Can antioxidant vitamins help reverse genetic damage caused by HIV and anti-HIV medications? New research from Poland and Spain suggests they could.break->
We usually think of the symptoms of HIV as a damaged immune system with low CD4 counts. But HIV and anti-HIV treatments may also cause another serious problem with important consequences in the long term: genetic damage.
The genesThe most basic unit of genetic information. in all the cells of the body hold a set of instructions on how to keep the body functioning and build new body parts. If you need to make more CD4 cells to replace those lost due to HIV, the information on how to do this is stored in your genes. Likewise with repairing a broken bone, healing damaged liverA large organ, located in the upper right abdomen, which assists in digestion by metabolising carbohydrates, fats and proteins, stores vitamins and minerals, produces amino acids, bile and cholesterol, and removes toxins from the blood. cells or mending a simple cut finger: none of these things can take place without the genetic code stored in your cells.
However, if the genes themselves are damaged then problems can occur. Genes can repair themselves to an extent but some damage is irreversible. There is strong scientific evidence that accumulating genetic damage and the resulting breakdown in repair is a key factor in ageing and many of the problems it brings.
The metabolism of oxygen by our cells, an essential part of staying alive, also creates damaging by-products called free radicals which cause genetic damage that can lead to heart disease, cancer and immune system damage. Antioxidants are chemicals which bind to free radicals, rendering them harmless.
Researchers from Poland have suggested that adding the antioxidant vitamins A, C and E to anti-HIV drug regimes could reduce the levels of genetic damage experienced by HIV-positive people.
Using special tests which measure the breakdown products of DNA, the researchers first estimated the degree of genetic damage in white blood cells in a control groupA group of patients in a clinical trial who do not receive the drug or treatment being investigated, for the purpose of comparison with those who do. Participants in the control group of a clinical trial are either given standard treatment (excluding the drug being studied) or a placebo. of ten HIV-negative people. Then they compared this to the rate of damage seen in 30 asymptomatic people with HIV, all of whom were taking antiretroviralsA medication or other substance which is active against retroviruses such as HIV. — mostly AZT, indinavir and 3TC.
The degree of genetic damage in the HIV-positive group was 66 percent greater than in the control group. Additionally, levels of a key antioxidant (superoxide dismutase) were 57 percent lower in the HIV-positive group.
The next step for the researchers was to find out if supplements of antioxidant vitamins could stop or reverse this genetic damage. They divided the HIV-positive people into two groups: one group took daily doses of 5000iu of vitamin A, 100iu of vitamin E and 50mg of vitamin C, while the other group took a placeboA dummy medical treatment, designed to have no pharmacological effect, administered to the control group of a clinical trial..
After six months, the group taking the vitamins had reduced their rate of genetic damage almost back to the normal levels of the control group. In the placebo group, however, the level of genetic injury had increased and was now 134 percent greater than the control group.
What are the consequences of this ongoing genetic damage? While it’s impossible to say what would happen for this specific group (a much longer trial would be needed) the researchers suggested some likely outcomes. An increased rate of HIV-related cancers is one possibility, along with declining effectiveness(Of a drug or treatment). The maximum ability of a drug or treatment to produce a result regardless of dosage. A drug passes efficacy trials if it is effective at the dose tested and against the illness for which it is prescribed. In the standard procedure, Phase II clinical trials gauge efficacy, and Phase III trials confirm it. of the immune system. It’s also likely that people with higher rates of genetic damage would experience more rapid ageing.
Although HIV is a cause of genetic damage it is also apparent that some, perhaps many, of the current anti-HIV drugs also have this effect. A 1998 Spanish study demonstrated that people taking AZT had 95 percent higher levels of genetic damage than HIV-positive people who were not taking AZT. Animal studies in mice confirmed that the AZT was responsible.
Encouragingly, the investigators also demonstrated that, as in the experiment described above, this genetic deterioration could be largely halted with antioxidants. In this case people took 1g of vitamin C and 600mg of vitamin E per day for a month.
This research suggests that antioxidants can reduce genetic damage caused by HIV and antiretrovirals, but further research will be needed to confirm the long-term benefits and the optimum mix and dose of antioxidants. It’s certainly advisable to take several different antioxidants rather than a high dose of just one. Other antioxidants to consider, along with those already mentioned, are selenium, lipoic acid and cysteine as well as some herbal ones such as grape seed extract or St Mary’s thistle.
A note of caution: high doses of fat-soluble vitamins, especially vitamin A, can have serious negative health consequences. Excessive vitamin A levels have recently been linked to loss of bone density in people with HIV, and people taking the protease inhibitor amprenavir (Agenerase) should not take vitamin E supplements. Anyone considering adding antioxidant supplements to their HIV treatment regime should first seek appropriate professional advice.
Jim Arachne is the Complementary TherapyA broad range of healing philosophies, approaches, and therapies that Western (conventional) medicine does not commonly use to promote well-being or treat health conditions. Examples include acupuncture, herbs, Traditional Chinese Medicine, etc. Treatments Officer at the Victorian AIDS Council.
1 “Oxidative DNA base damage in lymphocytes of HIV-infected drug users.” Jaruga et al. Free Radical Research. Vol 31. pp 197-200; 1999.
2 “Supplementation with antioxidant vitamins prevents oxidative modification of DNA in lymphocytes of HIV-Infected patients.” Jaruga et al. Free Radical Biology and Medicine. Vol 32, No 5, pp 414-420, 2002
3 “AZT treatment induces molecular and ultrastructural oxidative damage to muscle mitochondria. Prevention by antioxidant vitamins.” de la Asuncion et al., Journal of ClinicalPertaining to or founded on observation and treatment of participants, as distinguished from theoretical or basic science. Investigation 1998 Jul 1;102(1):4-9