British Journal of Nutrition

Short Communication

The choice of biomarkers determines the selenium status in young German vegans and vegetarians

Johanna Hoeflicha1, Birgit Hollenbacha1, Thomas Behrendsa1, Antonia Hoega1, Hagen Stosnacha1a2 and Lutz Schomburga1 c1

a1 Institute for Experimental Endocrinology, Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Südring 10, CVK, D-13353 Berlin, Germany

a2 Bruker AXS Microanalysis GmbH, Schwarzschildstrasse 12, D-12489 Berlin, Germany


Daily nutrition varies considerably among individuals. The number of vegetarians is increasing continuously due to ethical, environmental, religious or other reasons. There is growing concern over their nutritional status with respect to micronutrient deficiencies. Among the essential trace elements, Se is of prime importance as it is part of the active site in selenoproteins. European soil and plants are relatively poor sources of Se, while farm animals are generally supplemented with Se in order to improve their health and avoid deficiency syndromes. We therefore wondered whether German vegetarians display a measurable Se deficiency. To this end, we compared young vegetarians (n 54) and omnivores (n 53). We assessed their Se status by measuring extracellular glutathione peroxidase 3 (GPX3) activity, and concentrations of total serum Se and circulating Se-transport protein selenoprotein P (SEPP). GPX3 activities were not different between the groups, whereas both total Se and SEPP concentrations were reduced to 79·5 and 71·2 % in vegetarians compared with omnivores. When splitting the group of vegetarians into vegans (n 26) and vegetarians consuming egg and milk products (n 28), analyses of the Se-dependent biomarkers did not reveal significant differences. We conclude that low serum Se is mirrored by circulating SEPP concentrations, but not by GPX3 activities in marginally supplied individuals. The specific dietary Se sources, divergent metabolic routes of selenomethionine v. selenocysteine and the different saturation kinetics of GPX3 and SEPP probably underlie our contradictory findings. Whether German vegetarians and vegans need to be considered as a Se-deficient group depends on the biomarker chosen.

(Received October 07 2009)

(Revised May 28 2010)

(Accepted June 01 2010)

(Online publication July 19 2010)


c1 Corresponding author: L. Schomburg, fax +49 30 450 524922, email


Abbreviations: GPX, glutathione peroxidase; SEPP, selenoprotein P