Nutrition Should Not Be Used as Substitute for Drugs in Treating HIV/AIDS, TB, Panel Report Says
Nutrition plays an important role in managing HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis, but there is no evidence that it is a viable substitute for antiretroviral and other drugs as a primary treatment, according to a report released Wednesday by a South African scientific panel that advises the government on health policy, SAPA/iAfrica.com reports (SAPA/iAfrica.com, 8/22).
The report, released by the Academy of Science of South Africa, in October 2005 began examining data about how nutrition influences the human immune system, specifically regarding HIV/AIDS and TB, Reuters reports. According to panel chair Barry Mendelow of Wits University and the National Health Laboratory Service, "no food, no component made from food and no food supplement has been identified in any credible study as an effective alternative to appropriate medication." According to Mendelow, although the panel found that nutrition is a "valuable supportive measure," it concluded that the primary treatment for HIV/AIDS and TB should be antiretrovirals and TB drugs (Reuters, 8/21). "Does that mean nutritional treatment has no role? Of course not," Mendelow said, adding, "But we must understand the difference between primary and supportive treatment." Researcher Jimmy Volmink also noted that although some supplements such as amino acids could increase body weight, others, such as large doses of vitamin A, could be harmful to pregnant women (SAPA/iAfrica.com, 8/22).
"[E]ating healthily cannot compensate for antiretroviral drugs when indicated by a doctor," Este Vorster of North-West University said, adding, "For both HIV/AIDS and TB, we have to rely on the appropriate medical drugs" (Flanagan, Cape Times/IOL, 8/22). The report called for nutritional studies specific to conditions in South Africa, where much of the population experiences "hidden hunger," a condition where a person appears to be well nourished but actually is lacking macronutrients, SAPA/iAfrica.com reports. Most available studies were conducted among well-nourished people in North America and Europe, according to SAPA/iAfrica.com (SAPA/iAfrica.com, 8/22).
The report is available online (.pdf).