Selenium supplementation for the prevention of cardiovascular events in men

This fact box will help you to weigh the benefits and harms of selenium supplementation for the prevention of cardiovascular events in men. The information and numbers are based on the best scientific evidence currently available.

This fact box was developed by the Harding Center for Risk Literacy.

What is selenium?

Selenium is an essential trace element found in fish, meat, and eggs, but also in plant products. It is important for the healthy functioning of the immune system and thyroid. A lack of selenium can lead to deficiency diseases. However, real deficiency diseases are rare in in Western industrialized countries.Selenium is freely sold as a dietary supplement.

How important is selenium in preventing cardiovascular events?

Prior studies suggested an association between selenium status and the risk of cardiovascular diseases [1].

Selenium supplements are said to prevent cardiovascular events (e.g. heart attacks and strokes) [2].

Fact box selenium supplementation for the prevention of cardiovascular events in men
Fact box selenium supplementation for the prevention of cardiovascular events in men © Harding Center for Risk Literacy
What does the fact box show?

The fact box shows the benefits and harms of selenium supplementation to prevent cardiovascular events compared to no supplementation.

The table may be read as follows:

12 out of every 100 men with normal blood pressure and without a selenium deficiency who did or did not take supplementary selenium, had a cardiovascular event within four to seven years.

The numbers in the fact box are rounded. The data were reported in one study with around 17,800 participants [2].

What other aspects should be considered?

Reliable numbers are available only for men. Selenium supplementation entailed taking 200 micrograms of L-selenomethionine daily.

During the study, men taking supplementary selenium appeared more likely to develop type 2 diabetes. Although this result may be coincidental and there is not enough evidence to suggest that selenium supplementation is associated with an elevated risk for type 2 diabetes, the trial was nevertheless stopped as a precaution.

The total number of deaths (all causes) remained the same with or without selenium supplementation.

Do the results provide proof (evidence) for the benefits and harms of selenium supplementation for the prevention of cardiovascular events?

Results are based on one study only. Therefore, the fact box does not represent a comprehensive evaluation. However, the included study met the methodological requirements (low risk of bias).

Version history of the fact box
  • April 2016 (last update)
Sources

Information within the fact box was obtained from the following sources:

[1] Rees K, Hartley L, Day C, et al. Selenium supplementation for the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2013(1):CD009671. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD009671.pub2

[2] Lippman SM, Klein EA, Goodman PJ, et al. Effect of selenium and vitamin E on risk of prostate cancer and other cancers: the Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial (SELECT). JAMA 2009;301(1):39-51. doi: 10.1001/jama.2008.864