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9th April 2002: "Selenium: a trace mineral in scarce supply essential to your health"

The trace mineral, selenium, is of fundamental importance to human health. It is essential to the functioning of a number of important enzymes in the body. These enzymes protect against damage from dangerous "free radicals" associated with inflammation and degenerative disease and are also responsible for the production of the active form of thyroid hormone. Selenium is needed for the proper functioning of the immune system. In selenium deficiency, harmless viruses can become more virulent and HIV can progress more readily to AIDS. Selenium is required for proper sperm development and may reduce the risk of miscarriage. Deficiency has been linked to adverse mood states such as confusion and depression. Some studies suggest that low blood selenium is associated with a higher risk of coronary heart disease.

There is growing evidence that a higher selenium intake is associated with reduced cancer risk and large clinical trials are now underway or planned to test this hypothesis. In the context of these health effects, low or diminishing selenium status in some parts of the world, notably in some European countries like the UK, is giving cause for concern.

Dr Margaret Rayman B.Sc., D.Phil.(Oxon.), R.P.H.Nutr., is well known for her research, writing and broadcasting in the area of nutrition and human health. Current research studies involve clinical trials of the ability of selenium to reduce the risk of asthma and cancer, to improve mood, thyroid function and "quality of life". She is also working on the role of trace minerals in the pregnancy disease pre-eclampsia. She recently set up the first university-level course in Nutritional Medicine in the UK (the Nutritional Medicine MSc Programme at the University of Surrey) of which she is Course Director. The course aims to teach doctors and other health professionals about nutritional methods of treating and preventing disease.

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