A recent study published in the International Journal of Cancer by Newcastle University researchers found that high levels of selenium are correlated with a lower risk of colorectal cancer.
The work, titled “Selenium status is associated with colorectal cancer risk in the European prospective investigation of cancer and nutrition cohort” which was a joint effort from Newcastle University researchers, the International Agency for research on Cancer (IARC-WHO) and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, showed that people who live in Europe have significantly lower levels of selenium in their blood, when compared with those living in Canada or the U.S.
Selenium is an indispensable micronutrient that can greatly vary depending on the geographical location as a result of different soil levels. Food rich in selenium include Brazil nuts, shellfish, red meat, offal and Canadian flour.
The study was based on blood samples that had registered the dietary and lifestyle information of more than 520,000 participants from different centers in the UK and other Western European countries.
Newcastle University’s Professor John Hesketh explained in a news release, “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. 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.”
The team analyzed the amount of selenium in patients’ blood and also their serum selenoprotein P levels, which correlates with the selenium quantity linked to the carrier protein, finding that patients who had higher amounts of selenium also had a lower risk of developing colorectal cancer. This was particularly significant in women.
Researchers now want to understand the potential benefits of adding selenium supplements in our diet.
“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. In fact, some studies suggest that as little as 200 micrograms of selenium taken on a regular basis could increase the risk of diabetes”, Professor Hesketh added. “What our study shows is a possible link between higher levels of selenium and a decreased risk of colorectal cancer and suggests that increasing selenium intake may reduce the risk of this disease. We think this provides a strong case for a Europe-wide study to investigate the impact of supplementing food with selenium.”