People with HIV can often avoid AIDS by practicing healthy behaviors that strengthen their immune systems.
HIV is a virus that attacks your body’s immune system. When not properly treated or managed, HIV can develop into AIDS. According to the CDC, people with AIDS typically survive about three years if they do not receive treatment.
Keeping your immune system strong is vital when you have HIV, as it can reduce your risk of developing AIDS. Here’s a list of steps you can take to boost your immunity if you have HIV and how to contact Lompoc Valley Medical Center if you need help managing HIV.
How Does HIV Affect the Immune System?
HIV is an immunodeficiency disorder. This virus destroys cells in your immune system called CD4 T cells, which are white blood cells that help your body fight off disease and infection.
When you have HIV, the number of these T cells can drop to dangerously low levels to cause a very weakened immune system. The weaker your immune system is, the greater your risk for developing AIDS and other serious infections.
Herpes, tuberculosis, and a fungal infection called candidiasis are some of the many types of infections you can get in addition to AIDS if you have HIV and do not strengthen your immune system. According to the University of Rochester, you may already have AIDS if you develop one or more of these infections, known as opportunistic infections.
Can a Strong Immune System Prevent HIV From Becoming AIDS?
If living with HIV, keeping your immune system strong can significantly reduce your risk for AIDS. Your healthcare team will work closely with you to make sure you implement certain behaviors that keep you healthy and strong. This includes taking your medications and HIV treatments as directed and attending scheduled appointments with your doctors.
There is no medical cure for HIV. However, it is possible to have HIV and live a long, healthy life. Not all people with HIV will go on to develop AIDS.
How Can I Strengthen My Immune System If I Have HIV?
There are numerous steps you can take to boost your immune system if you have HIV. Understandably, you may not be able to completely change your lifestyle overnight. However, the sooner you make positive changes, the sooner you can boost your immunity to become stronger, healthier, and more energetic.
Start practicing the following behaviors today to strengthen your immune system and reduce your risk of developing AIDS.
Eat Only Highly Nutritious Foods
Healthy foods can keep your immune system strong and reduce your risk of getting other diseases like cancer. Start eating only whole foods like fruits, vegetables, poultry, fish, nuts, and seeds. Foods like these offer a full array of vitamins, antioxidants, and other nutrients that naturally boost your immunity.
Stop eating processed foods that come in boxes, cans, and packages. Examples include frozen TV dinners, pastries, and canned chili. These meals often contain lots of sugar and sodium. They also contain many other preservatives and non-food chemicals that drive inflammation and weaken your immune system. Your doctor or nutritionist can work with you to develop a healthy meal plan if you have HIV.
Eat Protein At Every Meal
Protein helps your body create new cells and repair damaged cells. It also maintains the health of your cells, including the T cells in your immune system.
Eat a source of protein at every meal. Good sources of protein include eggs, Greek yogurt, beans, meats, fish, and poultry. For example, eat a small amount of yogurt and hard-boiled eggs for breakfast.
Exercise is a natural immune system booster. It can increase your strength, endurance, and energy, and improve your mood to naturally reduce depression, stress, and anxiety. People who exercise regularly get sick less often than those who don’t due to having stronger immune systems.
Having HIV will not affect your ability to exercise. The more you exercise, the stronger you’ll become and the better you’ll feel. Find an activity you enjoy, and start doing it regularly so you can maintain a routine.
Get Plenty Of Quality Sleep
Quality sleep is essential for everyone but is especially important for people with HIV. Your body repairs and heals itself while you sleep. This is why you generally feel refreshed and energetic after a night of quality sleep.
Sleeping well throughout the night can be challenging for people with HIV. Anxiety and worry about having HIV can disrupt sleep, as can certain medications used to treat HIV.
Talk to your doctor if you have HIV and are having difficulty sleeping. Your doctor may work with you to treat underlying problems causing poor sleep or change your treatment so you can sleep better.
Take Nutritional Supplements
Many people cannot get the daily amount of vitamins and minerals their bodies need from foods alone. For example, people who do not have access to quality, affordable fish may be missing out on vital omega-3 fatty acids and need fish oil supplements to boost their intake.
Ask your doctor or nutritionist for help with choosing quality nutritional supplements that can boost your immune system. Your healthcare team can also suggest vitamins your body needs to fight HIV and AIDS, such as vitamin D.
Practice Good Oral Hygiene
The importance of oral hygiene often gets overlooked among people with HIV. A weakened immune system can make you more vulnerable to many oral health problems such as canker sores, thrush, and gum disease. Some medications used to treat HIV can also cause dry mouth to increase the risk for oral health problems.
Brush and floss your teeth regularly. See your dentist for checkups every six months or more often as recommended by your healthcare team.
Manage and Reduce Stress
Living with HIV can often raise your stress levels. You may be stressed about having HIV to begin with and about the possibility of developing AIDS. Attending regular doctor’s appointments and constantly starting new treatments can also be stressful with HIV.
Chronic stress can weaken your immune system even more and make you more vulnerable to AIDS and other infections. Stress can also affect your ability to eat and sleep—essential to your health when fighting HIV.
If you suffer from stress, find new ways to manage it effectively. Start exercising regularly, or get into yoga or meditation. Spend more quality time with your favorite friends and relatives, including your pets.
Also, try to find ways to eliminate stressors from your life, even if doing so seems challenging. For example, cut ties with negative people in your life, or talk to your manager at work about changing your schedule. Any steps you take to reduce stress can help ease the burdens associated with having HIV.
Stop Drinking Alcohol
Alcohol can weaken your immune system, even more, when you have HIV. It can also worsen your symptoms and make you feel more ill. Alcohol can damage your liver, which is responsible for removing toxins from your body. If you drink regularly, alcohol may be preventing your liver from eliminating the toxins causing your illness.
Alcohol also has other negative consequences. It can interfere with the medications you are taking to treat HIV. It can affect your decision-making ability and judgment and lead to risky behavior like unsafe sex.
Some doctors recommend drinking alcohol in moderation, while others recommend avoiding alcohol at all costs. Ask your healthcare team whether you should still be drinking alcohol after being diagnosed with HIV.
Avoid Illicit Drugs
Illicit drugs like heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine can weaken your immune system even further to increase the severity of HIV. Like alcohol, illicit drugs can also cause liver damage and prevent your body from eliminating harmful toxins, according to the National Institutes of Health. They can also interfere with HIV medications to cause adverse reactions or prevent them from working at all.
Avoid using any illicit drugs when you have HIV. If you live in a state where medical marijuana is legal, consult your doctor before using it to treat HIV or its symptoms.
If you think you may be addicted to an illicit drug, confide in your doctor about it. Your doctor may prescribe medications to help you gradually and safely detox from that particular drug. Your doctor may also refer you to an addiction treatment specialist who can help.
Smoking increases the risk for several serious diseases even if you don’t have HIV. The CDC says that people with HIV who smoke are more likely than people with HIV who don’t smoke to get cancer, heart disease, and bacterial pneumonia. It adds that smokers with HIV also respond poorly to HIV treatment, are more likely to get AIDS, and have shorter lifespans.
Stop smoking as soon as possible if you have HIV. If you are smoking mainly to cope with stress, find other effective ways to reduce stress. If you are addicted to nicotine, talk to your doctor about treatments that can help you stop smoking. Medications, nicotine replacement, and support groups are effective treatments that may help you stop smoking.
Managing HIV With Lompoc Valley Medical Center
Lompoc Valley Medical Center is home to a large team of board-certified doctors who can work with you to boost your immune system if you have HIV. We offer dietitian and nutrition services and counseling services for those who need help managing their diets and mental health while living with HIV.
Contact us today at (805) 737-3382 to learn more about our many healthcare services.