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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In a new scientific study, Danish researchers from Copenhagen University have demonstrated that methylated selenium compounds can regulate the body’s immune system enabling it to better fight certain cancers. These selenium compounds are found in certain foods such as garlic and broccoli but also in the selenium preparations containing selenium yeast.
Certain cancers such as skin cancer, prostate cancer, and some forms of leukemia weaken the body’s immune system by overstimulating it until it eventually breaks down, giving cancer cells a free rein in the body. What this new Danish research shows is that the intake of selenium compounds that can be metabolized into methylselenol improves the immune system’s ability to fight cancer.