Mineral Medicine: Selenium may inhibit esophageal cancer

Selenium, a trace mineral found in various foods and nutritional supplements, may inhibit progression toward esophageal cancer among people with Barrett’s esophagus, a precancerous condition that affects millions of North Americans. Researchers studied the relationship between levels of selenium in the blood and changes in the lining of the esophagus that represent advancement toward cancer.

“Our research suggests that low blood levels of selenium are a risk factor for progression of Barrett’s esophagus. We found that Barrett’s patients with low selenium levels had a two-to three-fold greater risk of advanced precancerous changes than patients with selenium levels in the middle or high end of the normal range,” said Rebecca Rudolph, a clinical researcher and lead author of the study.

Fish, meat and bread are common sources of selenium in the North American diet. Brazil nuts and walnuts are also good sources.

“If there’s a lot of selenium in the soil, there will be high amounts in the food in which it is grown. But since food is shipped from all over the place, it’s the luck of the draw how much you’ll really be getting from food sources,” Rudolph said.

Previous studies have shown that selenium significantly reduces risk and mortality for multiple cancers, including prostate and colorectal. Selenium may be a powerful cancer fighter because it inhibits the changes that cause cells to spin out of control and become cancerous.

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, May 20, 2003