Press Releases

2005 Releases

Statement from Harvard School of Public Health Researchers Regarding Misinterpretation of Findings on Vitamins and HIV/AIDS

For immediate release:  May 06, 2005

Boston, MA--Published statements in the United States and South Africa by businessman Matthias Rath, whose company Matthias Rath Inc. sells vitamin formulas, state that antiretroviral therapy (ART) "severely damage[s] all cells in the body--including white blood cells--thereby not improving but rather worsening immune deficiencies and expanding the AIDS epidemic." These statements promote vitamins as superior to ART in the treatment of HIV/AIDS. Rath has attempted to support his claims with findings from Harvard School of Public Health research in Tanzania. We condemn these irresponsible and misleading statements as in our view they deliberately misinterpret findings from our studies to advocate against the scale up of antiretroviral therapy.

Since its introduction as standard practice in the United States and other developed settings, antiretroviral therapy has significantly improved chances of survival, reduced the incidence of opportunistic infections, and improved quality of life among HIV-infected individuals. As with any other drugs, antiretroviral drugs have side effects that have been documented; however, these side effects can be managed effectively.

Over the past several years a number of studies, including our work in Tanzania, have shown that multivitamin supplementation slows the rate of HIV disease progression and other HIV-related outcomes. For adults who are at earlier stages of their disease, a daily multivitamin supplement can slow progression and prolong the time before initiation of ART is recommended. This would preserve these drugs for later stages of the disease and result in significant treatment-related cost savings, while improving quality of life among HIV-infected persons. However, it is important to underscore that the multivitamin supplements should not be considered as an alternative to ART, but as a complementary intervention that is part of a comprehensive care package. Individuals who are advanced enough in their disease to warrant ART as per national guidelines should be provided with antiretroviral drugs.

HIV-1 infection is having a devastating impact in many developing countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. Antiretroviral therapy saves lives, and its scale up should be vigorously pursued in all countries. Harvard School of Public Health is proud to be part of the scale up efforts in Botswana, Nigeria and Tanzania through a grant from the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. While nutrition is important in the management of HIV/AIDS, nutritional supplements alone cannot replace the need for comprehensive treatment and care for people living with HIV/AIDS, including ART.

Wafaie Fawzi, Associate Professor, Departments of Nutrition and Epidemiology
David Hunter, Professor, Departments of Nutrition and Epidemiology

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(1) Fawzi WW, Msamanga GI, Spiegelman D, Wei R, Kapiga S, Villamor E, Mwakagile D, Mugusi F, Hertzmark E, Essex M, Hunter DJ. A randomized trial of multivitamin supplements and HIV disease progression and mortality. N Engl J Med. 2004 Jul 1;351(1):23-32. http://content.nejm.org/cgi/content/short/351/1/23

(2) Fawzi W, Msamanga G, Spiegelman D, Hunter DJ. Studies of vitamins and minerals and HIV transmission and disease progression. J Nutr. 2005 Apr;135(4):938-44.

http://www.nutrition.org/cgi/content/abstract/135/4/938

For further information contact:
Robin Herman
HSPH Office of Communications
617-432-4388
rherman@hsph.harvard.edu