Selenium: An Essential Trace Element

We humans need an adequate dietary supply of selenium. Like iron and iodine, our bodies need this essential trace element in sufficient amounts from food for normal physiological functioning.

Prof Jan Alexander, selenium expert
Guest author Prof. Jan Alexander, MD PhD, specialist in occupational medicine, professor and former specialist director at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, Oslo, Norway.

The content of selenium in food varies according to the selenium content of the soil in any particular region [Stoffaneller & Morse 2015]. Unfortunately, in most areas of the Nordic and Baltic countries, the soil is poor in selenium. Accordingly, the local crops and fruits tend to have low selenium content. An exception is Finland, which enriches soil fertilizers with selenium. Import of wheat from regions with high contents of selenium in the soil has earlier been an important source of selenium in Norway [Alexander & Olsen 2023].
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Selenium and Heart Disease

Heart disease. The evidence from clinical studies is increasing. Selenium deficiency is associated with an increased risk of heart trouble [Bomer 2020]. Selenium supplementation of elderly individuals who have low selenium status is associated with improved survival, improved heart function, and improved quality of life [Alehagen 2013].

Map of Europe
Selenium intakes and selenium status in countries in northern Europe are generally quite low. Consequently, clinical trials conducted in northern Europe tend to be more valuable than clinical trials conducted in the USA where dietary selenium intakes are considerably higher for the most part.

Especially in northern Europe, clinical studies show the relationship between the need for selenium and the risk of heart disease. This makes sense because the dietary selenium intake in northern Europe is considerably lower than the dietary selenium intake in much of the United States. Consequently, the mean plasma selenium concentrations in Europe tend to be well below 80–90 mcg/L. In the USA, on the other hand, the mean plasma selenium concentrations are generally above 120 mcg/L [Alehagen 2022]. read more