The study conducted jointly by Newcastle University, the International Agency for research on cancer and the Royal College of surgeons in Ireland showed that in Western Europe the average selenium intake is much lower than in North America (80 micrograms/l compared to 110-170 micrograms/l).
According to the study, colorectal cancer was the second leading cause of cancer-related death in Europe.
The researchers looked at blood samples from 520,000 participants from ten Western European countries and studied their general health and concluded that higher selenium status is significantly linked to a lower risk of colorectal cancer. The results also suggested this could be more relevant for women.
Professor John Hesketh of Newcastle University, said: “Our results support a role for selenium in the prevention of colorectal cancer, but this has to be balanced with caution regarding the potential toxic effects of taking too much.
“The difficulty with selenium is that it’s a very narrow window between levels that are sub-optimal and those that would be considered toxic,” he added.
It all starts with the soil
Selenium as an essential micronutrient can be found in Brazil nuts, sunflower seeds, fish, shellfish and meats. It is believed that a lower selenium intake in Western Europe could be linked to lower selenium levels in the European soil.
“What our study does is put the debate around selenium and cancer back on the table and highlights the need for further research to understand the benefits, if any, of supplementing diets in regions where selenium is naturally low,” said Hesketh.
“Interest in the question of whether selenium intake affects cancer risk has waned a little in recent years because of negative results from a trial in the USA and the reported possible link of selenium to greater risk of diabetes if taken in high doses,” he added.
Source: International Journal of Cancer
Published online ahead of print DOI: 10.1002/ijc.29071
Selenium status is associated with colorectal cancer risk in the European prospective investigation of cancer and nutrition cohort
Authors: J.Hesketh et al.