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Selenium in Food and Health

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Selenium in Food and Health, 9780387332437 (038733243X), Springer, 2006
Selenium is a contradictory nutrient. It has been called the essential poison—too much of it in the diet can be toxic; too little can result in chronic, and sometimes fatal, deficiency. Even health authorities have at times been confused. Although today in the USA, as in most other countries, selenium appears among the trace elements for which recommended dietary allowances (RDAs) have been established, it was at one time declared by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to be a carcinogen and banned as an additive in food.

Selenium is considered by some to be a serious hazard to the environment and to animal health. Selenium-contaminated water has brought deformity and death to wildlife in nature reserves in western USA. There is even concern that because of selenium contamination of soil, crops supplied to the great cities of California could become unfit for human consumption. In large areas of China, endemic selenium toxicity is a hazard for locals who depend on crops grown on seleniumrich soil. Yet, in the UK, and in other parts of Europe, fears are expressed that soil selenium levels are inadequate. There are demands that the example of Finland should be followed and soil selenium levels increased by the addition of selenium to fertilizers.

There may be controversy among the experts and health authorities about selenium, but this has not deterred the general public from deciding that the element has an important role to play in health. In New Zealand, when the use of selenium was first permitted to prevent deficiency in farm animals, but was still not approved as a supplement for humans, people took the matter into their own hands. Veterinary preparations containing selenium were used by those who believed that what was good for animals must also be good for humans.

Undeterred by reports of their possible toxic effects, today millions of people worldwide consume selenium supplements. They are encouraged to do so, not only by articles in the popular media but also by the results of investigations by reputable scientists which indicate that selenium has a vital role to play in human health, not least in the prevention of cancer. Their findings indicate that selenium is a key player in cellular metabolism, is an essential component of enzymes that protect the body against oxidative damage, and has important roles in thyroid metabolism, human fertility, and many other vital functions.
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