We must not waste selenium

Selenium exists only in scarce quantities. Adequate dietary and supplemental intakes are vital for human health.  We need to use it carefully, and we need to begin to stockpile it for the use of future generations.

Selenium is a trace element.  It exists only in rare quantities in the world.  It is produced primarily as a by-product of the process of mining copper.  It is not recyclable.  It is very unevenly distributed in the soils of the earth.

Consequently, the availability of selenium in grasses and grains and, at the next stage of the food chain, in animals, varies considerably from region to region in the world. The human dietary intakes of selenium vary accordingly around the world.

Selenium a vital nutrient for humans
Selenium is a necessary micronutrient that our bodies do not produce.  We get our selenium primarily from our diets.  Selenium is important for good immune system function, good thyroid function, good reproductive function, and good protection of our cells’ DNA.

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Prostate cancer risk and selenium status

Selenium supplements in the form of organic high-selenium yeast tablets provide the best cancer chemo-protection. These supplements are made using the yeast species Saccharomyces cerevisiae in a selenium-enriched growth medium. The yeast cells that produce the high selenium yeast tablets are rendered inactive. They are killed off by a heating process. Strains of the same yeast species are used to brew beer and bake bread.

Selenium supplementation and the risk of prostate cancer?  What do we know?  We need to be careful in interpreting the research results that we have (and we need more research), but, yes, there is evidence for an inverse association between prostate cancer risk and selenium status [Hurst 2012].

As of this writing (April 2017), the protective effect of selenium supplementation against prostate cancer seems to be found in a relatively narrow range of plasma selenium status [Hurst 2012].  Furthermore, there seems to be a U-shaped relationship between selenium status and protection against prostate cancer.

If the concentrations of selenium in the plasma are too low, there is increased risk of prostate cancer.  This is a serious concern in many regions of the world.

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A basic guide to selenium

Selenium is a by-product of the mining and refining of copper. There are no sites in the world for the mining of selenium alone. Given its relative scarcity and its many uses — industrial and agricultural as well as nutritional — selenium for supplements will surely be more expensive in the future, and there may well be shortages of it in the future. Accordingly, it is important for us to use it wisely and to conserve it.

Selenium is an important micronutrient.  It is essential for life for both people and animals.  The body cannot synthesize selenium and is dependent upon the selenium that it can get from food.  In many regions of the world, there is too little selenium in the soil and in the food, and supplementation is necessary for optimal health.

Regions with selenium-poor soil
In many regions of the world, the content of selenium in the soil is quite low.  In large parts of Asia, China in particular, and in much of Europe and the Middle East, there are low levels of selenium in the soil.

Plants accumulate inorganic selenium from the soil and convert it to organic selenium. In that way, the selenium enters the food chain. For example, cows eat grass containing selenium, and the some of the selenium enters the meat and the milk of the cows.  People eat the meat and drink the milk.  Too little selenium in the soil means too little selenium in the food.

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Our bodies cannot make selenium for us

Cancer studies
The research base for supplementation with selenium shows the need for adequate daily selenium intakes and adequate selenium status. The formulation and the dosage of the selenium supplement are very important.

Daily selenium intakes?  We need to get this essential trace element – selenium — in our diets and in our supplements because our bodies cannot make it for us. The work of Dr. Gerhard N. Schrauzer, Dr. Raymond J. Shamberger, and Dr. Douglas V. Frost has shown that there is an inverse relationship between our selenium status and the risk of cancer mortality.  Animal studies show an inverse correlation between selenium status and incidence of cancer.  Observational studies show lower risk of various types of cancer with higher selenium status.

Intervention studies of selenium supplementation and cancer
Clinical studies in China
Large interventional studies in China, a region of the world with selenium-poor soils and foodstuffs, have shown that selenium supplements protect against hepatitis B virus and primary liver cancer [Yu] and that supplementation with a combination of selenium and other antioxidants reduces cancer incidence and mortality in a region characterized by high cancer mortality rates [Blot].

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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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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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Seleniumfacts.com – A New Website

Dr. Urban Alehagen, new website
Research done at the Linköping University in Sweden by Dr. Urban Alehagen and his colleagues has shown a relatively high mortality rate in elderly Swedish citizens with low selenium status. Daily supplementation with selenium and Coenzyme Q10 for five years significantly reduced the risk of death from heart disease in home-living healthy elderly Swedish citizens.

What is the idea behind a new website called seleniumfacts.com?

For the most part, what we want to do with this website is to present clinical research results from published, peer-reviewed studies of the safety and efficacy of selenium supplements.

A cousin website to the website q10facts.com
We want to try to do the same thing with seleniumfacts.com that we have been doing with q10facts.com website.

We want to report the results of human studies that have been done as randomized controlled clinical trials.  We want to present the following types of information about selenium supplementation studies and selenium status:

  • the study design
  • the sample size
  • the composition of the sample
  • the selenium form and dosage
  • the length of the study
  • the confounding factors in the study
  • the study results
  • the researchers’ interpretation of the results

Intervention studies about selenium supplementation
Basically, there are two types of human studies: observational studies and intervention studies.  The big difference between observational studies and intervention studies is that the researchers control the use of the independent variable in intervention studies but do not do so in observational studies.

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