Because HIV takes over white blood cells, the guardians of the body’s immune system, it’s essential to do what you can to keep your immune system strong. Keeping your immune system strong and healthy with HIV is essentially the same as maintaining a healthy lifestyle, but with medication as a critical part of the routine. Strict adherence to a routine and a healthy lifestyle can reduce your incidences of infection and keep you feeling better mentally and physically.
1. Eat well.
Research suggests that maintaining a healthy diet with all the essential vitamins and minerals can help keep the immune system strong. Be sure to eat lots of fruits and vegetables. See a nutritionist if at all possible.
2. Avoid drugs, alcohol and cigarettes.
Avoid drinking alcohol, taking drugs and smoking cigarettes is essential to maintaining a healthy immune system. As anyone who has gone on a drinking binge knows, your body must work extra hard to rid itself of toxins, and your immune defenses are lowered significantly. There is a significant amount of evidence available showing that both acute and chronic alcohol consumption suppresses the immune system.
3. Stay on top of oral health.
Having HIV makes you more prone to getting herpes, fever blisters, canker sores, oral thrush and other bacterial or fungal infections in the mouth. Be wary of any blisters, lesions, white patches or sores in the mouth and report them to your doctor or dentist as soon as possible. They will help you treat the infection promptly. Get your teeth cleaned and examined biannually if possible.
4. Reduce stress and get enough sleep.
Many people with HIV suffer from insomnia at some point or another. This can be due to certain medications, the virus itself, or depression and anxiety. Talk to your doctor about finding the main cause of sleeplessness, and try to avoid sleeping pills. Be sure to employ a relaxation or stress-relieving technique that works for you. Remember that if you do get an infection, your body will require more sleep than usual. Find a meditation, yoga and/or exercise routine that works for you.
5. Avoid others who are sick.
When your immune defenses are low, it can be especially easy to catch a bug from friends, family or co-workers. If you know someone is sick, try to keep your distance and wash your hands frequently. If it’s possible for you to work from home during cold and flu season, ask your employer if you can take advantage of this flexibility. Be careful in tight enclosed spaces such as airplanes. You may want to consider wearing a surgical mask if you have to be in a tight space with a lot of people.
6. See the gynecologist regularly.
Women with HIV have a higher chance of developing cervical cancer, and can also have more frequent and more aggressive yeast infections and other types of vaginal bacterial and fungal infections. You should have a PAP smear done twice in the first year you are diagnosed with HIV and once each following year.
7. Take your medication on time.
If you have trouble sticking to other guidelines to maintain a healthy immune system, this is perhaps the most important one to follow. Strict adherence to an antiretroviral medication schedule greatly reduces your chances of hospitalization, progression of HIV into AIDS and even death. Antiretroviral therapy (ART) consists of five different types of drugs, and they all function in different ways which is why to fight the virus they are so much more effective when taken together on a regular schedule. These HIV and AIDS drugs include entry inhibitors, Nucleotide Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitors (NRTI), Non-NRTIs, integrase inhibitors and protease inhibitors. Not adhering to a medication schedule can result in viral drug resistance. This is similar to antibiotic resistance – if a bacteria is exposed for a short time to an antibiotic and then the medication is stopped too soon, the bacteria may not be completely eliminated from the body. Any remaining bacteria can multiply and become stronger than the original bacteria, survival of the fittest.