Research & Your Health

Research & Your Health is a series of articles written in accessible, everyday language, focused on the latest scientific research of natural health products.

The Impact of Spirulina on HIV-positive Patients

On November 23, 2015

Background: Malnutrition contributes to the development of infections and weakens the immune system by reducing CD4 and CD8 T-lymphocyte levels. HIV and malnutrition work together to impair the immune system. The World Health Organization recognizes that nutritional supplementation may be important to target nutritional deficiencies in HIV-positive patients. While HIV-positive patients commonly consume dietary supplements, evidence-based guidelines for food assistance and nutritional supplements are lacking. Spirulina platensis has been used as a food source in sub-Saharan Africa and this study looked at how S. platensis supplementation affects CD4 lymphocyte and viral load levels among HIV-antiretroviral (ARV) naïve participants.

Objective: The purpose of this study was to access CD4 cell levels and viral load among HIV-ARV naive participants.

Methods: This was a prospective, single-blind, randomized-, and controlled study. Two groups of 169 total participants were matched with respect to CD4 cells counts, sex and age. The supplementation group consumed 10 g of S. platensis powder daily for six months. Participants in the control group were asked to consume a local, balanced diet. CD4 lymphocytes count, viral load hemoglobin and fasting blood sugar levels were assessed at baseline, and after six and 12 months.

Results: Seventy-eight participants in the intervention group and 63 participants in the control group completed the study. Baseline CD4 levels, viral load, hemoglobin and fasting blood sugar were not significantly different among the two groups. Spirulina supplementation significantly increased CD4 levels after six months (31 per cent) and 12 months (43 per cent) compared to the control group. Viral load decreased significantly among the intervention group after both six months (42 per cent) and 12 months (82 per cent). Hemoglobin levels had a 10 per cent improvement after both six and 12 months, and fasting blood sugar improved by 16 per cent after 12 months among those in the spirulina group compared to the control group.

Conclusion: Spirulina supplementation for six months and the six months following supplementation improved CD4 cell counts and viral load among HIV-positive, ART-naïve patients.

Findings in Perspective: S. platensis may be effective in improving the immune system and nutritional deficiencies among HIV-positive patients. This supplement is also available in sub-Saharan Africa, an area with a high prevalence of HIV. A placebo powder given to the control group and blinding the researchers to which participants were in the control or supplementation group may have strengthened the study design.