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The Significance of Selenium

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‘Modest’ vitamin & mineral deficiencies become huge as we age

  [ 4 votes ]   [ Discuss This Article ] • June 1, 2011

"This paper should settle any debate about the importance of taking a good, complete, multivitamin every day." - Gerald Weissmann, MD, Editor-in-Chief FASEB Journal

In ‘developed’ countries we see few people who have diseases that are associated with severe vitamin & mineral deficiencies, such as rickets - and tend to minimize the importance of modest deficiencies because links to health problems have not been as obvious.

But continuing research at Children's Hospital Oakland Research Institute in California is making flip dismissals of daily RDAs hard to support – vitamin by vitamin.

Researchers Joyce McCann, PhD, and Bruce Ames, PhD, have been working for years to put facts behind their ‘triage theory’ of nutrition.

The principle is that “modest deficiency of any vitamin or mineral could increase age-related diseases.” That is, the body will protect “vitamin or mineral-dependent proteins required for short-term survival and/or reproduction (i.e., ‘essential’) … over other ‘nonessential’ vitamin or mineral-dependent proteins needed only for long-term health.” But the result of the short-term survival strategy will be long-term “accumulation of insidious damage, increasing disease risk.”

In 2009 Drs. McCann and Ames reported on an analysis that strongly linked the triage impact of modest vitamin K deficiency to increased incidence of diseases ‘of aging’ like cancer, heart disease, dementia, and the pace of aging itself. (See "A New Vitamin K Analysis Supports the Triage Theory: Modest Vitamin/Mineral Deficiencies Increase Age-Related Disease.")

And their new study, published in the June issue of FASEB Journal (“Adaptive dysfunction of selenoproteins from the perspective of triage theory: Why modest selenium deficiency may increase risk of diseases of aging”) makes the same case for avoiding modest selenium deficiency.

This selenium study, like the vitamin K study, connects the nonessential proteins which the body sacrifices as a result of moderate deficiency with the accumulated damage associated with age-related diseases.

The Grueling Details

As in the vitamin K research, the researchers reached their conclusions by compiling and assessing several general types of scientific evidence.

• They tested whether selenium-dependent proteins that are essential from an evolutionary perspective are more resistant to selenium deficiency than those that are less essential.

• They discovered a highly sophisticated array of mechanisms at cellular and tissue levels that, when selenium is limited, protect essential selenium-dependent proteins at the expense of those that are nonessential.

• They also found that mutations in selenium-dependent proteins that are lost on modest selenium deficiency result in characteristics shared by age-related diseases including cancer, heart disease, and loss of immune or brain function.

Such mechanistic linkages underscore opportunities for prevention and treatment.

"As this report shows, taking a multivitamin that contains selenium is a good way to prevent deficiencies that, over time, can cause harm in ways that we are just beginning to understand," says FASEB Journal Editor-in-Chief Gerald Weissmann, MD.

Sources: Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology news release, May 31, 2011; "A New Vitamin K Analysis Supports the Triage Theory: Modest Vitamin/Mineral Deficiencies Increase Age-Related Disease," and publications by Drs. McCann and Ames.

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