The pace at which the world is advancing in terms of technology, medical science and connectivity is astounding.
But at the same time, another unwanted arena that is expanding is that of infectious and viral diseases.
Every year we get to hear of the spread of some life-threatening virus and how scientists are putting in all efforts to develop a vaccine against it.
One such virus that was identified quite some time back, 1981 perhaps, was HIV- the virus responsible for AIDS.
This article covers details as to how turmeric, as an anti-viral or palliative measure in case of HIV infection or AIDS.
What is HIV?
HIV is a human immunodeficiency virus and as the name suggests it makes your immune system deficient or curbs its normal function. The immune cells that it attacks go by the name T helper cells and by attacking them it thrives and replicates within the body.
Eventually, this makes the person highly susceptible to all infections and diseases, even cancer.
This late stage of HIV infection is known as AIDS- Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome.
There are two main types of HIV- HIV 1 and HIV 2. HIV infection spreads via biological fluids like blood, semen, breast milk etc.
However, HIV cannot be transmitted by sweat, urine or saliva.
Modes of transmission include sexual contact, contact with syringe or blood collection equipment, infected blood transfusion, mother to child during pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding.
It takes about 2 to 15 years for HIV to manifest into AIDS. There is no cure for HIV but adequate treatment can help people live with the infection.
Antiretroviral drugs (retrovirus is the name of the group of virus to which HIV belongs) and pre-exposure prophylaxis for those who are at a high risk of acquiring the infection are the common modes of treatment.
One has to deal with the side effects of this treatment.
It is said that in today’s era if an individual with HIV receives appropriate and timely treatment, then he can live as long as an individual without HIV.
What are the symptoms and complications of HIV?
Initial symptoms of HIV include:
- Headache and body ache
- Sore throat
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Oral fungal infections
When the infection progresses to AIDS, some of these symptoms occurs:
- Recurrent fever
- Chronic diarrhoea
- Persistent white spots or lesions on mouth and tongues
- Unexplained weight loss and fatigue
- Complications with AIDS include:
- Neuropsychiatric: central nervous system lymphoma, psychiatric disorders
- Cardiovascular: atherosclerosis, endocarditis
- Pulmonary: COPD, lung cancer
- Gastrointestinal: Cancer and hepatitis
- Renal: Chronic kidney disease
- Others: Musculoskeletal disorders, Kaposi’s sarcoma,
Table of Contents
- What is HIV?
- What are the symptoms and complications of HIV?
- Turmeric Benefits in HIV/AIDS
- 1. Curcumin is a natural anti-retroviral agent
- 2. It can regulate immunity to protect from HIV infection
- 3. It is a natural anti-inflammatory and antioxidant agent
- 4. Turmeric ameliorates stomach ailments and protects gastric health
- 5. It protects heart risks in AIDS
- 6. It protects kidney health in HIV
- 7. It can prevent disease induced weight loss
- 8. Curcumin protects the brain and nervous system health in HIV
- 9. It can reduce the risk of developing cancer
- 10. Research suggests that topical curcumin may be a novel contraceptive
- Research Studies
Turmeric Benefits in HIV/AIDS
The idea behind explaining the overview, symptoms, and complications of HIV infection is to make you aware that this disease can affect almost every system in the body and interestingly turmeric and curcumin’s therapeutic efficacy with respect to most of these system disorders is proven.
Curcumin’s anti-HIV property is established and apart from that, it can have multiple modes of dealing with the infection or side effects of the HIV treatment.
A review study mentions that turmeric is a strong antimicrobial agent- it can combat bacterial, fungal and viral infections and this is of extreme value to HIV infection (since the immune system collapses it makes you vulnerable to a number of infections).
Curcumin has anti-viral properties but research proves that it has specific anti-HIV property. It does so by
- Inhibiting the activity of enzymes that make HIV infectious
- Inhibits the activity of TAT protein which is essential for the production of viral genes
- Inhibits the activity of other enzymes that are required for virus replication
- Induces the activity of enzyme HO-1 which inhibits replication of HIV-1
Curcumin is one of the natural lead compounds recommended for treatment of HIV infection. A group of enzymes called histone acetyltransferases are essential for regulating viral genes.
Indian researchers have reported that curcumin can inhibit the activity of these enzymes and this finding suggests that ‘non-toxic curcumin may serve as a lead compound in combinatorial HIV therapeutics.’
Curcumin nanoparticles are highly absorbed by the cells and hence found to be extremely effective in inhibiting HIV-1 replication.
Findings of an old research paper show that individuals with HIV infection given around 2.5g of curcumin with or without anti-viral drugs experienced a slow decrease in viral activity and improvement in T cell count.
What does this mean?
Turmeric’s potent anti-microbial property can protect against various infections to which one is susceptible due to impaired immune responses during HIV infection.
Curcumin has broad spectrum anti-viral properties. Additionally a lot of research work has proven that curcumin can specifically inhibit the replication of HIV by multiple ways and is thought of as a potential natural compound against HIV.
2. It can regulate immunity to protect from HIV infection
Curcumin influences the immune system by modulating the activity of immune cells, lowering the production of inflammatory chemicals and inactivating nuclear factor-kappaB, the main protein involved in inflammation.
However, this effect is dose-dependent, at low doses it can boost immune function.
For example, Zhao et al demonstrate that curcumin can suppress the activity of T cells and this could be of use in conditions like tumor and sepsis. Other researchers have shown that curcumin can boost T cell mediated toxicity and these findings are of relevance to immunotherapy.
Researchers suggest that this activity of curcumin can boost the activity of anti-retroviral drugs and also reduce their side effects. Riva et al that indeed curcumin ,as an immunomodulator, can improve the activity of the anti-retroviral drug and reduce HIV-1 production in infected cells.
What does this mean?
Curcumin’s ability to influence immune responses is of relevance to HIV treatment. It can boost immune function, propel the activity of anti-HIV drugs and also reduce the side effects.
3. It is a natural anti-inflammatory and antioxidant agent
Two of the most vital properties of turmeric that make it one of the best natural therapeutic agents are: anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. Curcuminoids are strong antioxidants and their antioxidant activity is comparable to that of Vitamin E & C.
They raise the levels of antioxidant enzymes and reduce oxidative stress which is a marker of most diseases.
A study demonstrated that water soluble extract tumerin, by virtue of its antioxidant property, in combination with an anti-retroviral drug or alone reduced the proliferation of infected cells, reduced T-cell infection and increased viability of cells.
Curcumin demonstrates anti-inflammatory activity by reducing the production of pro-inflammatory chemicals, elevating anti-inflammatory molecules, inhibiting the activity of vital proteins that control inflammation.
This activity of curcumin can help deal with recurrent fever, body ache, joint pain occurring in HIV infection all of which are signs of inflammation.
What does this mean?
The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory property of turmeric reduces oxidative stress and inflammation occurring in HIV infection which can be effective in lowering fever and malaise.
4. Turmeric ameliorates stomach ailments and protects gastric health
Turmeric has been used as a herbal remedy in treating digestive disorders since ancient times. Weakened immunity and heavy use of antibiotics paves way for gastric discomfort and increase stomach acidity.
Other symptoms such as bloating, vomiting, diarrhoea are common in other digestive disorders and turmeric’s therapeutic effect has been proven against gastric disorders presenting such symptoms.
One of the most important properties of turmeric is its anti-ulcerogenic effect. Curcumin utilises its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties to reduce and repair gastric ulcers. Animal study shows that turmeric essential oil can inhibit ulcer formation.
But these are studies reflecting an indirect application of turmeric in digestive disorders occurring in HIV infection. Conteas et al conducted a study wherein they examined the effect of curcumin on HIV associated diarrhea.
The dose was around 1862mg of curcumin a day and follow up was around for 41 weeks. Bowel movement was normalized within 13 days. Seven out of 8 patients gained weight on curcumin (around 10 pounds) and abdominal pain and bloating was reduced in most patients. Besides curcumin did not have any drug interactions with the anti-retroviral therapy.
What does this mean?
Curcumin can offer gastroprotective protection against HIV infection or anti-retroviral therapy induced gastric discomfort.
5. It protects heart risks in AIDS
HIV infection if left untreated can affect the heart and vascular system. Heart-related complications of HIV include atherosclerosis and endocarditis.
Curcumin has cardioprotective property. By means of its antioxidant properties, it can reduce the damage caused by harmful reactive oxygen species to the heart tissue. Turmeric extract relaxes blood vessels that are affected by high cholesterol levels.
Ritonavir, an anti-retroviral drug, causes cardiovascular complications. An animal study demonstrated that ritonavir administration impaired vascular function (the ability of arteries to transport blood at proper flow and pressure) and when curcumin was administered with it, curcumin effectively blocked these changes.
What does this mean?
Curcumin offers cardioprotection and research shows that curcumin can ameliorate anti-retroviral therapy induced cardiovascular complications.
6. It protects kidney health in HIV
Research states that anti-retroviral therapy increases life span and quality of life in HIV patients but the risk of developing kidney diseases is high and is a major cause of death in such patients.
In fact, 30% of HIV patients have increased protein levels in their urine which is a sign of kidney dysfunction.
Curcumin found in turmeric is a natural antioxidant and is a proven renoprotective agent- It protects kidney health.
Curcumin protects the kidney from drug-induced or heavy metal toxicity. It also benefits in nephropathy or kidney damage occurring in various disorders.
Though not studied in relation to HIV patients, turmeric supplementation in end-stage kidney disease patients is found to improve antioxidant status as well as kidney function.
What does this mean?
Curcumin and turmeric have kidney protective properties. As an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and chelating agent, it helps protect from kidney damage and prevent complications in HIV.
7. It can prevent disease induced weight loss
Nutritional requirements change throughout the stages of the disease and reduced appetite leads to wasting of muscle and body mass.
Many such life-threatening diseases like cancer and human papillomavirus cancers also cause weight loss and cachexia. Experimental studies on such disease models reveal that curcumin has anti-cachectic potential.
A study published in Current Problems In Cancer, 2011 reports curcumin and turmeric as potential nutritional agents to prevent cancer-induced weight loss.
Curcumin, eicosapentaenoic acid, and green tea extract together have a potent anti-cachectic potential and can reverse disease induced weight loss.
Conteas et.al in their study involving HIV patients found that curcumin supplementation resolved HIV induced diarrhea and also supported substantial weight gain. Reversing cachexia and supporting weight gain in HIV indicates marked clinical improvement.
What does this mean?
Experimental studies suggest that curcumin in turmeric can help prevent HIV induced weight loss and preserve muscle mass. It can support healthy weight gain and thus boost immunity in such patients.
8. Curcumin protects the brain and nervous system health in HIV
Prior to anti-retroviral therapy, neurological disorders were the first to manifest as symptoms of HIV infection affecting 10-20% of patients and 60% of the patients with AIDS.
HIV virus proteins stimulate inflammatory cells in the nervous system and thereby lead to uncontrolled inflammation, loss of brain cells and damage to the nervous system.
Curcumin offers neuroprotection and this is of relevance to many neurodegenerative diseases. One such HIV viral protein is gp120 which causes apoptosis (cell death) of brain cells and results in nervous system damage. Several studies demonstrate that by virtue of its antioxidant effect, curcumin can prevent such brain damage.
What does this mean?
Research proves that curcumin can protect against HIV induced nervous system damage and also help in case of neuropsychiatric problems.
9. It can reduce the risk of developing cancer
After its anti-inflammatory property, the other pharmacological property of curcumin that is given a lot of importance on the scientific scale is its anti-cancer property.
Several researchers have documented curcumin’s chemopreventive potential- it can prevent or delay development of cancer. It manipulates a number of biochemical pathways and genes to kill cancer cells and prevent them from proliferating. (Read Turmeric for cancer, Turmeric/Curcumin Dosage For Cancer: A Scientific Plan )
What does this mean?
Some individuals tend to develop cancer at late stages of AIDS/ HIV infection. Curcumin exerts anti-cancer and cancer preventive effects which could help.
10. Research suggests that topical curcumin may be a novel contraceptive
Turmeric is helpful in preventing and treating Sexually Transmitted Disease (STDs).
Disruption of cells lining the female genital tract is one of the ways by which HIV infection enters the body. A lab study shows that pretreatment of genital mucosal cells with curcumin can protect from HIV infection and inflammation.
Researchers at the University of California, San Diego have found that curcumin can serve as a novel intravaginal contraceptive due to its ability to immobilize sperm and prevent HIV infection.
Other studies also point towards the same findings and suggest that curcumin can be ideal novel contraceptive due to its broad spectrum anti-microbial activity, lack of side effects and anti-inflammatory activity.
However, this is not applicable to oral curcumin and no study in humans proves this.
What does this mean?
Turmeric and curcumin can prevent transmission of STDs due to their microbicidal, anti-inflammatory and contraceptive properties. These findings warrant further research and still need to be developed for clinical purpose.
Since there is a lack of clinical trials with regards to turmeric’s clinical efficacy in HIV/AIDS, there is no such recommended dosage.
The recommended dose for general conditions is 400-600 mg of standardized curcumin powder thrice a day.
Turmeric in diet is safe but in case of HIV infection, the condition is quite chronic and might require curcumin supplement therapy.
If using turmeric in the diet be sure to include black pepper or fats to increase the absorption of curcumin in the body.
Before taking curcumin supplements for HIV/AIDS consult a health physician to ascertain the dose and consider any other possible implications of the therapy.
A few conditions in which turmeric supplements are to be avoided are:
- Pregnancy and lactation
- Prior to surgery
- If taking blood thinning medications
- In case of gall bladder problems
- If taking anti-diabetes medications, stomach acid lowering drugs
Study 1: Curcumin for HIV-Associated Diarrhea
Research scientists from the Department of Gastroenterology, Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Centre, Los Angeles tried to test the efficacy of curcumin in curing diarrhea in HIV infected people.
For this, they selected 8 infected individuals. They were all made to consume 1.86 grams of curcumin every day for 41 weeks.
It was observed that in the mean duration of 13 days, diarrhea got completely resolved in all patients after curcumin intake.
The stool quality was normal again. The frequency of bowel movements each day reduced significantly. Seven patients gained weight and most of them also exhibited improvements in bloating and abdominal pain.
It is also important to mention that none of the patients reported any adverse health condition during the course of curcumin treatment.
Diarrhea is a frequently observed consequence of HIV infection. It is seen in almost all HIV infected patients. This diarrhea, if not treated in time can lead to malnourishment and excessive weight loss in the patients.
Scientists have now discovered that curcumin treatment may be effective in alleviating it. It significantly reduces the no. of bowel movements per day, abdominal; pain and bloating.
It normalizes the quality of stool and helps the patients to gain weight again. In short, it completely treats diarrhea associated with HIV infection without producing any adverse effect.
A few proven reasons why curcumin could work well as anti-HIV drug is its ability to terminate the infection and influence immune responses.
Additionally, both turmeric and curcumin have a number of pharmacological properties which could benefit those suffering from HIV infection.
This area definitely requires some worthwhile clinical trials. No harm in incorporating turmeric in your diet. If planning on taking curcumin supplements, please consult a doctor.