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Crit Rev Biotechnol. 2009;29(1):2-9. doi: 10.1080/07388550902728261.

Selenium in human and animal nutrition: resolved and unresolved issues. A partly historical treatise in commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the discovery of the biological essentiality of selenium, dedicated to the memory of Klaus Schwarz (1914-1978) on the occasion of the thirtieth anniversary of his death.

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Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, University of California-San Diego, La Jolla, CA, USA.


Selenium (Se) is an essential trace element unevenly distributed on the Earth's crust with low selenium regions predominating. To prevent selenium-deficiency diseases in livestock, additions of selenium to animal feed are required and were approved for all species, but the chemical form of the element to be added was not specified. Presently, sodium selenite is still widely employed, although it is not a natural nutritional form of selenium. Its use creates ecological problems and affects human selenium nutriture in as much as the meat, milk, and eggs from animals maintained on selenite contain less selenium than from animals receiving it as selenomethionine, the chief natural nutritional form of the element present in grain crops grown in selenium-adequate regions, or from high-selenium yeast added to feedstock. Human dietary selenium intakes are sub-optimal in many countries but are considered to be adequate if they reach the currently adopted Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs). Their upward revision will be required if the health benefits of selenium are to be fully utilized.

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