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Selenium is an essential nutrient for health in animals and humans, with a recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of 55 µg/day for adults in the United States. While North Americans generally meet this requirement, many in Europe, Asia, and Africa do not. Adequate selenium intake is linked to a reduced risk of cancer, particularly prostate cancer. This review examines selenium’s benefits, metabolism, and the varying effects of different selenium forms found in foods. The potential health benefits of selenium-enriched foods require multidisciplinary research efforts.


Selenium is crucial for human and animal health, with an RDA of 55 µg/day for adults. Most North Americans meet this requirement, but many in Europe, Asia, and Africa do not. Selenium deficiency can lead to health issues such as juvenile cardiomyopathy (Keshan disease) in China. While low selenium intake is common in Europe, overt deficiency symptoms are rare. Finland’s national program of adding selenium to fertilizers increased blood selenium levels, but clear health benefits have not been documented.

Selenium and Cancer Prevention

Research suggests that selenium intake above the RDA may reduce cancer risk, especially prostate cancer. Epidemiological studies have shown an inverse relationship between blood selenium levels and cancer risk, particularly in men. Clinical trials in China and the United States have demonstrated that selenium supplementation can reduce the incidence of liver, esophageal, lung, colorectal, and prostate cancers.

Mechanisms of Selenium’s Anticancer Activity

Selenium’s anticancer effects are linked to its role in selenoproteins, which have antioxidant properties that protect cells from oxidative damage. Selenium also modulates immune function and reduces inflammation, contributing to its protective effects against cancer.

Clinical Observations

Clinical studies have shown that selenium supplementation improves quality of life and reduces chemotherapy side effects in cancer patients. It enhances the anticancer effects of conventional therapies without significant adverse effects.


Selenium offers promising potential for cancer prevention and treatment. Multidisciplinary research is needed to fully understand its benefits and optimize its use in enhancing public health through selenium-enriched foods.

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