How we know that selenium supplementation is important

Selen supplementation, virus
Adequate intakes of selenium are needed to ensure the optimal functioning of the selenoproteins in the body. Selenoproteins provide protection against the development of cancer and heart disease; they are important for immune system defense; they protect against damage caused by heavy metals and chemical toxins and radiation. And, there is evidence that some of the selenoproteins have anti-viral properties.

Selenium?  A trace element?  You might well ask: How do we know that adequate amounts of dietary and supplemental selenium are important to us?
The first answer is: because we can see that selenium deficiency makes people sick.
A further answer is that we now know that selenium is an essential component of antioxidant enzymes.
And, on the basis of the results of randomized controlled trials, we know that selenium supplementation reduces the risk of cancer, reduces the risk of heart disease, and improves immune function.
Selenium is also very useful for reducing the toxic effects of heavy metals in the body.

Reason number one: Selenium-deficiency diseases
Keshan disease
In the 1960’s and 1970’s, thousands of people living in a region of China with selenium-poor soil, and, consequently, with selenium-poor food, died from the effects of a form of heart disease.  The disease, which took its name from Keshan county in the afflicted region of China, is characterized by inflammation and enlargement of the heart muscle and excess fluid in the lungs. The primary cause of the disease was selenium deficiency.

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Dr. Gerhard N. Schrauzer – renowned selenium researcher

Schrauzer
Dr. Gerhard N. Schrauzer was the first scientist to study the biological functions of selenium systematically. He was known internationally for his pioneering work in the cancer-protective properties of selenium. (Picture: Cancer Research, vol. 49 no. 23, Dec. 1, 1989)

Dr. Gerhard N. Schrauzer was the grand old man of selenium science.  Actually, he was the grand old man of trace element research in the United States for 30 years or more.  He was one of the pioneers and one of the major figures in selenium research.   Let’s take a look at the useful contributions of information to the selenium supplementation knowledge base that Dr. Schrauzer made.

First, who was Dr. Schrauzer in the context of selenium research?
Dr. Schrauzer did his graduate study in chemistry at the University in Munich, Germany. He was awarded his Ph.D. summa cum laude.  From 1966 to 1994, he was a chemistry and biochemistry professor at the University of California in San Diego (UCSD). After his retirement, he was a professor emeritus at UCSD.

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The functions of selenium supplements

skin-cells antioxidant
Selenium is an important component of the antioxidant defense in the cells. It helps to protect against oxidative damage to both cells and DNA. It has been shown to have a protective effect against the damage to skin cells caused by ultraviolet radiation.

Why the interest in selenium facts?  Here, at the beginning of the seleniumfacts.com website, we want to review in broad terms what we know about the functions of selenium supplementation. We are especially interested in selenium’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects in the human body.

Selenium is an essential trace element in the human diet, and, in many regions of the world, it is an absolutely necessary nutritional supplement.  It has many and diverse functions in the human body.

One of the interesting things about selenium is that it does not perform its functions as an element or an ion.  Instead, it functions as a component of more complex compounds.  In particular, it is an essential component of the 21st amino acid, selenocysteine.

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Professor Jørgen Clausen: early selenium researcher

professor J. Clausen
Professor Jørgen Clausen was one of the first researchers to realize the importance of supplementation with selenium in regions of the world with selenium-poor soil.

Professor Jørgen Clausen, long-time professor in the Institute for Life Sciences and Chemistry, Roskilde University Center, in Roskilde, Denmark, was one of the early researchers to do clinical studies of the effects of supplementation with selenium. As such, it seems instructive to go back and look at the research done by Dr. Clausen and his colleagues at the end of the 20th century.

Professor Clausen’s selenium studies
Basically, Professor Clausen’s research can be described in five different categories:

  • Effect of selenium supplementation on the health of the elderly nursing home residents
  • Effect of selenium supplementation on the health of cigarette smokers
  • Effect of selenium supplementation on the health of patients with chronic neurologic disorders
  • Effect of selenium supplementation on the toxic effects of lead poisoning
  • Effect of selenium supplementation on the activity levels of the selenium-dependent antioxidant enzyme glutathione peroxidase

In addition, Professor Clausen was an early leader in the investigation of the absorption and health effects of various forms of inorganic and organic selenium supplements.

Selenium supplementation and smokers and oxidative stress
To understand Dr. Clausen’s interest in the effect of selenium supplementation on smokers, we must first understand the concept of oxidative stress and the related concept of oxidative damage.  Oxidative stress occurs when, in the process of metabolism of oxygen, the body produces, as a by-product, various reactive oxygen species (for example: peroxide, superoxide, hydroxyl, and singlet oxygen radicals) to excess.

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Moderate selenium deficiency may increase risk of chronic disease

Pill, hand, disease
A supplement of 100 micrograms of elemental selenium a day is able to satisfy the needs of the most critical selenoproteins.

Moderate selenium deficiency is associated with increased risk of chronic disease: cancer, heart disease, thyroid disorder.  Conversely, a selenium supplement containing one hundred (100) micrograms of selenium  daily could reduce the risk of serious, age-related diseases in persons with moderate selenium deficiency, according to the known researcher Bruce Ames’ so-called triage theory.

Researchers Joyce McCann and Bruce Ames from Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute (CHORI) have analyzed the data from hundreds of scientific articles. They conclude that some selenium-dependent proteins that are regarded as essential for the body’s survival in the period until humans reach reproductive age are much more resistant to selenium deficiency than are other non-essential selenoproteins.

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