Cancer and HIV/AIDS- the two insatiable killer diseases, still continue to remain objects of mystery to the medical fraternity. Although billions of dollars are spent each year on medical research in these areas for the past few decades, there have only been sparks of victory till now.
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Whatever be the situation, there is no denying the fact that nutrition plays a pivotal role in providing some relief to these patients especially those with HIV/AIDS. They are more susceptible to nutrition deficiencies, probably because of malnutrition, weight loss and wasting which are very common problems in such patients. Good nutrition, according to experts, is a proportionate intake of macronutrients as well as micronutrients. Macronutrients such as carbohydrates, fats, proteins generate energy and help maintain the body weight. Micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals ensure the proper working of the cells without preventing weight loss (Herbert 1999).
Nowadays, there is an increasing trend among the common people to use certain foods, herbal medicines, oral nutritional supplements and micronutrient supplements to treat HIV symptoms. Dietary supplements and foods are promoted as quite effective in boosting the immune system. Common people often get influenced by the promotions of these supplements. But, as a matter of fact, many of these can prove to be detrimental to their health primarily because the safety and benefits of such foods are not proven. Moreover, the lack of a proper evaluation system accentuates such practices and offers a cost-ineffective method of treatment to the common people (Lamb 2006).
For instance, reference may be made to one of the popular herbs frequently used by people living with HIV/AIDS- Ginkgo biloba. Ginkgo biloba leaves are rich in flavonoids, sesquiterpenes and diterpenes (ginkgolides) which are considered to be the active ingredients. The herb is promoted by the media as one which enhances memory, improves concentration and circulation as well as possesses strong antioxidant properties. To this date, there is no evidence to prove the safety and effectiveness of the above supplement for more than a year. In fact, mild gastritis, headache and allergic skin rashes are found to be the side-effects of the above herb in some individuals. To add to this, the above supplement is also reported to affect the normal bleeding time and its use is strictly prohibited for the patients undergoing surgery (Weitzman 2008).
It goes without saying that nutrition, as a science has a profound effect on the entire health care system, mostly in the case of people living with HIV/AIDS. It is, however unfortunate to note the way some people are exploited. The best possible way is to act according to expert recommendations and refrain from diets that are not clinically proven. Although the exact nutrient requirements for people suffering from HIV/AIDS have not been determined so far, it is clear that these patients require a sufficient number of calories and proteins to make up for their malnutrition (Lamb 2006).
As a starting range, the baseline calorie requirement may be 35-45cal/kg which is adjustable. A protein intake of 1.2-2.0g/kg is frequently suggested. As far as vitamins and minerals are concerned, one or two multivitamins or mineral tablets may be recommended (Weitzman 2008). It is true that proper nutrition cannot cure these fatal diseases, but there are enough reasons to believe that good nutrition therapy can go a long way in increasing the effectiveness of medical therapy.
Herbert, V. (1999). Unproven (questionable) dietary and nutritional methods in cancer prevention and treatment. Cancer 58(S8), 1930-1941.
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Lamb, D. (2006). Questionable methods of cancer management: therapies. CA A Cancer Journal for Clinicians 43(5) 309-319.
Weitzman, S. (2008). Complementary and alternative (CAM) dietary therapies for cancer. Pediatric Blood & Cancer 50(S2), 494-497.