Many people in the world live in regions with selenium-poor soil and, consequently, with selenium-poor food. The body cannot synthesize selenium, which is an essential non-metal trace element that we need in small amounts. A recent review of selenium status and the risk of cardiovascular disease suggests that serum selenium status below 100 mcg/L is associated with increased risk of heart disease, with reduced exercise capacity, with reduced quality of life, and with worse prognosis [Al-Murbarak].
- Low intakes of selenium mean low selenium status.
- Sufficient selenium is required for the formation of the amino acid selenocysteine, which is, in turn, an essential component of selenoproteins.
- Low selenium status over longer periods of time can put individuals at greater risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and autoimmune thyroid disorders.
- Adequate selenium intake and status are necessary for good immune function and protection against infectious diseases.
- Particularly vulnerable to have low selenium status are individuals who are vegetarians and vegans, pregnant and breastfeeding women, overweight or obese individuals, HIV-patients, kidney-dialysis patients, and individuals on parenteral nutrition as well as individuals living in selenium-poor regions.
Where is selenium status likely to be low?
Stoffaneller and Morse conducted a comprehensive study – 143 references – of selenium status in Europe, the UK, and the Middle East. They concluded that selenium intake and status are generally suboptimal in European and Middle Eastern countries, with somewhat more variation in the Middle East. They reported that suboptimal selenium status is widespread throughout Europe and the UK, with Eastern European countries having lower selenium intakes than Western European countries. In the Middle Eastern countries, they found varying results, which were possibly caused by different food habits and different imports in different regions and within differing socioeconomic groups [Stoffaneller & Morse].