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Do I need supplements?

for Veterans and the Public

Do I need supplements?

Our bodies need vitamins and minerals, in small amounts, to keep our cells working properly. They are essential to our staying healthy. People with HIV may need extra vitamins and minerals to help repair and heal cells that have been damaged.

Even though vitamins and minerals are present in many foods, your health care provider may recommend a vitamin and mineral supplement (a pill or other form of concentrated vitamins and minerals). While vitamin and mineral supplements can be useful, they can't replace eating a healthy diet.

If you are taking a supplement, here are some things to remember:

  • Do not take vitamin pills on an empty stomach. Take them regularly.
  • Some vitamins and minerals, if taken in high doses, can be harmful. Talk with your VA health care provider before taking high doses of any supplement.
  • Some minerals (like calcium, magnesium, and iron) may interfere with certain HIV medicines -- talk with your health care provider about whether or when to take these minerals.

Below is a table of some vitamins and minerals that affect the immune system.

NameWhat It DoesWhere to Get ItAbout Supplements
Source: Adapted from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United NationsLink will take you outside the VA website. VA is not responsible for the content of the linked site.
Vitamin A and beta-caroteneKeeps skin, lungs, and stomach healthy.liver, whole eggs, milk, dark green, yellow, orange, and red vegetables and fruit (like spinach, pumpkin, green peppers, squash, carrots, papaya, and mangoes). Also found in orange and yellow sweet potatoesIt's best to get vitamin A from food. Vitamin A supplements are toxic in high doses. Supplements of beta-carotene (the form of vitamin A in fruits and vegetables) have been shown to increase cancer risk in smokers.
Vitamin B-group (B-1, B-2, B-6, B-12, Folate) Keeps the immune and nervous system healthy.white beans, potatoes, meat, fish, chicken, watermelon, grains, nuts, avocados, broccoli, and green leafy vegetables
Vitamin C Helps protect the body from infection and aids in recovery. citrus fruits (like oranges, grapefruit, and lemons), tomatoes, and potatoes
Vitamin D Important for developing and maintaining heathy bones and teeth. fortified milk, fatty fish, sunlightIt may be difficult to get adequate vitamin D from food sources. A supplement of 1,000-2,000 mg daily may be recommended.
Vitamin E Protects cells and helps fight off infection. green leafy vegetables, vegetable oils, avocados, almondsLimit to 400 IU per day.
Iron Not having enough iron can cause anemia. green leafy vegetables, whole grain breads and pastas, dried fruit, beans, red meat, chicken, liver, fish, and eggsLimit to 45 mg per day unless otherwise instructed by your doctor. Iron may be a problem for people with HIV because it can increase the activity of some bacteria. Supplements that do not contain iron may be better. Ask your VA doctor.
Selenium Important for the immune system. whole grains, meat, fish, poultry, eggs, peanut butter, and nutsLimit to 400 mcg per day.
Zinc Important for the immune system. meat, fish, poultry, beans, peanuts, and milk and dairy productsLimit to 40 mg per day.