A joint study recently conducted by the University of Copenhagen and Jimma University in Ethiopia found a link between malnutrition and the effectiveness of HIV treatments.
The study, published in BMJ, examined Ethiopians with HIV who were also receiving antiretroviral treatment (ART). Soy and whey protein, along with other vitamins and minerals, were added to 200 grams of peanut butter and given daily to the patients over the course of three months.
Patients who received the nutritional supplements along with ART treatment gained three times as much weight as those who did not, with a third of the weight generally coming from increased muscle mass. Immune cells typically repressed by HIV were also restored more quickly in patients receiving supplements with whey protein.
"The effects of the supplement were measurable, and very relevant for HIV patients living in countries where malnutrition is common," Mette Frahm Olsen, one of the researchers working on the project, said.
Approximately 25 million Africans live with HIV. ART medication has greatly reduced AIDS-related deaths worldwide, though many African countries still report high mortality rates during the first few months of treatment.
The study also demonstrated that supplements could be provided to malnourished patients in Ethiopia without disrupting religious or social practices.