NUTRITION AND AIDS: The Crucial Link*
By Rose Otaye
Rose Otaye has been living with HIV/AIDS for several years, and at this time she displays no symptoms of the illness and lives an active, productive life. One of Rose's many activities is to council HIV positive people; her special focus is nutrition. The problem in Kenya, Rose said, is that poverty has made it all but impossible for most people to afford special health care available to people with HIV/AIDS in Western countries. The lack of medication imposes challenges that Rose confronts with special diets, all of them with common foods and none beyond the economic reach of average people.
In this essay, Rose describes the approach she offers the people she counsels. The rational makes common sense, the diets have evolved over time as people without other resources have explored foods to address problems associated with AIDS-related illnesses. Rose Otaye is a resident of Kenya and a regular visitor to WiRED's Community Information Centers.
NUTRITION AND AIDS: The Crucial Link
By Rose Otaye
Information on nutrition and HIV/AIDS is, to say the least, limited. The diet of a person living with AIDS (PLWA) is a tricky issue. It is made worse by the lack of access to the goods required and the lack of resources available to produce or purchase recommended foods. Furthermore, those living with AIDS regularly experience a serious loss of appetite. To combat this, the recommendation for medical practitioners is to put the patient on vitamin supplements. As well, the diet for an AIDS-infected patient should be similar to that for someone suffering from malnourishment; the relationship between the two diseases and malnutrition has long been recognized.
A person who is ill gets malnourished because they do not eat well. Symptoms such as loss of appetite, diarrhea, and vomiting are common during illness. They interfere with good consumption due to the loss of fluids and nutrients. Fever also takes a great deal of the body's energy. Malnutrition reduces the body's ability to resist invasion by pathogens and disables the ability of the immune system to combat infection. Infections interfere with the body's absorption capabilities, which translate into direct loss of proteins and micronutrients. Under normal circumstances, a proper diet helps to:
- Maintain the immune system
- Build up reserves to help fight off infection
- Speed recovery from illness
- Fight disease
- Provide the body energy
Nutritional interventions for PLWA should take into account the availability and condition of basic utilities as they apply to specific local contexts (i.e., poor water supply or limited access to food). Careful dietary management is essential to avoid compromising of the immune system of a person living with AIDS. The advice and counsel of a reputable and knowledgeable nutritionist can be invaluable. Local AIDS services organizations should be able to help with referrals in your area.
The balanced diet does a great deal for a PLWA, including:
- Increase the appetite
- Ensure that the body gets adequate nutrients
- Aid the digestive system
- Help keep weight up
- Provide overall strength to the body
Diet-related problems caused by AIDS, HIV, and other opportunistic infections are:
- Loss of appetite
- Digestive problems
- Mal-absorption of food
- Nausea and vomiting
Principles of a healthy lifestyle include:
- Good nutrition
- Being aware of the importance of food and nutrition
- Food education
- Regular exercise
Here are some eating tips:
- Eat frequently throughout the day, maximizing selections with protein and calorie-rich items
- Keep hard-boiled eggs readily available - they are the body's favorite, high-quality, protein-rich food
- Vegetable-sourced proteins such as kidney beans, lentils, chick peas and black-eyed peas are "incomplete." Balance these with other forms of protein. Any combination of a grain and a legume like beans and rice, or peanut sauce and chapattis is balanced
- Milk and milk products are excellent if you can tolerate it. (Damaged intestines are occasionally intolerant to lactose, the sugar found in milk and other dairy products)
If you do not feel like eating:
- Try eating many small meals instead of three large ones
- Keep your favorite foods close at hand
- Perform mild exercise, such as walking, before eating
- Eat at a nice restaurant, perhaps with a friend.
- Eat slowly
- Don't force-feed yourself
- Avoid sweet, greasy, or spicy foods and caffeine.
- Eat your favorite food even if it is just a little bit. But don't forget to eat enough of what's good for you
If you have a sore mouth:
- Rinse many times with warm, salty water, or with a mixture of baking soda and water. This may ease the pain. Mouthwash can be too harsh.
- Use a toothbrush that has soft bristles
- Eat foods cold or at room temperature
- Try mashed potatoes, soup, or other soft foods
- Fresh fruit juice is better to drink than water because it contains valuable minerals
Other treatment tips for Persons Living with Aids:
In case of diarrhea:
- Swallow 2 pawpaw seeds 3 times daily.
In case of the flu:
- Pound ginger and garlic, and add the mixture to a glass of warm water. Do this for three days.
To boost your immune system:
- Eat a handful of pumpkin seeds daily.
If you're on TB treatment and antiretrovirals:
- Eat many vegetable salads daily to detox your body from the drugs.
*This information is presented as an example of how some cultures, deprived of adequate medical resources, are dealing with HIV/AIDS-related problems. WiRED makes no claims about the accuracy of the information presented here or about the effectiveness of these diets.