05 July 2004

Tips on living with HIV

Many people feel despondent when they have been diagnosed HIV-positive. But there are lots of things that you can do to ensure your ongoing health for a long, long time to come.

Many people feel despondent when they have been diagnosed HIV-positive. But there are lots of things that you can do to ensure your ongoing health for a long, long time to come.

Snack attack.Have lots of nutritious snacks, such as cereal with raisins, peanut butter and crackers as well as low-fat flavoured yoghurts. These snacks, in addition to your meals, will help boost your immune system, enabling you to delay the onset of Aids.

Be choosy. Choose your doctor carefully. You should see someone who knows how to treat HIV and who has a good bedside manner. Someone with experience in this field will also be able to give you good advice regarding support organisations. If you phone any Aids organisation in your area, they will be able to give you advice regarding this.

Dump those cigarettes. Smoking is not good for your health generally and if you are HIV-positive, your immune system becomes compromised anyway. This means you become more prone to infections, especially lung infections. And smoking inhibits your lungs’ ability to resist these roving viruses.

Pick those proteins. Your immune system needs lots of carbohydrates and proteins in order to work optimally. Red and white meat, chicken, fish, bread, pasta, rice, grains and potatoes should be on your menu regularly. Just keep away from fatty meats and oily sauces.

No glove, no love. This is not a virus you want to pass on. The rule is simple: no sex without a condom. Even if you have sex with someone else who is HIV positive, it is a good idea to wear a condom, as you might have different strains of the disease and could re-infect each other.

Don’t be a washout. If you have problems with constant diarrhoea, it means that both nutrients and medication are not being absorbed fully by your body. Consult your doctor about this, but meanwhile it would help if you stayed away from rich, fatty or spicy foods. Guard against dehydration. There are good over-the-counter medications that will help you to rehydrate.

Vitamins are vital. A daily multi-vitamin will boost your system and increase your ability to fight diseases. Choose a multivitamin that contains vitamins A, C, E as well as the mineral Selenium. Studies have shown that HIV-positive people who have a higher nutrient intake have a reduced risk of developing Aids.

Something fishy. Fish is an excellent source of monounsaturated fats, an essential part of a healthy diet. Salmon and halibut are especially good for this purpose. Saturated fats, as for instance those in cheese and meat, are reasonably unhealthy and could also lead to unwanted weight gain.

Ditch those drugs. Not only are most drugs illegal, they interfere with your medication, and can affect your health adversely, whether you are HIV-positive or not. Remember also that shared needles can spread the virus. Make a plan to quit. Call in help if you need it.

Join a support group. Sharing your experiences and thoughts might be a very valuable growth experience. It might be good to have a space to offload your feelings and also learn from the experiences of others. Create this safe space for yourself.

Be water wise. If you are on the typical HIV drug cocktail, you could be taking as many as 30 tablets a day and your liver and kidneys will need all the help they can get to help with the drug processing. Try and drink up to eight glasses of water per day.

Watch that weight. It is much easier for your body to remain healthy if it does not also have to cope with the added burden of health problems brought on by overweight. By the same token, you should also take care that you don’t become underweight. It is a good idea to see a dietician so that your eating habits can be assessed to ensure optimal health.

Stick to your medication. Don’t change your medication without consulting your doctor. Even if some of it is making you nauseous or lightheaded, leaving out some of the drugs without consulting your doctor, could seriously affect the working of the medication as a whole.

Sweet dreams. Getting to bed at a reasonable hour every day and getting your daily seven or eight hours of sleep, enable your body to function optimally and to fight infections. Irregular sleep puts your body under stress and you become more susceptible to opportunistic infections.

Get your shots. Get flu shots before the winter starts. Because of the HIV-virus, your body will take much longer to shake off the winter flu doing the rounds. Be pro-active and protect yourself from viruses doing the rounds.

Stress is a killer. Constant stress compromises your immune system. If you suffer from anxiety, depression or insomnia, it is a good idea to do something about it. Go for yoga classes, learn to meditate, see a counsellor or therapist, get involved in activities that relax you. If these do not have the desired effect, see your doctor. Your anxiety may have a physical cause.

Go slow on the caffeine. Tea contains almost as much caffeine as coffee does. Too much coffee and tea can wreak havoc with your digestive system and can also send your blood pressure sky-high. Caffeine also can deplete your body of vitamins B and C. Large amounts of caffeine can also dehydrate you.

Confined spaces. Closed spaces where air is recirculated hold special dangers for those who are HIV-positive. It is a good idea to get a booster shot before you do something such as flying long distances. In these spaces, not only the air is circulated, but also the collective viruses of all those in the space.

Get moving. Regular exercise boosts the immune system and also helps to stabilise serotonin levels and maintain your weight. It is better to exercise every day for half an hour than once a week for a marathon session.

Watch those T-cell counts. If your T-cell count is dropping, your medication may have to change. It is better to know the truth than becoming sicker, purely because you are avoiding the doctor.

Read more:
The most effective HIV drugs
Any questions? Ask our sexologist


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Dr Sindisiwe van Zyl qualified at the University of Pretoria before working for an HIV/AIDS NPO in Soweto for many years. She was named one of the Mail & Guardian's Top 200 Young South Africans in 2012.

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