Antiretroviral Treatment Is Associated With Iron Deficiency in HIV-Infected Malawian Women That Is Mitigated With Supplementation, but Is Not Associated With Infant Iron Deficiency During 24 Weeks of Exclusive Breastfeeding

J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr. 2015 Jul 1;69(3):319-28. doi: 10.1097/QAI.0000000000000588.


Objective: In resource-limited settings without safe alternatives to breastfeeding, the WHO recommends exclusive breastfeeding and antiretroviral (ARV) prophylaxis. Given the high prevalence of anemia among HIV-infected women, mothers and their infants (through fetal iron accretion) may be at risk of iron deficiency. We assessed the effects of maternal micronutrient-fortified lipid-based nutrient supplements (LNS) and maternal ARV treatment or infant ARV prophylaxis on maternal and infant iron status during exclusive breastfeeding from birth to 24 weeks.

Methods: The Breastfeeding, Antiretrovirals, and Nutrition study was a randomized controlled trial conducted in Lilongwe, Malawi, from 2004 to 2010. HIV-infected mothers (CD4 >200 cells/μL) and their infants were randomly assigned to 28-week interventions: maternal LNS/maternal ARV (n = 424), maternal LNS/infant ARV (n = 426), maternal LNS (n = 334), maternal ARV (n = 425), infant ARV (n = 426), or control (n = 334). Longitudinal models tested intervention effects on hemoglobin (Hb). In a subsample (n = 537) with multiple iron indicators, intervention effects on Hb, transferrin receptors (TfR), and ferritin were tested with linear and Poisson regression.

Results: In longitudinal models, LNS effects on maternal and infant Hb were minimal. In subsample mothers, maternal ARVs were associated with tissue iron depletion (TfR >8.3 mg/L) (risk ratio: 3.1, P < 0.01), but not in ARV-treated mothers receiving LNS (P = 0.17). LNS without ARVs was not associated with iron deficiency or anemia (P > 0.1). In subsample infants, interventions were not associated with impaired iron status (all P > 0.1).

Conclusions: Maternal ARV treatment with protease inhibitors is associated with maternal tissue iron depletion; but LNS mitigates adverse effects. ARVs do not seem to influence infant iron status; however, extended use needs to be evaluated.

Trial registration: NCT00164736.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Anti-HIV Agents / adverse effects*
  • Anti-HIV Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Breast Feeding*
  • Dietary Supplements*
  • Drug Administration Schedule
  • Female
  • HIV Infections / complications*
  • HIV Infections / drug therapy
  • HIV Infections / epidemiology
  • Hemoglobins / analysis
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Iron / administration & dosage
  • Iron / therapeutic use
  • Iron Deficiencies*
  • Iron, Dietary / administration & dosage
  • Iron, Dietary / pharmacology
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Malawi / epidemiology
  • Male


  • Anti-HIV Agents
  • Hemoglobins
  • Iron, Dietary
  • Iron

Associated data