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Toxicology. 2002 Nov 15;180(2):195-207.

Dietary vitamin E and selenium and toxicity of nitrite and nitrate.

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  • 1Graduate Center for Nutritional Sciences, University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY 40506-0054, USA.


Nitrites and nitrates are important antimicrobial and flavoring/coloring agents in meat and fish products. However, nitrites and nitrates may cause methemoglobinemia and other illness, and may react with certain amines to form carcinogenic nitrosamines. The nutritional status of vitamin E and selenium has long been associated with nitrite and nitrate toxicity, although the mechanism involved is not yet clear. Information available recently shows that nitrites and nitrates are both oxidation products and ready sources of nitric oxide (NO*), that NO* reacts rapidly with superoxide to form highly reactive peroxynitrite (ONOO-), and that vitamin E may mediate the generation and availability of superoxide and NO*. Increased formation of ONOO- resulting from nitrite treatment and low intake of vitamin E and selenium may thus be the critical event leading to tissue damage and animal mortality observed previously. The protection against the adverse effects of nitrites/nitrates by vitamin E is attributed to its ability to reduce ONOO- formation, while selenium exerts its protective effects via seleno-enzymes/compounds, which reduce ONOO- formed.

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