Very small quantities of the trace mineral selenium are essential to human health. Selenium is required for the synthesis of the protective enzyme glutathione peroxidase, which protects cell membranes against damage by oxidants, including those in cigarette smoke. Selenium also seems to make platelets less sticky, decreasing the risk of strokes and heart attacks. It may also boost cellular immunity.
There is now a large body of evidence to suggest that in countries with high levels of selenium in the soil, cancer rates are low. Studies show that healthy people have higher selenium blood levels than cancer patients. And there is a substantial body of evidence to suggest that selenium supplements, either in the diet or added to the drinking water, offer protection against a variety of forms of cancer.
Studies on the protective effects of selenium have generated a great deal of excitement among researchers. It has been the most widely studied mineral in recent years. High selenium levels in the diet have been found to inhibit the induction of a variety of cancers (skin, liver, colon, and breast) in experimental animals, while low selenium levels may be an additional cancer risk factor. Selenium also helps detoxify some of the toxic heavy metals in cigarette smoke, such as mercury and cadmium.
A study led by Dr. Walter Willett of the Harvard School of Public Health found that people who came down with certain types of cancer had low selenium blood levels several years prior to the discovery of their cancers.
Dr. Gerald Schrauzer, a long-time selenium researcher at the University of California in San Diego, believes that the evidence that selenium can help protect against cancer is strong enough to suggest that virtually everyone should be sure they are receiving adequate amounts of this mineral.
The best dietary sources of selenium include organ meats (extremely high in selenium), seafood, beef, pork, lamb, chicken (very high in selenium), broccoli, cabbage, celery, cucumbers, onions, mushrooms, radishes, brewer’s yeast, and grains. Selenium content of vegetables may vary over 100-fold depending on the region in which they were grown.
Selenium supplements are available in both inorganic and organic forms. Some researchers believe that the organic forms have fewer toxic effects. In addition, the absorption of inorganic selenium, particularly sodium selenite, may be decreased in the presence of vitamin C. The National Cancer Institute currently recommends a dietary intake of 50 to 200 micrograms (nor milligrams) of selenium per day, including the selenium you get in foods, as a cancer prevention measure. [The symbol for micrograms is u The symbol for milligrams is mg.]
Selenium toxicity can occur if doses larger than 200 micrograms per day are taken regularly. Symptoms of selenium toxicicy include fragile or darkened fingernails, a metallic taste in the mouth, a metallic or garlicky smell to the breath, nausea, and dizziness.
Thus, it would seem a prudent pro-health measure for everyone ? smokers especially ? to make sure they get enough selenium. But even enough the evidence that selenium may help prevent cancer is very encouraging, smokers should not think of selenium supplements as a “magic anti-cancer pill.” It is extremely unlikely that selenium could completely reverse the harmful effects of tobacco smoke.
This vitamin helps detoxify the cyanide found in tobacco smoke. Smokers excrete more B-12 and thus have lower serum levels. This smoking-produced B-12 deficiency is thought to be responsible for a disease called tobacco amblyopia. Tobacco amblyopia can produce dimming of vision in the central part of one’s visual field. In some cases complete vision loss can occur. Tobacco amblyopia is treated with large doses of vitamin B-12.
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