The main compound in garlic is allicin. Garlic also contains other compounds, including diallyl polysulfides and ajoene.
In this article, we look at whether or not garlic affects the immune system in people with HIV. We also cover whether garlic interacts with HIV medications.
HIV and garlic
Garlic has antiviral properties that may benefit people with HIV.
Some people claim that garlic can help fight HIV due to its antiviral properties, such as boosting the immune system.
HIV attacks T cells, which are a specific type of cell in the immune system. T cells fight viruses and tumor cells in the body. When HIV destroys T cells, it is harder to fight off infections.
A person with HIV is more prone to certain types of infections, including viruses. Such infections can become severe if a person has a weakened immune system.
Anything that may make the immune system stronger can be beneficial for people with HIV, which is why some people recommend garlic supplements.
One analysis published in the Journal of Immunology Research suggests that garlic may improve immune system function by stimulating the production of certain types of cells. These cells include natural killer cells and macrophages, which help fight infections.
The general health benefits of garlic may also be beneficial for people with HIV. For example, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, some studies indicate that garlic may help lower cholesterol levels.
What does the research say?
One theory is that garlic has sulfur-containing amino acids that stimulate activity in the immune system and help fight infections.
A 2016 study published in The Journal of Nutrition indicates that T cells and natural killer cells could respond to diet modifications including garlic.
The study included adults aged 21–50. The scientists divided the participants into two groups. For 90 days during the cold and flu season, one group consumed 2.56 grams of garlic extract, and the other group consumed the placebo.
The researchers then assessed the T cell and killer cell function, along with self-reported illness. The results indicated that supplementation with garlic may improve immune cell function.
Boosting the immune system may help people with HIV stay healthy, but studies do not confirm that garlic can prevent infections specifically in people who have HIV.
Additional larger studies are needed to determine whether garlic can play a role in enhancing the immune systems of people with HIV.
The National Cancer Institute recognize that garlic may have some anticancer properties.
People with HIV are also more susceptible to certain types of cancer. Reducing the risk of cancer in people with HIV may improve the outlook in some cases. In one systematic review and meta-analysis, scientists looked at 14 studies that analyzed the link between garlic consumption and colon cancer. Garlic consumption did not appear to lower the risk of colorectal cancer.
Also, studies that report a link to a reduction in the most common cancers associated with HIV are not available.
Garlic and HIV medication
Garlic supplements may interact with HIV medication.
Some studies indicate that garlic supplements affect the levels of certain antiviral medications that doctors prescribe to treat HIV.
For example, one systematic analysis of current research published in the International Journal of STD & AIDS indicates that some forms of garlic supplements can reduce the levels of certain antiviral medications.
It is worth noting that some studies that suggest a link between garlic and interference with HIV medications are several years old. However, these medications have changed and evolved over time.
Another study involved 77 women with HIV who self-reported their garlic supplement intake. The results showed that the short-term use of garlic supplements did not affect how often they took antiretroviral medications, their CD4 cell counts, or their viral load.
The compounds in garlic are complex. For example, allicin quickly changes into other chemicals. For this reason, researchers do not fully understand garlic's interaction with various HIV medications.
Risks and side effects
The best treatment varies depending on a person's overall health and other medical conditions they may have. Different HIV treatment regimens involve different classes of drug, some of which may interact differently with garlic.
For people with HIV who are considering taking garlic supplements, there are several questions to ask a doctor.
For example, it is vital to ask a doctor whether garlic supplements are safe to use with the medications a person is currently taking. It is also best to discuss the optimal dosage.
A discussion on the typical side effects of garlic is also needed. Garlic supplement side effects may include:
Since the side effects of garlic can sometimes include stomach upset, it can interfere with taking HIV medications or proper nutrition.
As with any supplement, it is essential to weigh the benefits against the risks.
The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) do not monitor the quality or safety of supplements, so it is vital to purchase them from a reputable supplier.
Researchers are still trying to determine the medicinal benefits of garlic. It is possible that garlic supplements may have some health benefits, but its effects on HIV and HIV treatment are currently unclear.
Some studies suggest that garlic supplements interfere with HIV medication, but other studies have not shown the same link.
Since evidence is not conclusive, people with HIV should always talk with their doctor before taking garlic supplements.