How to stay healthy when you're HIV-positive

Taking good care of your health through a good diet and lifestyle is critical if you’re HIV-positive.

07 May 2015
by Ruth Rehbock

If you are living with HIV, it’s essential that you take extra care of your health as your immune system is extremely vulnerable. This is because HIV reduces the immune system’s ability to protect the body from viruses and bacteria. It’s also common knowledge that the immune system needs good nutrition to function well. So, for individuals living with HIV, it’s even more important to be health-conscious.

Eat nutrient-rich food

First on the list is following a healthy diet, eating a variety of nutrient-rich foods daily so the body gets enough carbohydrate, proteins and fats, as well as important vitamins and minerals.

Dr Jireh Serfontein of My Sexual Health, a clinic in Pretoria, explains that a Mediterranean diet is a great guide in this regard: “It’s well known that people in the Mediterranean eat a diet rich in vegetables, fruit, legumes and grains plus moderate amounts of chicken and fish. They eat little red meat and most fats are unsaturated ones from olive oils and nuts.”

A good diet can be challenging…

Living with HIV means you may find it difficult to follow a good diet. One reason is opportunistic infections. They can cause diarrhoea and/or vomiting and thus impair the body’s ability to absorb important nutrients.

“Candida, an opportunistic infection in the mouth or throat, for instance, can lead to pain when swallowing, and thus prevent an individual from eating properly,” says Dr Serfontein.

Another potential barrier to good nutrition is medication as some of the side effects of antiretrovirals (ARVs) are diarrhoea and vomiting, although they do diminish over time. On the other hand, if the HIV is not treated and the patient gets AIDS, the virus itself causes damage to the intestinal tract. This results in impaired absorption as nutrients are lost through damaged intestinal walls.

Still, it is important to keep focused on getting as much good nutrition into your body as you can, so perserverence is key. Consult your doctor or clinic if you are struggling to find a balance or experiencing any of these setbacks.

Get vaccinated

HIV can also affect an individual’s health in other ways. The HI-virus causes immune dysfunction, putting the HIV-positive individual at risk of getting other infections like pneumonia, tuberculosis (TB), and meningitis. If you are on ARVs, the risk of these infections is low but it is important to make sure that your immunisations are up to date.

“Ask your doctor for the following: pneumococcus vaccine, hepatitis B vaccine, diphtheria, whooping cough and annual flu vaccines,” says Dr Serfontein. Speak to your Clicks Clinic sister or pharmacist about vaccinations that are available to you and book an appointment for them by visiting Clicks Clinics online

Stay heart-healthy

The other critical health issue regarding living with HIV is the risk of heart attack or stroke, which is much higher in HIV-positive individuals compared with those who are HIV-negative, even if you are on ARVs.

There are several well-known factors that increase the risk of stroke and heart attack. These include hypertension, smoking, diabetes, high cholesterol, being overweight and a lack of physical activity. It’s therefore very important not to smoke and to manage hypertension, diabetes and high cholesterol optimally, if you are HIV positive. This means eating a balanced diet, maintaining a healthy weight (your Body Mass Index, or BMI, needs to be less than 25) and exercising at least three times a week.

Avoid knocking back the alcohol

Alcohol is also potentially dangerous if you are HIV-positive. Some studies have shown that excessive alcohol use has a negative effect on your CD4 count, hastening the disease progression of HIV. It can also contribute to the spread of HIV by impairing one’s judgement which in turn leads to risky sexual behaviour. Additionally, alcohol use can also make it difficult to take ARVs as prescribed.

How Clicks Clinics can help you

Did you know Clicks offers HIV testing and counselling at our clinics? To make an appointment at a Clicks Clinic, call 0860 254 257 or book online at Clicks Clinics online.

HIV home test kits are also available for purchase in-store.

Shop online at Clicks.co.za for condoms

Don't be caught unawares – rather stock up on condoms via the convenince of online shopping so that you can ensure you're practising safe sex at all times.

IMAGE CREDIT: 123rf.com

Read More: HIV/AIDS Super Section