Selenium helps to avoid pregnancy complications

Adequate intakes of selenium can help to reduce the risk of some of the more serious complications of pregnancy. Studies done with an organic high-selenium yeast supplement have yielded encouraging results.

Women who have first-trimester miscarriages or recurrent miscarriages have been found to have significantly lower selenium status than women who do not miscarry.  Professor Margaret Rayman points out that blood selenium concentrations are typically lower during pregnancy, in part because there is an expansion of the volume of blood.  However, increased inflammation – implicated in miscarriages – could also be a cause of reduced circulating selenium [Rayman 2012].

For this article, I have searched the Medline database for results from randomized controlled studies involving selenium supplementation of low selenium status pregnant women.  There have been a number of interesting results.

Selenium and oxidative stress in pregnant women
Dr. Tara and a team of researchers did a simultaneous assay of pro-oxidant burden and antioxidant capacity in a total of 166 first-time-pregnant women.  In their first trimester, the women were randomly assigned to an active treatment group receiving 100 micrograms of a yeast-based selenium preparation (n=83) or placebo (n=83) per day until delivery.

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Selenium and heavy metals and childbirth

Studies show that higher concentrations of dangerous heavy metals — cadmium, mercury, and lead — in the blood of the mother are likely to be duplicated in the umbilical cord blood, in the blood of the fetus, in the breast milk, and in the blood of the newborn child, with potentially harmful long-term consequences for the child. There is evidence that selenium binds with cadmium and mercury and enables their elimination from the mothers’ bodies.

Early exposure to natural elements that are toxic – cadmium, mercury, and lead – can have long-term adverse health consequences.  Children exposed to these elements while still in the uterus and while breast-feeding may suffer lasting damage to the brain and nervous system and to the kidneys and liver.  The question is: to what extent can selenium supplementation reduce the risk of toxic damage?

Given the dangerous nature of these poisonous heavy metals – cadmium, mercury, and lead – both for the mother and for the fetus and the neonate, it is difficult to carry out randomized controlled studies.  Instead, the best evidence we have for the beneficial effects of selenium supplementation comes from studies that relate the degree of exposure and the selenium status of the mother and the child.

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Selenium and the risk of pre-eclampsia

Pre-eclampsia is a serious condition that causes high blood pressure in pregnant women who did not have high blood pressure prior to their pregnancies. The high blood pressure typically develops after the 20th week of pregnancy. Research studies show that a daily selenium supplement can reduce the risk of pre-eclampsia.

There is a clear relationship between a pregnant woman’s selenium status and her risk of pre-eclampsia.   Observational studies show that low selenium status is associated with a greater risk of pre-eclampsia.  Studies of selenium supplementation have shown reduced incidence of pre-eclampsia [Xu].

What is pre-eclampsia?
Pre-eclampsia is a complex condition characterized by the onset, around week 20 of the pregnancy, of the following symptoms:

  • abnormally high protein levels in the urine (indicating possible damage to the kidneys)
  • systolic blood pressure greater than 140 mmHg or diastolic blood pressure greater than 90 mmHg when measured twice with an interval of at least 4–6 hours and not more than 7 days apart [Uzan]
  • severe headaches
  • blurred vision
  • decreased platelet levels in the blood [Mayo Clinic]

Pre-eclampsia seems to be caused by an abnormal development of the new blood vessels that are needed to carry blood to the placenta.  The new blood vessels are narrower than they should be, and they respond differently to hormonal signaling [Mayo Clinic].

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Selenium and male infertility

The selenium containing selenoprotein glutathione peroxidase 4 (GPx4) is present in sperm cells at surprisingly high levels. Biochemists say that GPx4 carries out two functions in sperm cells. It protects the developing sperm calls against oxidative damage caused by toxic peroxides, and it contributes later to the structural integrity of the mature sperm cells [Strauss].
Here is a little-known fact.  Human testicles contain high concentrations of one of the important selenium containing antioxidant enzymes, the selenoprotein glutathione peroxidase number 4 (GPx4).  Furthermore, the testicles have special receptors for another of the important selenoproteins, the selenoprotein P [Rayman 2012].

Adequate intakes of selenium for the synthesis of the selenoproteins are necessary to produce mature and viable sperm.  The selenoprotein GPX4 seems to be indispensable:

  • to the development and maturation of the sperm cells
  • to the antioxidant protection of the sperm cells
  • to the structural cohesiveness of the sperm cells
  • to the motility and viability of the sperm cells [Foresta]

Selenium and semen quality
What are we talking about here?  Let’s define some terms that are relevant to male fertility.

Our bodies produce semen by combining sperm cells from the testicles with various fluids from the seminal vesicles, the prostate, and the two small glands called Cowper’s glands.  The semen needs to contain high counts of sperm cells – perhaps 200 million plus – and needs to contain sperm cells capable of good motility if one of the sperm cells is to succeed in reaching and fertilizing the mature female egg.

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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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