HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) identified in 1983 causes AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) that may progress over many years and is characterized by a slow deterioration of the immune system. When the immune system becomes further compromised, the patient may experience opportunistic infections, caused by the reduced function of the immune system resulting in nonspecific and variable symptoms. Clinical signs may include sweating, diarrhea, malaise, loss of appetite, weight loss, loss of muscle tissue, chest pain, swelling of the lymph nodes, fungal infections, neurological disorders, etc. Contributing to weight loss and wasting is malabsorption (the failure of nutritional substances to be absorbed in the intestines). In addition to disease-induced signs, antiviral medications used to treat HIV/AIDS may produce additional symptoms. A vaccine has yet to be discovered.
Proper nutrition must begin immediately to support nutritional deficiencies (including vitamin A and E, the B vitamins, magnesium, and zinc) that occur early in the disease process. In all cases, adequate hydration (fluid intake) and increased calorie and protein intake are necessary to fight the infection. Once the patient has been diagnosed with HIV infection, more protein and complex carbohydrates, along with moderate amounts of fats, should be consumed. The diet should include dairy, lean meat, fish, beans, seeds and nuts, whole-grain breads and cereals, and fruits and vegetables. Moderate amounts of fat for energy and calories can be acquired through foods such as nuts, avocado dip, peanut butter, and seeds.
Patients with a poor appetite should eat six or more small meals throughout the day. Alternative routes for nutrition (parenteral and enteral nutrition) must be considered in patients with fungal growth in the oral cavity, inflammation of the gums and oral mucosa, and other lesions of the oral-pharyngeal region and/or gastrointestinal tract. It is strongly advised that patients with HIV infection seek professional attention from a qualified physician and a registered dietician.