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Selenium supplements can lead to higher cholesterol levels

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

Selenium supplements have grown in popularity because of consumer perception that the mineral can prevent cancer and other disease. A new study found that selenium from supplements or food intake can lead to higher cholesterol levels.

The study, from the University of Warwick, has important public health implications. Too much selenium was found to increase non-HDL cholesterol levels by as much as ten percent. HDL, the good cholesterol, is necessary to keep arteries healthy and prevent clots that lead to heart attack. Total cholesterol level was eight percent among study participants whose selenium levels were more than 1.20 µmol/L. Most of the individuals studied with the highest selenium levels admitted to taking supplements.

According to lead study author Dr Saverio Stranges, “This use has spread despite a lack of definitive evidence on selenium supplements efficacy for cancer and other chronic disease prevention. The cholesterol increases we have identified may have important implications for public health. In fact, such a difference could translate into a large number of premature deaths from coronary heart disease.”

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Higher cholesterol levels from selenium were studied among 1042 participants aged 19-64 in the 2000-2001 UK National Diet and Nutrition Survey. Blood samples were taken following assessment of lifestyle factors including diet and alcohol intake.

Not everyone with higher selenium levels took supplements, but the authors say the findings are still concerning. “We believe that the widespread use of selenium supplements, or of any other strategy that artificially increases selenium status above the level required, is unwarranted at the present time. Further research is needed to examine the full range of health effects of increased selenium, whether beneficial or detrimental.”

Past studies have linked selenium supplements to increased risk of diabetes. Other studies have suggested that taking supplements can decrease risk of cancer and other diseases. The new study links high selenium intake to higher cholesterol levels that can lead to heart attack, suggesting that taking supplements could cause more harm than good.

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