Eating well and keeping healthy is an important aspect of each person’s life whether you are well or ill.
We eat for many reasons and no one can ever dispute the importance of food – both for health reasons and for pure enjoyment.
Familiar foods make us feel safe and secure. When we eat well we feel well.
When the body does not get enough food, it becomes weak and cannot develop or function properly.
Healthy and balanced nutrition means eating the right types of foods in the right quantities and at the right times.
This is to keep healthy, keep fit and to enjoy ourselves.
This becomes even more important with HIV positive people.
Because HIV compromises the body’s immune system it is very important for HIV positive people to eat well and keep healthy.
HIV and nutrition are intimately linked.
HIV infection can lead to malnutrition, while a poor diet can in turn speed up the infection’s progress.
As HIV treatment becomes increasingly available even in the poorest parts of the world, critical questions are emerging about how well the drugs work in people if they are short of the right foods.
Uncertainty also surrounds the role of vitamins and other supplements.
And for those already receiving treatment, side-effects such as body fat changes are a daily concern.
The links between HIV and nutritional status run both ways.
It has long been known that weight loss strongly predicts illness or death among people with HIV.
More recently it has been found that this applies even to people taking antiretroviral treatment. Losing as little as three to five percent of body weight significantly increases the risk of death; losing more than 10 percent is associated with a four to six-fold greater risk.
A Zambian study involving nearly 30 000 patients has shown that failure to gain weight six months after the start of antiretroviral treatment increases the chance of death ten-fold when compared with those who gain over 10 kilogrammes. <http://www.avert.org/hiv-nutrition.htm#ref10>
Good nutritional status is very important from the time a person is infected with HIV.
Nutrition education at this early stage gives the person a chance to build up healthy eating habits and to take action to improve food security in the home, particularly as regards the cultivation, storage and cooking of food.
Good nutrition is also vital to help maintain the health and quality of life of the person living with HIV or AIDS.
Infection with HIV damages the immune system, which leads to other infections such as fever and diarrhoea.
These infections can lower food intake because they both reduce appetite and interfere with the body’s ability to absorb food.
As a result, the person becomes malnourished, loses weight and is weakened, meaning they are even more susceptible to opportunistic infections.
One of the possible signs of the onset of clinical AIDS is a weight loss of about 6-7kg for an average adult.
When a person is already underweight, a further weight loss can have serious effects.
A healthy and balanced diet, early treatment of infection and proper nutritional recovery after infection can reduce this weight loss.
A person may be receiving treatment for the opportunistic infections and also perhaps combination therapy for HIV; these treatments and medicines may influence eating and nutrition.
Good nutrition will reinforce the effect of the antiretroviral drugs taken
When nutritional needs are not met, recovery from an illness will take longer.
During this period the family will often have the burden of caring for the sick person, paying for health care and absorbing the loss of earnings where the infected person is unable to work. In addition, good nutrition can help to extend the period when the person with HIV or AIDS is well and working.