This page on Selenium is currently marked as in-progress. We are still compiling research.
Selenium is one of the 24 essential vitamins and minerals required for optimal human health. It is associated with increased intrinsic anti-oxidant capabilities and prevention of various forms of cancer, but has received notoriety due to its ability to promote cancer in higher dosages.
It is a part of many anti-oxidant enzymes, and is also the main factor in a web of 'selenoamino acids' which are amino acids bound to selenium which can serve as regulatory factors.
Selenium intake is also quite variable depending on soil quantities, so one global area may have different soil quantities than another area; thus for some persons supplementation is advisable.
An overall intake (foods and supplements) in the range of 200-300ug daily should be the goal for general health and well being with an emphasis on anti-carcinogenic properties.
The Human Effect Matrix looks at human studies (it excludes animal and in vitro studies) to tell you what effects selenium has on your body, and how strong these effects are.
|Grade||Level of Evidence|
|A||Robust research conducted with repeated double-blind clinical trials|
|B||Multiple studies where at least two are double-blind and placebo controlled|
|C||Single double-blind study or multiple cohort studies|
|D||Uncontrolled or observational studies only|
Level of Evidence
||Magnitude of Effect Size
|B||Prostate Cancer Risk||
It normally acts in concert with a class of enzymes and transporters called Selenoproteins (proteins with selenium in it), many of which are intrinsic anti-oxidant enzymes. In these selenoproteins, selenium acts as a prosthetic group or active site.
Selenium can take the form of various organic and non-organic compounds.
Non-organic forms typically revolve around Selenite, a triple-oxidized form of selenium. It can be converted via Glutathione into Selenade; this multiple step process produces some superoxide radicals.
Organic forms include the selenoamino acids, which include selenocysteine, selenomethione, and Se-methylselenocysteine. The main active dietary form is selenomethionine. Selenomethionine is a relatively stable compound, but has pro-oxidative metabolites such as Selenid and Methylselenol.
Deficiency of Selenium occurs when overall intake is less than 11ug, and 40ug is typically recommended as the minimum intake. A slightly higher but still low dietary intake of selenium (55ug) is sufficient to support the needs of 25 selenoproteins although there may be some interindividual differences. Levels above this, but not yet into therapeutic dosages (200-300ug) are possibly in the range of what is needed to exert anti-carcinogenic effects and doses up to the range of 750-800ug daily seem to be relatively free of harm. Dosages of 1,500-1,600ug or above start to become associated with harm and doses nearing 3,000-5,000ug can cause direct DNA damage.
Selenium metabolites can also regulate cell cycles and apoptosis, and aid in tumor regulation.
The synthetic form called MethylSelenic Acid can be directly reduced into methylselenol and can avoid the B-lysase enzyme intermediate commonly seen with dietary selenium.
Selenium has been noted in the past to aid glucose metabolism via acting as an insulin mimetic and thus aiding the deposition of glucose into both fat and muscle cells. These effects have also been seen in vivo.
In populations that have sufficient selenium status, epidemiological research and one intervention have suggested that further supplementation may increase the risk for insulin resistance and Type II Diabetes. The intervention was dosed at 200mcg daily.
The theorized mechanism of action is that after a certain threshold of selenium intake (past the RDA, nearing the TUL) selenium builds up in pancreatic tissue and exerts oxidative stress on beta-cells that secrete insulin.
This may be an issue of selenium being anti-diabetic acutely (via acting as an insulin-mimetic and aiding in glucose deposition) but over time damaging beta-cells and exerting the opposite effect and being pro-diabetic.
Selenium was first discovered to be related to cancer via correlational research showing higher cancer rates in areas with lower crop selenium content.
Selenoproteins themselves, rather than individual selenoamino acids, are also implicated in cancer prevention. These selenoproteins are typically those that exert anti-oxidative effects (Glutathione Peroxidases and Selenoprotein P) and alleviate cancer during the promotion stage.
Specific selenoproteins that have been investigated for being linked to specific cancers include Glutathione Peroxidase 1 being associated with head and neck, lung and breast, and bladder and prostate cancers, Glutathione Peroxidase 2 being associated with colorectal adenoma, Selenoprotein P being associated with both colorectal adenoma and Prostate cancer, Selenoprotein 15 being associated Head, Neck, breast and lung cancer, and Thioredoxin reductase 1 being associated generally with most cancers.
Circulating selenium (independent of supplementation) is associated with a decrease in prostate cancer as assessed by a relatively small meta-analysis in a relatively dose-dependent manner up to a serum concentration of 170ng/mL, where it results in a relative risk ratio of 0.8 relative to 60ng/mL (set as baseline). The same meta-analysis found a decreased risk of prostate cancer associated with toenail selenium levels at up to 1 μg/g, where the risk then rose again.
The Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial (SELECT) found no association between selenium status (as measured in toenails) and prostate cancer in any of five selenum concentration quintiles in the population, whose selenium levels ranged from 0.48-8.97μg/g (mean 0.89μg/g, 95% CI 0.55-1.43μg/g). Since there were only 13 cancer cases with toenail selenium levels less than 0.617μg/g included in this analysis, this study represents a relatively selenium-replete United States population compared to patients who were in included in the previous meta-analysis.
Much danger of excessive selenium comes through the pro-oxidant compound sodium selenite (thrice oxygenated selenium bound to sodium); this compound is able to induce tumor death via its pro-oxidant abilities, but is also toxic to other cells.
(Common misspellings for Selenium include selenum, selenim, selinium, selinim)