The other view: the trace element selenium as a micronutrient in thyroid disease, diabetes, and beyond

Lutz Schomburg
Hormones: International Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism 2020, 19 (1): 15-24
Antibiotics are provided for infections caused by bacteria, and statins help to control hypercholesterolemia. When hungry, you need to eat, and when you are deficient in a particular nutrient, the diet should be chosen wisely to provide what is missing. In the matter of providing the essential trace element selenium (Se), there are two different but partly overlapping views on its nature and requirements. Some consider it a medication that should be given to a subset of more or less well-defined (thyroid) patients only, in order to alleviate symptoms, to improve the course of the disease or even to provide a cure, alone or in an adjuvant mode. Such treatment attempts are conducted for a short time period, and potential medical benefits and side effects are evaluated thoroughly. One could also approach Se in medicine in a more holistic way and evaluate primarily the nutritional status of the patient before considering supplementation. The available evidence for positive health effects of supplemental Se can be interpreted as the consequence of correcting deficiency instead of speculating on a direct pharmaceutical action. This short review provides a novel view on Se in (thyroid) disease and beyond and offers an alternative explanation for its positive health effects, i.e., its provision of the substrate needed for allowing adequate endogenous expression of those selenoproteins that are required in certain conditions. In Se deficiency, the lack of the trace element constitutes the main limitation for the required adaptation of selenoprotein expression to counteract health risks and alleviate disease symptoms. Supplemental Se lifts this restriction and enables the full endogenous response of selenoprotein expression. However, since Se does not act as a pharmacological medication per se, it should not be viewed as a dangerous drug, and, importantly, current data show that supplemental Se does not cause diabetes.

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