It’s been an up-and-down road for this trace mineral. On the face of it, selenium should be a blockbuster. After all, it is one of a select few dietary supplement ingredients that can make a disease reduction claim on the label. And not just any disease; we’re talking about the Big C here.
Selenium is supplied in various forms, both as inorganic salts such as sodium selenite and sodium selenite and bound to amino acids either alone or within yeast cells.
Selenium holds a qualified FDA health claim for its role in cancer reduction. It’s rarefied air among dietary supplement and functional food ingredients; only green tea and vitamins C and E share that distinction. The approved claims for selenium are heavily qualified; nevertheless, you can say “cancer” and “reduction” on the same label.
Sales at best holding steady
Both Cypress Systems Inc. and Sabinsa Corp. say that sales in recent years have been holding steady. Cypress Systems supplies SelenoExcell, a yeast-based ingredient, while Sabinsa supplies several selenium ingredients including its SelenoSelect branded form of L-selenomethionine.
International sales data tells a more equivocal story. Market research firm Datamonitor said worldwide food and beverage product introductions listing selenium as an ingredient declined from an average of around 50 in the 2008-2010 timeframe to just 38 in 2012.
Does it prevent cancer, or not?
The market started to loose steam, sources say, following of the unblinding of the SELECT cancer trial, which concluded that it could find no benefit in prostate cancer risk reduction with selenium in concert with vitamin E. That trial, which used the L-selenomethionine ingredient, did not find a cancer-reducing benefit for that form of selenium or of the form of vitamin E used it the trial.
“The halting of the SELECT trial (use of L-selenomethionine and Vitamin E for Prostate cancer) midway through due to lack of benefit must have been responsible for dampened growth even though it is still a matter of polemics which one of the constituents, Selenium or Vitamin E, that did not yield the desired benefit,” Nagabhushanam Kalyanam, Sabinsa’s president of reseach and development told NutraIngredients-USA.
The game changers
But that could all change this year, said Paul Willis CEO of Cypress Systems. The Madera, CA-based ingredient development company has its SelenoExcell ingredient in two major long-term cancer prevention trials, results of which are expected this year.
“The two main cancer are unblinding this year, there is a prostate cancer trial at Penn State Cancer Center in Hershey (PA) that is unblinding this year. There is a colon cancer trial at the University of Arizona that is unblinding this year, too,” Willis said. The prostate results are expected in the first half of 2013, Willis said, with the other trial results expected by the end of the year.
Both of these trials used the yeast ingredient, in which selenium is bound to a number of different proteins within the yeast cells.
“In principle and in reality the yeast functions just like a plant taking selenium out of the soil and storing it in its protein structure,” Willis said.
The form is the key
“The release of information on those two trials will be very specific,” he said.
“The predominance of the research since that news came out (of the SELECT trial results) is the form really does make a difference, and that’s one of the things that we are trying to drive home,” Willis said.
Good news from these trials would certainly give the ingredient a huge boost, Willis said. Cypress Systems has had the SelenoExcell ingredient under development for at least 15 years. It’s a tribute to persistence (assuming positive results in the two trials) that the ingredient is about to assume it’s place in the sun.
“It takes a long time to do this kind of clinical research. The colon cancer trial has been going on for just shy of 10 years. It’s something that you invest a lot of time and effort in to get results,” Willis said.
“We do see a very positive excitement in the marketplace,” he said.
Other promising research
Even though the L-selenomethionine form of selenium took a blow with the SELECT trial news, newer research has been more promising, Sabinsa’s Kalyanam said.
“That selenium is useful in mitigating the risk towards cancer continues to receive scientific support in several investigations. In fact recent studies show that selenium compounds especially L-selenomethionine and Se-methyl-L-selenocysteine have been shown work in conjunction with anti-cancer drugs as promising antiangiogenic agents with therapeutic synergy. Such promising results in this area should fuel growth,” he said.
Supplements and functional foods have been the primary focus for both suppliers, and both have GRAS status for their ingredients. Selenium ingredients are generally easy to formulate with, said Willis, though there are a few challenges in beverages because of precipitaiton concerns.
Beyond supplements and foods
And Kalyanam said the possibilities for the ingredient extend beyond the realm of ingestibles.
“Another area for growth is in cosmetics,” he said. “Here newer selenium compositions such as small peptides of selenium, for example gamma-glutamyl L-selenomethionine (which Sabinsa brands as Peptiselect) should find increasing acceptance,” he said.