The food we eat gives our bodies the “information” and materials they need to function properly. If we don’t get the right nutrition our bodies ability to breakdown food and transform it into energy suffers and our health declines.If we get too much food, or food that gives our bodies the wrong instructions, we can become overweight, undernourished, and at risk for developing a variety of diseases and conditions, such as arthritis, diabetes, and heart disease.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines medicine as: “The science and art dealing with the maintenance of health and the prevention, alleviation, or cure of disease.“ According to this definition food canact as medicine as it works to maintain, prevent, and treat disease.
In short, what we eat is central to our health. This is particularly true for people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA). Not only do PLWHA need proper nutrition in order to maintain and improve health but many of the medications they are prescribed must be taken with food.
Good nutrition is important even from the early onset of HIV infection. Nutrition education at this initial stage gives the person a chance to achieve the following goals: build healthy eating habits, improve the quality of the food they purchase and to learn about the proper cultivation, storage and cooking of food.
Poverello plays an active role in seeking to achieve these goals. Through recent funding provided by The Smart Ride, Poverello was able to hire a part time nutritionist. The Poverello nutritionist provides both one-on-one nutritional counseling and nutrition education seminars. These services are augmented by periodic healthy cooking classes. All seek to help clients achieve an understanding of the value of proper diet and how to prepare nutritious meals in order to achieve optimal health.
These services are extremely important for PLWHA. When nutritional needs are not met, research shows that recovery from illness takes longer. In addition, a person with HIV/AIDS may be receiving treatment for opportunistic infections and combination therapy for HIV. Good nutrition will reinforce the effect of the drugs taken.
Good nutrition is also vital to help maintain the health and quality of life of the PLWHA. HIV disease damages the immune system, which leads to other problems that can cause conditions such as fever and diarrhea. Fever and diarrhea can lower food intake because they both reduce appetite and interfere with the body’s ability to absorb food. As a result, the person becomes malnourished, loses weight and is weakened.
When a person is already underweight, a further weight loss can have serious effects. A healthy and balanced diet, early treatment of infection and proper nutritional recovery after infection can reduce this weight loss and reduce the impact of future infection.
In addition, a person with HIV/AIDS may be receiving treatment for opportunistic infections and combination therapy for HIV; these treatments and medicines may influence eating and nutrition. Good nutrition will reinforce the effect of the drugs taken.
And perhaps most importantly, good nutrition can help extend the period of time that the person with HIV/AIDS is well, working and active in the community.