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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: Importance of Selenium in Human Nutrition

Author
item Combs, Gerald

Submitted to: Meeting Proceedings
Publication Type: Proceedings
Publication Acceptance Date: August 17, 2005
Publication Date: December 15, 2005
Repository URL: http://handle.nal.usda.gov/10113/46886
Citation: Combs, Jr., G.F. 2005. Importance of selenium in human nutrition. Agrifood Research Reports 69. Proceedings, Twenty Years of Selenium Fertilization. p. 60-70.

Interpretive Summary: In the span of five decades, selenium has moved from being thought of as a toxicant to being considered an essential nutrient. The elucidation of its role in nutrition has led to fundamental discoveries in metabolic biochemistry including the unique metabolism of selenocysteine, virology including the destabilization of RNA viruses due to oxidative stress, and public health including the role of selenium in cancer risk reduction. Unlike most other nutrients, which were recognized due to the fatal outcomes of their deficiencies, the health consequences of selenium deprivation appear to be largely sub-clinical in nature, requiring other precipitating factors such as vitamin E deficiency, viral exposure, etc., to reveal the effects of compromised selenoenzymes and/or essential selenium-metabolites. Even after a half-century of research, much remains to learn about the metabolic bases of the roles of selenium in nutrition and health.

Technical Abstract: This elucidation of the role of selenium in health, which has occurred only over the span of the last five decades, is evaluated. This has involved selenium being first recognized as a toxicant, followed by it being shown to be an essential nutrient. The elucidation of the role of selenium in nutrition has led to fundamental discoveries in metabolic biochemistry, virology and public health. These have involved, respectively, three important discoveries: i) a previously unrecognized amino acid, selenocysteine, and its unique mode of co-translational incorporation into specific selenoproteins; ii) that selenium deprivation can lead to genomic destabilization of RNA viruses; and iii) that selenium can effect reductions in cancer risk. The evolution of understanding of the health relevance of selenium has been unlike that of other nutrients, all of which were recognized due to the fatal outcomes of their deficiencies. Instead, the health consequences of Se deprivation are largely sub-clinical in nature, requiring other precipitating factors (e.g., vitamin E deficiency, viral exposure, etc.) to reveal the effects of compromised Se-enzymes and/or essential Se-metabolites. Also unlike other nutrients, supranutritional levels of selenium have important anti-carcinogenic functions.

Last Modified: 7/22/2014
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