Selenium is required for activity of the enzyme glutathione peroxidase, and selenium deficiency may be associated with myopathy, cardiomyopathy and immune dysfunction including oral candidiasis, impaired phagocytic function and decreased CD4 T-cells. We assessed selenium status in 12 patients with AIDS compared to normals and found significantly low plasma and red blood cell levels. Plasma selenium in AIDS was 0.043 +/- 0.01 microgram/ml vs 0.095 +/- 0.016 in controls (P < 0.001). Selenium status correlated with serum albumin (r = 0.77; P < 0.001) and 60% had documented GI malabsorption as determined by abnormal D-Xylose tests. In a subsequent study blood selenium and glutathione peroxidase were diminished in 12 AIDS and 8 ARC patients compared with normals (all P < 0.001). For glutathione peroxidase the mean levels were decreased by 45% in AIDS and 27% in ARC versus controls (P < 0.001). Both plasma selenium and glutathione peroxidase significantly correlated with total lymphocyte counts (r = 0.65; P < 0.001; glutathione peroxidase and lymphocyte counts). This occurred in both homosexuals and drug users with AIDS and irrespective of the presence or absence of diarrhea or GI malabsorption. To determine if tissue levels of selenium were also depleted we studied cardiac selenium levels in autopsy AIDS hearts compared to age and sex matched controls. Cardiac selenium in AIDS was 0.327 +/- 0.082 micrograms/g dry weight versus 0.534 +/- 0.184 in controls (P < 0.01). Two cases had histologic cardiomyopathy pathologically consistent with the cardiomyopathy described in Keshan disease associated with low selenium blood levels. To further assess mechanisms of nutrient and selenium deficiency in AIDS we studied dietary intake in outpatients and inpatients with various stages of HIV infection. Inadequate selenium intake based on a computer (Nutritionist 3) analysis of 72 h diet records was present in only 17% of clinically stable HIV positive outpatients and 71% of inpatients with AIDS.
Conclusions: Selenium deficiency is common in HIV positive patients as documented by low plasma and red blood cell levels of selenium, diminished activity of glutathione peroxidase, and low cardiac selenium levels in AIDS hearts. Patients with AIDS tend to have more severe deficits than those with earlier stages of HIV infection. The selenium deficit in blood does correlate with serum albumin levels and total lymphocyte counts. Poor dietary intake and malabsorption could lead to this condition which has important implications for both cardiac and immune functions in HIV positive patients.