Ramacha AF, Cadafalch J
Serum vitamin B12 levels are often low in human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-infected patients. However, only a few patients appear to have actual vitamin B12 deficiency. A low red cell folate level accompanying the low vitamin B12 level makes the presence of vitamin B12 deficiency more likely. Our experience suggests that a low red cell folate level always indicates deficiency, but does not differentiate between vitamin B12 and folate deficiency. The deoxyuridine suppression test and the assay of serum or plasma total homocysteine and/or of methylmalonic acid levels can also be useful in the identification of patients with true vitamin B12 deficiency. HIV-positive patients frequently have absorption disorders, including vitamin B12 malabsorption. However, the correlation between vitamin B12 malabsorption and serum vitamin B12 and plasma homocysteine levels is poor. Abnormalities in vitamin B12-binding proteins, which are often found in HIV-positive patients, may explain many cases of low vitamin B12 levels. Current evidence suggests that low vitamin B12 levels are more common as the HIV disease progresses. The results of vitamin B12 treatment have been disappointing thus far, including the prevention of toxicity induced by azidothymidine. The possible role of vitamin B12 treatment in the long-term survival of HIV-infected patients is at present unknown. However, it is important to identify those patients who have real vitamin B12 deficiency to treat or prevent their hematologic and/or neurological symptoms.