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Selenium supplements may do more harm than good

November 10, 2017

The research originally set out to test whether selenium supplements could prevent skin cancer and was conducted by Dr. Saverio Stranges of Warwick Medical School.

Some earlier research has suggested that the mineral might help prevent diabetes.

Dr. Stranges and colleagues looked at 1,202 people taking selenium for the skin cancer trial who did not have diabetes at the beginning of the study.

Half of the study group took a daily 200 microgram selenium supplement and half received a placebo pill for an average of 7.7 years.

The researchers found that 58 of 600 people taking selenium and 39 of 602 taking placebos developed type-2 diabetes over the 7.7 years; this equates to an increase in relative risk of about 50 percent.

The researchers say people taking selenium in the hope of preventing diabetes may actually increase their risk.

The trial showed that people who took selenium pills raised their risk of diabetes by more than half, compared to similar people taking placebos.

It is thought about 60 percent of Americans take multivitamin pills, many of which contain between 33 and 200 micrograms of selenium, in addition to the selenium taken in from food and the air.

Selenium is a naturally occurring trace mineral present in soil and foods; minute amounts are needed by the body to help the metabolism.

Selenium supplements are widely promoted on the Internet for a wide range of conditions from cold sores and shingles to arthritis and multiple sclerosis.

They are also promoted as preventing aging, enhancing fertility, preventing cancer and getting rid of toxic minerals such as mercury, lead and cadmium.

Dr. Stranges says he would not advise patients to take selenium supplements greater than those in multiple vitamins and says most people have adequate selenium in their diet.

Dr. Stranges says it's not clear as yet why selenium increases the risk of developing diabetes.

The research is published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

???While our study showed a reduction in diabetes incidence specifically in a rheumatoid arthritis cohort taking hydroxychloroquine, these findings also may be expected to occur in patients without rheumatoid arthritis. The beneficial changes in glucose metabolism and insulin sensitivity reported among patients with lupus, patients with type 2 diabetes, and in animal models suggest that these effects are not specific to rheumatoid arthritis.???

???Antimalarial drugs may have a role in treating rheumatoid arthritis not only to suppress synovitis [inflammation around the joints] but also to reduce the likelihood of developing glucose intolerance and dyslipidemia [abnormal concentrations of lipids]. As quality of life and life expectancy improve for patients with rheumatoid arthritis, and health care costs escalate, the use of inexpensive, safe therapies that have multiple beneficial effects is attractive. Further prospective studies are needed to determine whether this treatment option should be considered a standard component of rheumatoid arthritis combination therapy in the future, and to evaluate the potential role of hydroxychloroquine as a preventive agent for diabetes among high-risk individuals in the general population,??? the researchers conclude.

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