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Selenium for Your Prostate Problem
Selenium is only needed in the body in small amounts but it plays important roles in certain enzymatic reactions in the body. The body makes a class of antioxidant enzymes from selenium, and also uses it to stimulate the production of other antioxidants. However, selenium levels fall with age and selenium deficiency has been linked with prostate problems in men. This article discusses the health benefits of selenium especially to the prostate gland and its effectiveness in the treatment of benign prostate hyperplasia and prostate cancer.
by Brad Chase
Selenium is an essential mineral needed in small amounts in the body. It was discovered in 1817 and was thought to be poisonous during the early period of its discovery.
Although selenium salts are indeed toxic when ingested in large amounts, the human body still requires trace amounts of the mineral for various cellular functions.
Selenium is a major component of a group of antioxidant enzymes known as selenoproteins.
These enzymes are responsible for mopping up free radicals and reactive oxygen species that are destructive to cells and genetic materials. The antioxidant effects of selenium are increased when it is combined with other antioxidants especially vitamin E.
Selenium is also involved in thyroid health where it acts as a cofactor for three of the four deiodinase enzymes (with the exception of iodotyrosine deiodinase). These enzymes are responsible for regulating the production and use of thyroid hormones. They are primarily involved in the conversion of thyroxine to the more bioactive thyroid hormone, triiodothyronine.
Besides its enzymatic roles in the syntheses of thyroid hormones, selenium can also regulate immune function. This immunomodulatory property can protect the thyroid from autoimmune damage by preventing antibodies from attacking the cells of the gland.
Like other essential minerals, selenium cannot be synthesized naturally in the body. Rather it is obtained from the diet. Therefore, dietary sources of selenium should be adopted to prevent a deficiency.
Because selenium is primarily found in the soil, plants that grow in areas rich in this mineral will be a good source of dietary selenium.
However, care must be taken with these food crops because plants can accumulate high levels of selenium to discourage foraging animals from repeatedly consuming their leaves.
Although selenium is a micronutrient needed in very small amounts in the body, its deficiency can cause serious health problems. Healthy and well-nourished individuals, however, rarely have selenium deficiency.
Besides eating selenium-poor diets, selenium deficiency can also be caused by certain medical disorders.
For example, people with intestinal problems or those receiving total parenteral nutrition (feeding without the involvement of the stomach) are the ones most likely to have selenium deficiency. The elderly, especially those above the age of 90, usually have very low levels of the mineral as well.
In addition, high exposure to mercury has been associated with selenium deficiency because the heavy metal inhibits the absorption and transportation of selenium.
In this way, mercury can reduce the activities and levels of selenoenzymes in the brain and endocrine tissues, and therefore, worsen the neurological damage it causes.
Due to the close interactions between selenium and other nutrients such as vitamin E and iodine, deficiencies in these nutrients can worsen the symptoms or even lead to selenium deficiency itself.
Low levels of selenium have been linked to increased risk of heart disease, hyperthyroidism and immune system dysfunction. Other medical conditions that are known to be associated with selenium deficiency include Keshan disease (common in selenium-deficient children), Kashin-Beck disease and myxedematous endemic cretinism.
When taken in excess, selenium toxicity can occur and may lead to a condition known as selenosis.
Presentations of selenosis include sloughing off nails, fatigue, irritability, neurological damage, gastrointestinal disorders, hair loss and bad breath. If this condition is left untreated, it can degenerate into pulmonary edema, liver cirrhosis and death.
Selenium deficiency and toxicity can be detected by measuring the levels of the mineral in the blood, plasma, serum or urine.
While the inorganic salts of selenium do not usually cause toxicity because they are not easily absorbed into the body, the organic salts on the other hand are more easily absorbed and, therefore, likely to accumulate to toxic levels.
The recommended dietary intake of selenium varies with age. The recommendations provided by the National Academy of Sciences are listed in the table below.
Pregnant and breast-feeding women have greater needs for selenium. Therefore, 60 micrograms and 70 micrograms are the recommended daily allowances for pregnant and breast-feeding women respectively.
Due to the risk of toxicity when taken in excessive amount, the tolerable upper limit for selenium is set at 400 micrograms daily for men and women above the age of 18.
Selenium supplements are usually sold in form of selenium salts but the bioavailability of these salts differ. The organic salt, selenomethionine, has the highest bioavailability among these selenium salts.
Food sources rich in selenium include corn, salmon, scallops, chicken, eggs, shiitake mushrooms, lamb, barley, wheat, and soybean. These should also be adopted into the diet of those with selenium deficiency.
However, selenium supplements are usually needed in most cases to quickly return the essential mineral to its normal levels.
With age, selenium is poorly absorbed into the body and rapidly depleted. Therefore, older adults usually have selenium deficiency, and this deficiency has now been shown to be associated with failing prostate health in men.
Many researchers believe that selenium benefits the prostate with its antioxidant protection. However, other theories have also been proposed as to how selenium works to improve prostate health.
Because it is used by the body to make selenoproteins which are essential for neutralizing free radicals in the body, selenium can help prevent the oxidative destruction of prostate epithelial cells. This antioxidant protection has also been shown to reduce the risk of prostate cancer and also fight the growth of cancerous cells.
With regards to prostate cancer, selenium provides other benefits besides simple antioxidant protection. It reduces the activities and production of prostate-specific antigens. These antigens are also known as gamma-seminoproteins. They are produced by cells of the prostate gland and rarely found in the serum.
In small amount, PSA is needed to enhance the motility of sperm cells as they swim up the uterus. However, high levels of prostate-specific antigens may indicate the benign prostate hyperplasia or other prostate problems.
Therefore, by inhibiting PSA in men, selenium may help reduce the risk of prostate cancer and the progression of benign prostate hyperplasia.
Furthermore, selenium is believed to have a selective effect on prostaglandins. This means that selenium can increase the levels of beneficial prostaglandins while inhibiting harmful prostaglandins at same time.
For example, some studies suggest that selenium can lower the levels of prostaglandins known to cause prostate pain and inflammation.
A 2009 study published in the journal, Acta Oncological, examined and compared the levels of whole blood selenium and prostatic tissue selenium in patients with prostate cancer, benign prostatic hyperplasia, and in healthy men.
Researchers in this study evaluated whole blood selenium levels in the following group of participants:
Prostatic tissue selenium level was also measured in the following group of participants:
The results of the study showed significantly reduced levels of whole blood selenium in patients with prostate cancer compared to the group of healthy participants. There was no significant difference between prostatic selenium levels in both the BPH and PC groups.
This study highlights the importance of selenium to prostate health, and the link between selenium deficiency and BPH as well as prostate cancer.
Researchers from the Ohio State University investigated the effects of selenium on PSA and glutathione peroxidase levels in the body. This 2011 study was published in the journal, Nutrition Research.
Sixty healthy men were recruited for the study and they were divided into 2 groups of 30 participants each. One group was given 200 mcg of selenium while the other group received the same dose of placebo for the six weeks duration of the study.
The levels of glutathione peroxidase and PSA were measured in all the patients at the start and during the period of the study.
After the six-week duration of the study, the results showed significant increase in the activities and levels of erythrocyte and plasma glutathione peroxidase in participants given selenium compared to those who were given placebo.
On the other hand, PSA levels were found to be reduced in participants who were given selenium but no such changes were recorded in the placebo group.
This result suggests that selenium is involved in regulating the levels of both PSA and glutathione peroxidase in the body and, by extension, essential to prostate health.
By increasing the level of glutathione peroxidase, selenium improves the antioxidant protection available to the prostate gland. On the other hand, it prevents prostate hyperplasia by reducing PSA levels.
To determine whether selenium is truly beneficial to the prostate, a journal of American Society for Nutrition, published the results of a complete meta-analysis of studies done to investigate the relationship between selenium and the risk of prostate cancer.
The authors of this review selected a total of 12 studies which included randomized controlled trials, case-control studies, and prospective cohort studies. With a combined participant population of 13,254 and 5,007 cases of prostate cancer, the studies measured the selenium intake and incidence of prostate cancer in the studies.
The result of the meta-analysis showed that the risk of prostate cancer was reduced when the blood/serum level of selenium increased.
A similar meta-analysis published in the journal, Cancer Causes and Control, reviewed studies found in popular databases of scientific researches such as Medline, Embase, and Cochrane Library.
16 studies examining the risk of prostate cancer and selenium intake between 1996 and 2005 were reviewed in this meta-analysis.
The result of this systematic review showed that the risk of prostate cancer can be reduced with adequate intake of selenium.
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