Medscape has been posting discussions with researchers who attended the 1st International Workshop on HIV & Aging in Baltimore on October 4&5. The latest interview is on the role of mitochondrial damage in Aging and HIV-disease with Douglas Wallace, PhD, a leading researcher on mitochondria. The full interview can be viewed here.
Dr. Wallace explains that mitochondria play a key role in aging. As we age mutations in our mitochondria weaken cellular functioning. Over time this damage lead to the clinical symptoms seen in aging.
Dr. Wallace adds that, “chronic HIV infection can result in sufficient mitochondrial dysfunction to generate many of the same clinical problems seen in aging.” While he points out that much more research needs to be done on the interaction between HIV and mitochondria, his statement suggests that this relationship may be an important feature in the symptoms currently referred to as accelerated aging in people living with HIV.
Several of the men I interviewed for my study talked about physical changes that accompanied aging with HIV. They said that often it was difficult to determine which symptoms were age-related and which were HIV-related. Many spoke of feeling older than their HIV-negative peers, and that they had symptoms common to much older men.
The science around aging with HIV has not evolved enough to explain whether these reports are symptoms of the physiological effects of living with HIV, the results of taking HIV medications, or of the emotional impact of living with HIV.
Until this relationship is clarified, people living with HIV must find strategies for optimal aging, addressing the physical and emotional complications of living with the virus into midlife and beyond. Talk to your doctor about any symptoms and develop a self-care regimen that works best for you.