Selenium: its role as antioxidant in human health
Selenium (Se) is an essential trace element, and its low status in humans has been linked to increased risk of various diseases, such as cancer and heart disease. In recent years, Se research has attracted tremendous interest because of its important role in antioxidant selenoproteins for protection against oxidative stress initiated by excess reactive oxygen species (ROS) and reactive nitrogen species (NOS). The synthesis of selenoproteins requires a unique incorporation of amino acid selenocysteine (Sec) into proteins directed by the UGA codon, which is also a termination codon. Interest in Se research has led to the discovery of at least 30 selenoproteins; however, the biochemical functional roles of some of these selenoproteins are still unknown. Besides in the form of selenoproteins, Se can exist in many different chemical forms in biological materials either as organic Se compounds, such as selenomethionine and dimethylselenide, and inorganic selenites and selenates. In foods, Se is predominantly present as selenomethionine, which is an important source of dietary Se in humans, and also as a chemical form that is commonly used for Se supplements in clinical trials. Concern for potential deficiency diseases associated with low Se status has led to the establishment of the recommended daily requirements for Se in many countries. However, excess Se intakes through supplementation and its potential misuse as health therapy could also pose a risk of adverse health effects if its use is not properly regulated.