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Selenium supplements under trial

By Stephen Daniells , 04-May-2006

Selenium has been linked to protection from cancers of both the prostate and lung, as well as immune system health. Many questions remain and numerous clinical trials are seeking to provide answers.

Selenium enrichment of everyday products has not been successful. In October 2005, Waitrose's selenium enriched bread was removed from UK supermarket shelves due to poor sales. This was blamed on a lack of public awareness of the benefits of selenium.

A search in Mintel's Global New Products Database (GNPD) shows that, excluding babyfood, only 10 products launched by August this year contained selenium, and the Waitrose bread was the only one to highlight selenium in its product name.

According to Dr Margaret Rayman, a selenium expert based at the University of Surrey in the UK, the fact that because selenium has been around for a long time, and cannot be patented, means companies are not interested in it. The mineral is most commonly derived from the copper smelting industry, for which it is a byproduct.

The situation is very different in the supplements market where a significant number of selenium products are available, both in combination with other nutrients and alone, and the European market for selenium supplements is estimated to be worth around €40m. This suggests that there is potential for food makers if they can improve consumer understanding of the mineral's benefits.

European selenium levels have been falling since the EU imposed levies on wheat imports from the US, where soil selenium levels are high. As a result, average intake of selenium in the UK has fallen from 60 to 34 micrograms per day. Leading to calls from some to enrich soil and fertilizers with selenium to boost public consumption.

The European recommended daily intake (RDI) is 65 micrograms. presents a concise list of ongoing clinical trials around the world, exploring new applications and opportunities.

The vast majority of trials are investigating the mineral in cancer applications, particularly prostate cancer. The results of the multi-centre, US-based Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial (SELECT), are being eagerly awaited by many in both academic and industrial circles. However, the trial is not due for completion until the summer of 2013.

In total, four studies are looking at the role of selenium for prevention or inhibition of prostate cancer, and a further five studies are investigating other cancers.


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