HIV/AIDS infects nearly 1.3 million people in Tanzania and kills more there each year than cancer, heart disease or accidents. It is an epidemic replicated in many sub-Saharan countries.
Probiotics benefit people living with HIV/AIDS.
This happens in several ways: improving immunity, increasing CD4 cell counts, preventing diarrhea, constipation, and urinary tract infections, reducing bacterial vaginosis and possibly even inhibiting the virus. Strong antiretroviral medications. (ARVs) given to patients unfortunately kill off good bacteria in a scorched earth attack on HIV. This is why it is so important for these patients to have a diet rich in probiotics.
Started a decade ago, a novel joint venture with the University of Western Ontario and groups in Tanzania pays local women to produce yogurt. These Yogurt Mamas, as they are called, bring probiotics to the farthest reaches of rural Africa.
The results have been gratifying.
Recent interviews published in the Journal of Health, Population and Nutrition by Melissa Whaling and colleagues reveal just how beneficial the yogurt has been for people living with HIV/AIDS. A majority of the 26 interviewees, who ranged in age from 21-63, were married with children and on antiretroviral medications. (ARVs)
Listen to a few of their responses about the effects of the yogurt:
“…it makes me feel better. It is good for those of us with HIV. It increased my CD4 count, and now I am healthier. I think that it makes the ARVs work better too…that is why I take it” (Bahati, male, HIV+ve).
“I know this is good because I have gained weight …this is what I needed because my clothes were starting to fall off from me….HIV/AIDS makes you lose weight, and this is not good for you” (Durhame, female, HIV+ve).
“When I take probiotic yogurt, I do not get stomach upsets anymore. Before my stomach would really hurt …” (Duke, male, HIV+ve).
“… this [the consumption of probiotic yogurt] has helped make my diarrhoea happen less often. I used to go to the clinic a lot more because of diarrhoea, and now I only have to go once in a while.” (Nitma, female, HIV+ve).
As you can see, the men and women were pleased to report about changes to their health, including increased CD4 counts, better weight, fewer gastrointestinal upsets and fewer diarrheas.
Wonderful news. Except for one disturbing trend that emerged from the interviews. Some of the participants started thinking of the probiotic yogurt as medicine.
“…I feel strong now. So, I know that this probiotic medicine is something that is good for my health. This is why I stopped taking ARVs. The yogurt is helping me so much that I do not even have to take ARVs. This is good because they [ARVs] made me feel very sick before, and now I have energy. I also like the taste of the yogurt. It is a good meal for me” (Anisia, female, HIV+ve).
Abandoning antiretroviral medications is not the answer obviously. The future may bring more definitive help from the bacterial spectrum but for now, it is used as adjunct nutritional therapy, not to replace ARVs.