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Assessment of requirements for selenium and adequacy of selenium status: a review

Abstract

Objective: The intent of this review is to evaluate the scientific evidence for the assessment of adequacy of selenium status and of the requirements for selenium. From this evidence, attempts have been made to define levels of plasma selenium and dietary selenium intake, which could be used for the assessment of deficiency or adequacy of selenium status.

Method: The first section briefly reviews the methods for assessment of selenium status. The second section outlines the requirements for selenium based on a number of criteria, and how these have been translated into recommended intakes of selenium. In the final section, levels of plasma selenium and dietary intake based on different criteria of adequacy have been proposed.

Results and conclusion: The minimum requirement for selenium is that which prevents the deficiency disease, Keshan disease. The recommended intakes of selenium have been calculated from the requirement for optimum plasma glutathione peroxidase (GPx) activity that must, because of the hierarchy of selenoproteins, also take account of the amounts needed for normal levels of other biologically necessary selenium compounds. Whether optimal health depends upon maximization of GPx or other selenoproteins, however, has yet to be resolved, and the consequences of less-than-maximal GPx activities or mRNA levels need investigation. Intakes, higher than recommended intakes, and plasma selenium concentrations that might be protective for cancer or result in other additional health benefits have been proposed. There is an urgent need for more large-scale trials to assess any such beneficial effects and to provide further data on which to base more reliable estimates for intakes and plasma selenium levels that are protective.

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Acknowledgements

Some of the material for this review was drawn from work prepared for the New Zealand Ministry of Health, and the author gratefully acknowledges its support for that project. The author is also grateful to Dr Cyril Childs for reviewing the manuscript.

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This review is dedicated to the memory of Professor Marion Robinson, my teacher and postgraduate supervisor, who later became my mentor, colleague and friend. Marion, a pioneer in research on selenium nutrition, died in Dunedin, New Zealand, on 25 February 2003.

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Correspondence to C D Thomson.

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Thomson, C. Assessment of requirements for selenium and adequacy of selenium status: a review. Eur J Clin Nutr 58, 391–402 (2004). https://doi.org/10.1038/sj.ejcn.1601800

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Keywords

  • selenium
  • assessment
  • requirements
  • adequacy

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