According to new research, published in November - December issue of the prestigious journal Lancet, zinc supplementation should be used as adjunct therapy for children with HIV-1 infection , since it cuts the chance of diarrhea and pneumonia without risking deterioration of HIV infection.
Zinc deficiency is previously known to be associated with impaired immune function and an increased risk of infection. Diarrhea is one of the leading causes of death among children with HIV/AIDS as the compromised immunity make them vulnerable to stomach infections.
For the study, the researchers recruited 96 children with HIV-1 infection, aged between 6 months and five years, from Grey's Hospital in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. The children were randomly assigned to receive zinc supplements or placebo daily for 6 months.
Measurements of plasma HIV-1 viral load and the percentage of CD4+ T lymphocytes were established before, and 3, 6, and 9 months after the start of supplementation.
The researchers found that zinc supplementation did not result in an increase in blood HIV viral load. Children given zinc supplementation were less likely to get watery diarrhea than those given placebo.
Zinc is an essential trace element, which is important for growth, development, and immunity. However, prior to this study, there has been concern about the safety of supplements for HIV patients because the virus that causes AIDS also needs it to function and replicate.
Results from this study suggest zinc supplementation can be implemented without concern for adverse effects on HIV-1 replication.
The authors propose that in view of the safety and beneficial reductions in diarrhea and pneumonia morbidity, zinc supplementation should be used as adjunct therapy for children with HIV-1 infection, especially in resource-poor countries.