Background: The scale and impact of the HIV/AIDS pandemic has made the search for simple, affordable, safe, and effective public health interventions all the more urgent. Micronutrient supplements hold the promise of meeting these criteria, but their widespread use needs to be based on sound scientific evidence of effectiveness and safety.
Objectives: To assess whether micronutrient supplements are effective in reducing morbidity and mortality in adults and children with HIV infection.
Search strategy: The Cochrane Library (CENTRAL), EMBASE, MEDLINE, AIDSearch, CINAHL, and conference proceedings were searched, and pharmaceutical manufacturers and researchers in the field were contacted to locate any ongoing or unpublished trials.
Selection criteria: Randomised controlled trials comparing the effects of micronutrient supplements (vitamins, trace elements, and combinations of these) with placebo or no treatment on mortality and morbidity in HIV-infected individuals.
Data collection and analysis: Two reviewers independently appraised trial quality and extracted data. Study authors were contacted for additional data where necessary. A meta-analysis was not deemed appropriate due to significant heterogeneity between trials.
Main results: Fifteen trials were included. Six trials comparing vitamin A/beta-carotene with placebo in adults failed to show any effects on mortality, morbidity, CD4 and CD8 counts, or on viral load. Four trials of other micronutrients in adults did not affect overall mortality, although there was a reduction in mortality in a low CD4 subgroup. In a large Tanzanian trial in pregnant and lactating women, daily multivitamin supplementation was associated with a number of benefits to both mothers and children: a reduction in maternal mortality from AIDS-related causes; a reduced risk of progression to stage four disease; fewer adverse pregnancy outcomes; less diarrhoeal morbidity; and a reduction in early-child mortality among immunologically- and nutritionally-compromised women. Vitamin A alone reduced all-cause mortality and improved growth in a small sub-group of HIV-infected children in one hospital-based trial, and reduced diarrhoea-associated morbidity in a small HIV-infected sub-group of infants in another trial.
Authors' conclusions: There is no conclusive evidence at present to show that micronutrient supplementation effectively reduces morbidity and mortality among HIV-infected adults. It is reasonable to support the current WHO recommendations to promote and support adequate dietary intake of micronutrients at RDA levels wherever possible. There is evidence of benefit of vitamin A supplementation in children. The long-term clinical benefits, adverse effects, and optimal formulation of micronutrient supplements require further investigation.