AZT inhibits reproduction of retroviruses, including the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). HIV is considered the cause of acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). AZT is one of a number of drugs used to treat HIV infection and AIDS.
Vitamin B12 deficiency in HIV infected persons may be more common in those taking AZT.1 HIV infected people with low vitamin B12 levels were shown in one study to be more likely to develop blood-related side effects (particularly anemia) from taking AZT.2
Preliminary information suggests that muscle damage sometimes caused by AZT is at least partially due to depletion of carnitine in the muscles by the drug.3 It has been reported that most patients taking AZT have depleted carnitine levels that can be restored with carnitine supplementation (6 grams per day).4
Animal research suggests that zinc and N-acetyl cysteine supplementation may protect against AZT toxicity.5 It is not known whether oral supplementation with these nutrients would have similar effects in people taking AZT.
Persons with AIDS have developed lactic acidosis and fatty liver while taking AZT and other drugs in its class. AZT can inhibit crucial DNA-related riboflavin activity, which may be normalized by riboflavin supplementation. A 46-year-old woman with AIDS and lactic acidosis received a single dose of 50 mg of riboflavin, after which her laboratory tests returned to normal and her lactic acidosis was completely resolved.6 More research is needed to confirm the value of riboflavin for preventing and treating this side effect.
Thymopentin is a small protein that comes from a natural hormone in the body known as thymopoietin. This hormone stimulates production of the white blood cells known as T lymphocytes. Combination of thymopentin with AZT tended to decrease the rate at which HIV-infected persons progressed to AIDS.7 Thymopentin alone did not seem to have a benefit in this study. Since thymopentin is administered by injections into the skin, people should consult with a doctor as to the availability of this substance.
A study found that adding 200 mg zinc per day to AZT treatment decreased the number of Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia and Candida infections in people with AIDS compared with people treated with AZT alone.8 The zinc also improved weight and CD4 cell levels. The amount of zinc used in this study was very high and should be combined with 1–2 mg of copper to reduce the risk of immune problems from the zinc long term.
1. Paltiel O, Falutz J, Veilleux M, et al. Clinical correlates of subnormal vitamin B12 levels in patients infected with the human immunodeficiency virus. Am J Hematol 1995;49:318-22.
2. Richman DD, Fischl MA, Griego MH, et al. The toxicity of azidothymidine (AZT) in the treatment of patients with AIDS and AIDS-related complex. New Engl J Med 1987;317:192-7.
3. Dalakas MC, Leon-Monzon ME, Bernardini I, et al. Zidovudine-induced mitochondrial myopathy is associated with muscle carnitine deficiency and lipid storage. Ann Neurol 1994;35:482-7.
4. De Simone C, Famularo G, Tzantzoglou S, et al. Carnitine depletion in peripheral blood mononuclear cells from patients with AIDS: effect of oral L-carnitine. AIDS 1994;8:655-60.
5. Gogu SR, Agrawal KC. The protective role of zinc and N-acetylcysteine in modulating zidovudine induced hematopoietic toxicity. Life Sci 1996;59:1323-9.
6. Fouty B, Frerman F, Reves R. Riboflavin to treat nucleoside analogue-induced lactic acidosis. Lancet 1998;352:291-2 [letter].
7. Goldstein G, Conant MA, Beall G, et al. Safety and efficacy of thymopentin in zidovudine (AZT)-treated asymptomatic HIV-infected subjects with 200-500 CD4 cells/mm3: A double-blind placebo-controlled trial. J Acq Imm Def Syn Human Retrovirol 1995;8:279-88.
8. Mocchegiani E, Veccia S, Ancarani F, et al. Benefit of oral zinc supplementation as an adjunct to zidovudine (AZT) therapy against opportunistic infections in AIDS. Int J Immunopharmacol 1995;17:719-27.
Last Review: 04-29-2014
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