The Anti-Aging Supplement That Backfires

If you’re taking selenium to reduce your chances of getting cancer, be warned that the pill may boost your blood cholesterol levels

Mark Sutter, M.D. and Jennifer Brown, M.D.
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People who take selenium supplements in hopes of boosting their health may be dismayed to learn of new research suggesting that the trace element may actually boost one’s cholesterol level too. The researchers caution those who take selenium to cut back on the supplement in light of these new findings.

The team led by Saverio Stranges at the University of Warwick (UK) measured levels of various blood fats in more than 1,000 otherwise healthy participants, ranging in age from 19 to 64. Those who had increased levels of blood selenium (over 1.20 µmol/liter) also had an increase in total cholesterol levels of 8%. There was also an associated 10% rise in non−HDL cholesterol, which consists of LDL (or “bad”) cholesterol and blood triglycerides.

Of those with the highest blood selenium levels, about half said they took supplements. Stranges said that the number of people who supplement their diet with selenium is increasing, which makes the study’s findings all the more revealing on a public health level. Says Stranges, “[selenium] use has spread despite the lack of definitive evidence on selenium supplements efficacy for cancer and other chronic disease prevention. The cholesterol increases we identified may have important implications for public health. In fact, such a difference could translate into a large number of premature deaths from coronary heart disease.”

Selenium is found in meat, fish, eggs, and some grains, and while selenium deficiency is relatively rare, the mineral can be toxic in large doses (see our full−length article on selenium).

Stranges encourages the public to slow down on selenium supplementation until more research can be devoted to the compound. “We believe that the widespread use of selenium supplements, or of any other strategy that artificially increases selenium status above the level required, is unwarranted at the present time. Further research is needed to examine the full range of health effects of increased selenium, whether beneficial or detrimental."

The article appeared in the November 11, 2009 issue of the Journal of Nutrition.

Reviewed by Albert Einstein College of Medicine. This story originally appeared on

Photo courtesy of Kheng Guan Toh/

First Published Tue, 2013-05-21 11:44

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