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Biofactors. 2001;14(1-4):153-9.

An analysis of cancer prevention by selenium.

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Division of Nutritional Sciences, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853, USA.


The nutritional functions of selenium (Se) are recognized as being due to a number of Se-containing proteins. It is not clear, however, whether any of these function in the anti-tumorigenic effects of Se most of which have been demonstrated for Se exposures greater than those required for selenoprotein expression. Indeed, other anti-tumorigenic mechanisms have been demonstrated for certain Se-metabolites. The Nutritional Prevention of Cancer Trial found supplemental Se (200 microg/day, as Se-enriched yeast) to be associated with significant reductions in cancer risks in subjects with pre-treatment plasma Se concentrations below ca. 120 ng/ml (1.5 nmoles/ml), which level would appear to require food-Se intakes of ca. 1.5 microg/kg body weight/day. However, the putative anti-carcinogenic Se-metabolite(s) should be more relevant than total plasma Se as a supplementation target for cancer prevention. These may be components of the non-protein-bound fraction of Se in plasma, which constitutes 2-4% of total plasma Se.

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