How you live a better life with HIV

By Faith Kariuki | 5 months ago
A young woman making a healthy snack with fruit at home.

On December 1, Kenya joined the rest of the world in marking World Aids Day to spread awareness about HIV and to show support for those infected and affected by HIV/Aids.

The theme for this year’s celebration was End Inequalities. End AIDS. End Pandemics.

Approximately 1.5 million people, 4.9 per cent of the Kenyan population, are infected with HIV.

Nutrition and HIV infection are strongly related. Malnutrition is one of the common complications of HIV infection and a significant contributor to the progression of HIV to Aids.

HIV-infected persons have a higher risk of malnutrition. Common symptoms like anorexia, malabsorption, altered metabolism and increased nutrient need further magnify this risk.

Malnutrition also weakens the immune system, increases the risk of opportunistic infections and increases a person’s nutrition needs.

Good nutrition care and support help persons living with HIV to improve and maintain their nutritional status, strengthen their immunity, reduce the risk of opportunistic infections and improve quality of life.

For people on antiretroviral therapy (ART), a healthy diet and good nutritional status can enhance the effectiveness of ART, help one tolerate the drugs better, reduce frequency and severity of opportunistic infections and reduce long-term metabolic complications of ART use like dyslipidemia, insulin resistance and excess weight gain.

Although there is no special diet plan for people living with HIV and Aids, there are dietary habits one can observe to improve and maintain their nutritional status.

Energy needs increase by about 10 per cent during the asymptomatic HIV infection. During the symptomatic infection and Aids stage, these requirements increase by 20 to 30 per cent.

To meet the increased energy requirements and prevent weight loss, intake of the three main meals with at least two nutrient-dense snacks between the meals becomes necessary.

Overweight and obesity are on the rise among people on ART and caution should be exercised to avoid excess intake of calories. Obesity increases the risk of non-communicable diseases, which creates a double burden of disease among the infected.

Adequate intake of proteins coupled with physical activity helps the body build and maintain muscles. Muscle wasting is common in HIV infection, especially during the Aids stage. Intake of at least three servings of proteins per day is important to maintain muscle mass and strength.

People living with HIV have an increased risk of chronic conditions like heart diseases, diabetes and some types of cancer. Regular physical exercise helps maintain a healthy weight, body fats, blood glucose and blood pressure, which help keep chronic conditions at bay. Being physically active also helps control some long-term side effects of ARVs and other drugs taken by people living with HIV.

Fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, which protect and strengthen the immune system. A person living with HIV should aim at consuming at least five servings of fruits and vegetables per day.

A serving of vegetables is equivalent to half a cup of cooked or one cup of raw vegetables. A serving of fruit is equivalent to one medium-sized fruit.

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