HIV and AIDS Patient friendly summary

  • UVB exposure is an important source of vitamin D.
  • Vitamin D has many benefits for those with HIV/AIDS including strengthening the immune system. 

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.

Risk factors

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) exposure.

Find out more...

Do you want to find out more and see the research upon which this summary is based?  Read our detailed evidence summary on HIV and AIDS.

Page last edited: 14 May 2011