Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). The immune system begins to fail. This leads to life-threatening infections.
Approximately 33 million people in the world are living with HIV or AIDS. The rates are highest in Africa. About 120,000 have HIV/AIDS in the United States. Each year, approximately 22,000 die.
The primary risk factor for HIV/AIDS is exposure to HIV. This usually occurs with unprotected sexual contact or needle exchange during drug use.
Sunlight exposure and HIV/AIDS risk
There is little reported research on the role of sunlight and HIV. A study in Baltimore, Maryland, found that purposely seeking sun exposure lowered the rate of AIDS progression by 33%. However, the result was not considered statistically significant. The reduction may have occurred by chance.
Vitamin D and HIV/AIDS
Vitamin D levels
In Tanzania, pregnant women with HIV were studied for about five years. Findings included:
- Higher vitamin D levels were associated with a slower progression of HIV to AIDS.
- Women with vitamin D levels above 32 ng/mL (80 nmol/L) had a 25% lower risk of disease progression.
- Women with higher vitamin D levels had a lower risk of dying from any cause during the study.
How vitamin D works
Vitamin D benefits patients with HIV or AIDS because it:
- Reduces the risk of bone mineral loss and osteoporosis
- Improves the immune system by producing cathelicidin and defensins (proteins that help fight bacteria and viruses)
- Reduces inflammation by shifting protein production away from inflammation
- Improves muscle strength
- Improves blood sugar control and reduces the risk of diabetes
There have been no reported studies using vitamin D to prevent HIV and its progression to AIDS. However, higher vitamin D levels may reduce HIV risk and progression.
From studies on other diseases, it appears that vitamin D levels above 40 ng/mL (100 nmol/L) may be desirable.
Vitamin D and calcium
There is no evidence that calcium reduces the risk of HIV/AIDS. However, people with these disorders often have lower bone mineral density and increased risk of osteoporosis.
Raising vitamin D levels and taking other supplements may lower osteoporosis risk. These supplements include calcium, magnesium, boron, vitamin C, and hydrolyzed collagen.
People with HIV/AIDS would benefit by measuring their vitamin D blood levels. Supplements could raise vitamin D levels to at least 40 ng/mL (100 nmol/L). However, there is considerable variation from person to person. Vitamin D levels should be measured both before and after taking vitamin D supplements or increasing ultraviolet-B (UVB)
This evidence summary was written by:
William B. Grant, Ph.D.
Sunlight, Nutrition, and Health Research Center (SUNARC)
P.O. Box 641603
San Francisco, CA 94164-1603, USA
The summary was reviewed by:
- Luca Mascitelli
- Robert P. Heaney
Complete bibliography of research used in this summary
The research we have cited in our summary is listed below, with links to PubMed abstracts and full-text for those who wish to explore further.
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