British Journal of Nutrition

Review article

Selenium in global food systems

Gerald F. Combs Jra1 c1

a1 Division of Nutritional Sciences, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853, USA


Food systems need to produce enough of the essential trace element Se to provide regular adult intakes of at least 40 μg/d to support the maximal expression of the Se enzymes, and perhaps as much as 300 μg/d to reduce risks of cancer. Deprivation of Se is associated with impairments in antioxidant protection, redox regulation and energy production as consequences of suboptimal expression of one or more of the Se-containing enzymes. These impairments may not cause deficiency signs in the classical sense, but instead contribute to health problems caused by physiological and environmental oxidative stresses and infections. At the same time, supranutritional intakes of Se, i.e. intakes greater than those required for selenocysteine enzyme expression, appear to reduce cancer risk. The lower, nutritional, level is greater than the typical intakes of many people in several parts of the world, and few populations have intakes approaching the latter, supranutritional, level. Accordingly, low Se status is likely to contribute to morbidity and mortality due to infectious as well as chronic diseases, and increasing Se intakes in all parts of the world can be expected to reduce cancer rates.

(Received April 12 2000)

(Revised October 05 2000)

(Accepted October 20 2000)


c1 * Corresponding author: Dr Gerald F. Combs Jr, fax +1 607 255 1033, email