Leaky Gut and HIV: Which Bacteria Strain May Help Patients?

Leaky Gut Syndrome affects millions of people around the world and is associated with a litany of medical conditions. Perhaps no illness is closely tied to leaky gut more than Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). Thankfully, a recent study found a promising hope to create a disassociation between leaky gut and HIV patients. Let’s take a look at the relationship between leaky gut and HIV and which stomach bacteria might repair your gut lining.

What is HIV?

HIV is the precursor to Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). While we’ve made many great strides in HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, we still had over 1 million AIDS-related deaths last year.

It all begins when HIV infiltrates CD4 (or T) cells 2. Tracking the progression from HIV to AIDS is usually measured by the number of T-cells in the system.

These are white blood cells that stimulate other immune cells to create a response.

As HIV is inside the cell, the virus duplicates itself. This action ruins the mitochondria membrane, essentially rendering the cell useless. Consequently, the CD4 cell gets destroyed from within and dies off.

The body will replenish these cells. However, the immune system will start to take a beating. In turn, those who have HIV are more susceptible to getting sick.

These illnesses will further deplete CD4 cells. Over time, the host will develop more medical conditions. Inevitably, one of these diagnoses will claim a person’s life.

What is the Link Between Leaky Gut and HIV?

Approximately 70% of your immune cells come from your gut 3. So, naturally, that’s where HIV wants to start its damage. As a result, many of cells that comprise your gut barrier become compromised.

Villous Atrophy

Research shows that people with HIV tend to suffer from villous atrophy 4. Villi are little finger-like structures that surround the small intestine. They’re responsible for nutrient absorption and in aiding the digestion of food.

Common symptoms of villous atrophy are typical in HIV patients, such as:

  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Anorexia
  • Depression
When villi get weaker, we miss out on the nutrients necessary to keep our immune system robust.


Not only is the small intestine villi taking a beating from HIV, but so are the cells that comprise your gut lining. That’s because HIV elicits chronic inflammation throughout the system.


CD4 Cells Inflammatory Biomarkers

When CD4 cells are under attack, it causes the immune system to do what it does best–fight fire with fire. Our immune system cells create inflammation to destroy invaders. These firefighters include CD4 cells.
Now, remember we mentioned that HIV likes to duplicate in CD4 cells? Well, bringing more to the dance only makes the virus more aggressive.
One analysis on HIV and leaky gut found,

“HIV prefers to infect activated CD4 T cells, a crucial consequence of induction of local inflammation by any means that also involves CD4 T-cell activation may serve to provide additional targets for the virus, thus augmenting its replication 5.”

Mucosal Immunol.
Therefore, our immune response is actually helping HIV grow stronger. In turn, more inflammation forms. Ultimately, this chronic inflammation will destroy the tight junctions that secure our gut barrier.


As a result, solid food particles and toxins can permeate from the intestine to the bloodstream. This is why HIV and leaky gut go hand-in-hand. Now, a study shows that probiotics may be the solution to the HIV and leaky gut problem.

Probiotics for HIV and Leaky Gut

A recent analysis found that probiotics may repair the gut lining of HIV patients. A study conducted by UC Davis noted that this gut bacteria activated peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor-α (PPARα) signaling 6.

This signaling system is responsible for energy storage, fat distribution, and metabolic functions. Along PPARα , fatty acids are broken down to provide energy to cells necessary for repairing the gut lining.

When HIV destroys mitochondria, it alters PPARα signaling. That’s why a lack of PPARα activation has been closely associated with several gastro disorders. Therefore, scientists wanted to see if probiotic intervention would be helpful for a group of people who have continuously compromised mitochondria.

Lactobacillus plantarum for HIV Gut Health

In the past, doctors tried anti-retroviral therapy (ART) to help repair the gut lining of HIV patients. Results were inconsistent. However, this practice was the most plausible option for decades. Now, probiotic intervention might be the best.

The scientists administered Lactobacillus plantarum in vitro and found,

“Within 5 h of L. plantarum administration, intestinal barrier integrity was rapidly restored by activating peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor-α (PPARα), and enhancing mitochondrial morphology and function and reduced IL-1β production.”


Even more amazing, these results came without the use of ART. So, probiotics are pulling more than their fair share of weight.

No Change in CD4 Cells

Furthermore, the results showed that CD4 cells remained low. Therefore, with probiotic intervention, the immune system doesn’t call on CD4 to promote inflammation. These results further lend credence to the anti-inflammatory capabilities of probiotics.

Secondly, your body won’t need to produce CD4 as rapidly. In turn, this could slow down the progression of HIV due to a lack of targets for the virus to attack.

Butyrate for Gut Lining

Lastly, Lactobacillus plantarum also creates short-chain fatty acids, such as butyrate. Butyrate makes up around 70% of the calories colon cells need to duplicate. So, adding Lactobacillus plantarum to their routine can make someone with HIV and leaky gut live a more comfortable life.

Find out if your body is equipped with the stomach bacteria necessary to fight off the development of leaky gut. In turn, boost your immune system and give your body a fighting chance against illness. Get your gut tested with Ombre today


  • 1 “Global HIV & AIDS Statistics – 2019 Fact Sheet.” UNAIDS, www.unaids.org/en/resources/fact-sheet.
  • 2 “HIV: The Basics .” New York Department of Health, Sept. 2003, www.health.ny.gov/diseases/aids/general/resources/child/docs/chapter_1.pdf.
  • 3 Vighi, G., Marcucci, F., Sensi, L., Di Cara, G., & Frati, F. (2008). Allergy and the gastrointestinal system. Clinical and experimental immunology, 153 Suppl 1(Suppl 1), 3–6. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2249.2008.03713.x.
  • 4 Chapter 8 – Blood and Tissue Protozoa III: Other Protists. Human Parasitology. Burton, J., et al. https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-415915-0.00008-X.
  • 5 Brenchley, J. M., & Douek, D. C. (2008). HIV infection and the gastrointestinal immune system. Mucosal immunology, 1(1), 23–30. doi:10.1038/mi.2007.1.
  • 6 PPARα-targeted mitochondrial bioenergetics mediate repair of intestinal barriers at the host–microbe intersection during SIV infection.
  • Katti R. Crakes, et al. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Dec 2019, 116 (49) 24819-24829; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1908977116.

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