Tracing the essential

When it comes to selenium, vegetarians may be deficient  

By Sumiti Jain
Published: Monday 15 March 2010

“For humans, the principal source of selenium is meat, and in Mexico it is not included in daily meals, as a consequence of poverty. Moreover, abattoir animals are deficient in this element. For this reason our research team considers that Mexican people probably suffer from a chronic Se deficiency,” said Jorge Tórtora-Pérez, from the School of Advanced Studies Cuautitlán- UNAM in México.

imageIn a review published in the Small Ruminant Research on January 15, Tórtora-Pérez and colleagues have described white muscle disease in sheep and goat as a direct result of selenium deficiency. Selenium is an essential trace element with a critical role in the functioning of hormones and enzymes.
The main resources for the human body are meat, eggs and tuna; the animals are dependent on plants which pick it up from the soil. The amount of selenium in foods like nuts and cereals depends on the soil they grow in.

Selenium deficiency is linked to the heart muscle disease (cardiomyopathy) in China, bone and joints disease (osteoartropathy) in northeast Asia, and hypothyroidism in Africa.

Though supplementing the diet with selenium might help, the levels of intake are debatable. A study published in January in Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care questions the balance between effective and toxic levels owing to insufficient data. Excess leads to selenosis—gastrointestinal disorders, hair loss and nerve damage. In January, a study documented the association between high levels and an increase in heart disease risks in Atherosclerosis.

Asked about his opinion on the use of selenium supplements in humans, Jorge Tórtora-Pérez said, a solution must be found for chronic deficiency of selenium because it leads to serious endocrine and immunity problems.

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