its kind to demonstrate that daily supplementation with selenium elevates the blood selenium levels and suppresses the progression of HIV-1 viral load,” Dr. Hurwitz concluded. “Given the challenges of using conventional drugs to achieve and maintain virus suppression in HIV-spectrum disease, these results are very encouraging for selenium as a safe and inexpensive adjunct to conventional therapy.”

(Arch Intern Med 2007;167:148–54)

Jeremy Appleton, ND, CNS, is a licensed naturopathic physician, certified nutrition specialist, and published author. Dr. Appleton was the Nutrition Department Chair at the National College of Naturopathic Medicine, has served on the faculty at Bastyr University of Natural Health Sciences, and is a former Healthnotes Senior Science Editor and a founding contributor to Healthnotes Newswire. He has worked extensively in scientific and regulatory affairs in the supplement industry and is now a consultant through his company Praxis Natural Products Consulting and Wellness Services.

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