Friday, December 02, 2005

HIV and nutrition

Watching Sorious Samura’s gut-wrenching documentary on Aids in Africa last night, it struck me that apart from access to very cheap or free ARV’s, and apart from prevention issues around the relation to alcohol (the virus is transferred so often by drunk men) and the nihilistic death-wish of those with HIV-AIDS sleeping with others to infect them, and of the evangelical church’s mystification against the effectiveness of condom use in favour of protection from Jesus or by preaching abstinence (funded by our friends in the Whiter than White House) – aside from all these well known contributory factors to the prevalence of the virus – what is less appreciated (perhaps I am wrong – what do I know?) is the importance of nutrition and diet. The reason why poverty threatens the lives of those who are positive in Africa more than elsewhere is surely because the African diet is often poor in the nutrients that will boost the immune system. So many Africans do not eat enough fruit and vegetables (even though they may be surrounded by them), resulting in nutritional intake weak in iron, B12, essential fatty acids and other vital nutrients.

A campaign for a more balanced diet amongst the poor in Aids-stricken areas such as Zambia, Nigeria or Swaziland would mean living with the virus would be less life-threatening. This may not be as daft an idea as it might sound: in most places in the world, there is an abundance of plants and herbs that are immuno-boosters – whether sources of iron, anti-oxidants or otherwise. Here in Nigeria, the variety of spinach called ugwu is a miraculous way to boost the blood level (we drink the juice, which is a bit like wheatgrass). Anti-Retro-Virals are undoubtedly a key part of the fight against the virus (as are the microbicide gel-based vaccines coming onto the market in the next few years), but campaigns for a better diet based on locally-available produce must surely play a role too.


Nkem 11:55 am  

I went to a viewing of the documentary the Frontline club in London a few months ago. As one of very few black men in the audience, it was painful to watch. It was the second time I saw it after it aired on C4, and the impact remained the same. It seems that a lot of the responsibility for curbing the spread of AIDS lies with men, since men control sexual practices. Until women are empowered enough to challenge mail dominance of sexual practice, AIDS will sadly continue to spread.

Your view on the importance diet has been echoed by the SA Health Minister, Tshabalala-Msimang, a view which has been interpreted to mean an anti-ARV stance. But the politics of AIDS in SA is another matter.

german vegan,  8:03 pm  

Two things:

Since B12 is of bacteriological origin, and since plants don't require B12 for their metabolisms, no known plant actually carries bioactive B12 which the body can utilize. This is why an adequate vegan diet integrates this vitamin in its pure form. (B12 is produced by bacteriological fermentation in a process similar to making bakers yeast.

Of the only suspected plant, the microplant or algae chlorella vulgaris, which carries along a bacteriological flora and is suspected therefore to contain bioactive B12, we do not know yet if humans can utilize it. There haven't been any studies showing that the B12 in this microplant is bioactive or analoga.

Different vegans have come up with different evolutionary strategies to get this vital vitamin. Panda bears, despite being carnivores, are vegan, but accidentally eat enough insects with their bamboo which are rich in B12. Rabbits produce, aside from their normal dung, a special softer dung which is rich in B12 and which it then eats. Same as Gorillas, vegans who also accidentally eat insects or eat their dung. The human lower intestine also contains lots of bacteria producing real B12, but from there it can't be absorbed. The small intestine where nutrients are actually absorbed is almost sterile hence can't host these bacteria. Cows and other herbivores host these bacteria in one of their several stomachs -just like a type of ape which has two stomachs - meaning the B12 produced by these bacteria pass the small intestine from where it can be absorbed.

Human vegans evolutionary strategy to include this vitamin into diet doesn't rely on the limitations grown structures, we have evolved with the ability to ferment this vitamin in kettles.

Unfortunately many vegans simply lack knowledge of this simple fact - and therefore gamble away the many health benefits of the vegan diet. To make matters worse, even if they are informed, they would reject integrating a manufactured vitamin as unnatural, forgetting that the ability to produce something is part of humans naturality.

Some, upon finding out, would even resort to eating violence products, ignoring that the B12 in animals is of the same bacteriological origin as the one from the fermentation kettle - it's the same bacteria. So since we can ferment it, there is no need nor justification to derive it from animal products.

Integration of this vitamin however is vital, and even nonvegans should resort to integrating the supplemental form from the age of 50, because that's when the stomach starts to lose the ability to separate animal-sourced B12 from the protein it's bound into. Many elderly people complaining of numbness, stiffness and dementia are actually B12 deficient even though they may be consuming enough of the nutrient. It simply leaves their body unabsorbed, because the stomach has lost the ability to split it out from the protein. Fermented B12 is already available in its pure form, and therefore doesn't rely on the intrinsic factor. So it is certainly the best strategy to adopt a vegan diet at any age and include a source of pure B12.

We need very little of this vitamin - the daily requirement for the entire human population globally is a mere 18kg. The easiest way to include it into the diet is by taking 2000 micrograms once a week. This sounds a lot, but only 10-14 micrograms of that will be absorbed which will then meet the daily requirement.

Secondly, about the SA dietary advisor, this is actually a tragic case of quackery. There is a mentally ill German doctor in SA claiming that a good diet can actually prevent HIV/AIDS, and the health minister has bought into that. Many people have died because they stopped taking their antiviral medication, buying into the narcissistic delusions of this quack, a quack who unfortunately hold a real medical title. However in Germany, there is warrant out for his arrest because I think it was relating to "healing" a child with cancer with alternative medication and the child died.

So while a good diet certainly supports good health, its important to differentiate preventative care by nutrition and attempting to heal serious condidions like AIDS. It's true that someone with good nutrition will of course respond more strongly to illness, but it doesn't help directly to eat lots fruit and veggies if you've broken a leg, and eating red beet certainly won't cure AIDS, as claimed by this ill quack. That the health minister of SA has fallen for this quack is of course catastrophic, because her authority lends credibility to that 'on the run criminal', thereby influencing many thousand people and thereby killing many thousand people :-(

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