Improving Premature Aging In People With HIV/AIDS

While the aging process affects everyone, each person ages at a different rate. However, research shows that the aging process happens much faster in people with HIV.1

Premature aging in people with HIV has been recognized as a new, major public health problem. Studies have found that people with HIV who are 45 to 60 years old show many of the signs of aging that are usually seen in people who are more than 70 years old. This includes declining physical and mental abilities, higher levels of inflammation, immune system problems, and frailty.1

Understanding the aging process

Everything in your body is made up of cells, which are the building blocks of all the tissues in your body. As your cells age, they get larger and are not as good at dividing and multiplying. Some cells simply lose their ability to function or they start to function abnormally. Your vital organs also start to lose some of their function.2

Your environment as well as diet and exercise habits likely play a role in how you will age. In most cases, aging appears slowly and over a long period of time. The aging process is complex, and no one knows exactly how or why people change as they get older. Some scientists believe aging is caused by wear and tear on the body. Others think aging is a predetermined process that your genes control.2

However, scientists do know that things like illness, certain drugs, and major life changes can increase stress on the body and speed up the aging process.2

Why do people with HIV/AIDS experience premature aging?

Thanks to advances in medicine and treatment, people with HIV are living longer, healthier lives than ever before. However, along with this longer life expectancy, many long-term survivors of HIV/AIDS experience signs of premature aging.

Research shows that one reason may be the HIV antiretroviral medications. These are the very drugs that are lifesaving and have actually improved the chances for a longer life in people with HIV/AIDS. Yet these drugs, which are taken daily and for the rest of a person’s life, may also cause premature aging. Experts are finding that the drugs may cause a person’s immune system to not function as well.3

Research also shows that having HIV seems to raise the risk for several diseases that are linked to aging. HIV causes chronic inflammation, which is linked to conditions like type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Plus, there are health problems that are more common in long-term survivors. This includes conditions like lung disease, certain cancers, and liver disease.4

The role of glutathione in premature aging

Researchers say that a lack of an antioxidant called glutathione might also be responsible for premature aging in people with HIV. Glutathione is naturally produced in the liver. It helps the body prevent and delay cell damage and also supports the immune system.2

Glutathione levels naturally decrease with age, though levels are also lower in people with conditions like HIV/AIDS, diabetes, and cancer.2

A dietary supplement may be helpful

Scientists believed that boosting glutathione levels in people with HIV/AIDS could help slow the aging process. In a 2020 study conducted at Baylor College of Medicine, scientists gave the participants two dietary supplements, glycine and N-acetylcysteine (GlyNAC). The people with HIV who participated in the study saw their health improve. Now researchers are hoping to conduct additional research to see whether these dietary supplements would both work in people who are HIV-positive and HIV-negative.5

If they worked, they could be used as a simple, safe nutritional supplement to improve the health of people with HIV as well as people who do not have HIV.2

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