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Insufficient Selenium; Antioxidants Linked to Liver Cancer

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Researchers in Taiwan report that low blood levels of Selenium, an important antioxidant that protects the immune system by preventing the formation of dangerous free radicals, may contribute to an increased risk of liver cancer in those with Hepatitis B and C.

Researchers found that this connection was “most striking among cigarette smokers and among subjects with low plasma levels of retinol [Vitamin A-1] or various [other] caretonoids.” (Retinol is produced by beta carotene, a member of the carotenoid family.) The study was conducted by Dr. Ming-Whei Yu and colleagues at National Taiwan University, Taipei; the results were published in the August 15th issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology. This research once again supports the theory that antioxidants hold a crucial key to fighting disease.

Dr. Yu and his team studied the blood selenium levels of over 7,000 men infected with chronic hepatitis B or C (or both) from 1988-1992. Of the total, 69 men developed liver cancer during the study and exhibited “significantly lower” selenium levels than those who did not develop cancer.

Research previously supported that selenium helps boost immune function and inhibit cancerous cell changes in liver cells exposed to known carcinogens [cancer-causing agents]. This research suggested that selenium, when taken with vitamin E, showed a 13% reduction in cancer mortality when given to a population with high rates of esophageal and stomach cancer. It was concluded that supplementation with selenium and vitamin E “merits further study.”

The results with selenium are just another piece of a much larger puzzle that supports the disease-fighting power of antioxidants. Similar antioxidant newsmakers recently have included the caretonoid lycopene (responsible for giving tomatoes their red color) and blueberries – a cup of this fruit will double the typical American dietary intake of antioxidants.


1. American Journal of Epidemiology, 1999; 150:367-374.

2. Greenwell, Ivy. “Eat Less—But Do Eat Lots of Blueberries.” Life Extension Magazine, September 1999.

3. Balch, James F. M.D., Balch, Phyllis A. C.N.C., “Prescription for Nutritional Healing,” New York, 1993.

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