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Selenium supplements needed for elderly women, say researchers

By Stephen Daniells , 19-Dec-2005

Levels of selenium and other antioxidants are low in elderly women, and could be boosted by supplements, say German researchers.

"Our data reveal that the selenium and alpha-tocopherol status of well-nourished female seniors often seems to be insufficient," write Dr M. Wolters and colleagues in the December issue of the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition (vol 60, pp 85-91).

High antioxidant intake, including selenium and tocopherol, has been shown to protect against chronic diseases.

The research showed that nearly 40 per cent of the sample population failed to reach the desirable levels of serum selenium concentrations, (less than 1.1 micromoles per litre), despite eating healthily.

The study followed the diet of 178 women with an average age of 63 over a three-day period. Blood samples were taken to determine the serum levels of the antioxidants.

"The results show that low serum alpha-tocopherol and selenium concentrations are highly prevalent even among well-educated and well-nourished German women," said the scientists.

"This result indicates that...women with low antioxidant levels would possibly benefit from an additional intake of antioxidants," recommended the researchers.

It is believed that selenium and alpha-tocopherol work together to inhibit lipid peroxidation. "Insufficient status of one of these nutrients may elevate the risk of oxidative stress and possibly for associated diseases," explained the researchers.

Selenium supplements continue to sell well in specialist health stores, but selenium enrichment of everyday products has not been successful. Only last month Waitrose's selenium enriched bread was removed from supermarket shelves due to poor sales. This was blamed on a lack of public awareness of the benefits of selenium.

Results published in the Archives of Internal Medicine (2004, Vol. 164, pp. 2335-2342) indicated that supplementation of diet with antioxidants may lower the risk of cancers. Another study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (Vol. 80, pp. 154-162), reported that increased selenium intake could boost the immune system.

These reports add to the growing body of evidence for the health benefits of selenium intake. There have even been recommendations to enrich soil and fertilizers with selenium to boost public consumption.

The European RDA of selenium is 65 micrograms.

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