Does selenium prevent cancer? It may depend on which form people take

Scientists are reporting that the controversy surrounding whether selenium can fight cancer in humans might come down to which form of the essential micronutrient people take. It turns out that not all "seleniums" are the same - the researchers found that one type of selenium supplement may produce a possible cancer-preventing substance more efficiently than another form of selenium in human cancer cells. Their study appears in the ACS' journal Biochemistry.

Some selenium dietary supplements may be more effective than others. Credit: iStock

Hugh Harris and colleagues note that although the Nutritional Prevention of Cancer clinical trial showed that selenium reduced the risk of cancer, a later study called the Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial did not show a benefit. A major difference between the trials was the form of selenium that was used. To find out whether different types of selenium have different chemopreventive properties, the researchers studied how two forms-SeMet and MeSeCys-are processed in human lung cancer cells.

The researchers found that MeSeCys killed more lung cancer cells than SeMet did. Also, lung cancer cells treated with MeSeCys processed the selenium differently than than cells treated with SeMet. They say that these findings could explain why studies on the health benefits of selenium sometimes have conflicting results.

The authors acknowledge funding from the Australian Research Council.

"Uptake, Distribution, and Speciation of Selenoamino Acids by Human Cancer Cells: X-ray Absorption and Fluorescence Methods"

Source: American Chemical Society