Selenium supplements

There are various forms of selenium supplements including organic selenium rich yeast, selenium in the form of selenomethionine, and inorganic sodium selenite. These different types of selenium may act differently, with selenium yeast raising blood selenium levels and sodium selenite more effective at increasing the activity of glutathione peroxidase. Organic selenium seems to be better absorbed and less toxic than the inorganic forms.

Young adults, vegetarians, the elderly, smokers, pregnant women and nursing mothers may benefit from supplements.

Selenium supplementsTherapeutic uses of selenium supplements


Some studies have shown that selenium supplements protect against some types of cancer such as rectal, ovarian, colon, lung and cervical cancers. However there are also studies, including the Nurses Health Study at Harvard, which do not show a protective role for selenium against cancers at any major site. Laboratory studies have shown that selenium can slow tumor cell growth.

A 1996 study looking at the effect of selenium supplements on cancer has found a 50 per cent reduction in deaths from cancer in those taking supplements. Researchers at the Arizona Cancer Center set out to test the effectiveness of selenium supplements on the prevention of skin cancer in over 1300 patients. Participants received a placebo or 200 mcg selenium per day over a period of 4.5 years and a total follow-up of 6.4 years. While the results did not show any reduction in skin cancer risk, the selenium group had a 37 per cent reduction in cancer incidence and a 50 per cent reduction in cancer mortality. The effects appeared strongest for prostate (63 per cent lower risk), colorectal (58 per cent lower risk) and lung (53 per cent lower risk) cancers.

A recent report in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute suggests that selenium compounds may inhibit colon cancer in rats. Researchers at the American Health Foundation gave the synthetic organoselenium compounds to rats with high fat diets and found inhibition of tumor incidence. The effects were more pronounced with a low fat diet. There were no toxic effects with either compound.

Heart disease

Selenium may reduce heart disease by protecting against oxidative damage to blood cholesterol. Selenium supplements have been shown to increase HDL cholesterol levels and decrease LDL cholesterol levels. Selenium can also inhibit platelet aggregation, thus reducing the risk of build-up of atherosclerotic plaques in the arteries.

Finnish researchers evaluated the effect of selenium supplementation on 81 patients with heart attacks. Patients received either selenium-rich yeast (100 mcg per day) or placebo in addition to conventional drug therapy for a six- month period. During the follow-up period there were four cardiac deaths in the placebo group but none in the selenium group. There were two nonfatal heart attacks in the placebo group and one nonfatal attack in the selenium group.

A small 1997 German study indicated improvements that patients who were given selenium supplements after heart attacks showed greater improvements in heart function than patients not given supplements.


In 1993 Swedish researchers conducted a study of 24 adults with asthma in which halfofthe patients received l00 mcgof selenium per day for 14 weeks, while the other half received a placebo. Six patients from the selenium- supplemented group and one from the placebo group noticed significant clinical improvement, although neither group showed improvement in laboratory measures.

Rheumatoid arthritis

Selenium supplements may be beneficial in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, especially when combined with vitamin E treatment. In some trials, symptoms have been shown to improve as blood selenium levels increase. However, the results of studies are mixed. Selenium may reduce inflammation through its antioxidant action, and through control of prostaglandins, hormone-like compounds that regulate the inflammation process.

In a three month study done in 1997 in Germany, 70 patients with rheumatoid arthritis were randomly divided into two groups. One group was given 200 mcg per day of sodium selenite while the other group was given a placebo. Selenium concentrations in red blood cells of patients with rheumatoid arthritis were significantly lower than found in an average German population. At the end of the experimental period, the selenium-supplemented group showed less tender or swollen joints, and morning stiffness. Selenium-supplemented patients needed less cortisone and other anti-inflammatory medications than the placebo group. Analysis also showed a decrease in laboratory indicators of inflammation.

Other uses

Selenium supplements have been used in the detoxification of arsenic, cadmium and mercury; to treat angina; high blood pressure in pregnancy; and hair, nail and skin problems. Selenium may also play a role in preventing anemia; cataracts; periodontal disease; and improving mood, anxiety, depression and fatigue in some people. Selenium supplements may benefit those with low immune function, such as the elderly.

Shampoos or prescription solutions containing selenium sulfide are used for the treatment of fungal infections, including tinea capitis.

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