Latest news on selenium

January 12, 2010

Intensive research is going on in utilization of selenium against cancer.
The public in Denmark do not hear much of it, but here is a selection of recent news.

The lack of television and newspaper information may give the impression that there is quiet on the antioxidant front concerning disease control. This is not the case. The news shortage is chiefly due to the censorship that has been introduced. Regarding selenium alone, being one of the major antioxidants, there were in 2009 published more than 900 scientific articles. Here we will mention a selection of recent articles about selenium in the fight against cancer.

A famous attempt to demonstrate whether antioxidants protect against cancer were performed in the years 1985-91 in the Chinese Linxian province. Nearly 30.000 participated in the study, which showed a strong decrease in cancer risk among those who received a supplement of selenium (50 micrograms) and Vitamin E and Beta Carotene (respectively 30 and 15 mg). Now it has been determined, what had happened to the participants 10 years later (2001). Even after so long a time, there were relatively more survivors in this group than among those who received other supplements (eg. Vitamin A + zinc, was of no benefit). In particular, the group had reduced incidence of cancer of the stomach, but it was the participants under 55 years of age who experienced the greatest gain – you must avoid lacking vital nutrients already from the youth.

Apparently this result is contradicted by another famous study, the SELECT trial conducted in the U.S. Here it appeared that you could not prevent prostate cancer using selenium, vitamin E or a combination of both. This study was in large scale and the result a huge disappointment.

One of the world’s leading selenium specialists, Margaret Rayman, did point out however, a few months ago what really is obvious: Supplementation with selenium is of no benefit if you already get enough! As a general rule you get enough in the U.S., where you typically get 3-4 times as much selenium in the diet as in Denmark. Sufficient selenium is essential for the body to form enough of the enzymes which we presume protects against cancer. Amongst others Rayman refer to another U.S. cancer trial where you just saw a massive impact in those who received the least amount of selenium, but no effect in those who got the most.

Heavy metals neutralized
One of the veterans in selenium research is Gerhard Schrauzer from San Diego University of California. He has been involved more than 20 years. Now he points out that selenium is able to detoxify numerous toxic metals that somehow during our civilized environment ends up in our bodies. This applies to lead, mercury, copper, cadmium, arsenic, etc. Selenium inactivates these metals by forming insoluble compounds with them. But, says Schrauzer, one must remember that at the same time selenium is used up, so we for that reason are less protected against cancer. In Europe we already get too little selenium, but heavy metals etc. increases the demand.

Taylor and associates have written an article on new advances in selenium research. They write that the renewed interest in selenium is linked to the fact that the anti-cancer effect is now very well documented in animal studies. This is worth noticing.

And precisely on animals a research team from San Diego University have demonstrated that the effect of chemotherapy (cisplatin) against cancer of the colon is reinforced considerably by large supplements of antioxidants (A and vitamin E and selenium) combined with fish oil. The group believes their achievement justifies that research is made with people. The result is very exciting because cancer doctors in this country often discourages in strong terms their patients from combining antioxidants with chemotherapy. The reason for this warning has hitherto been unclear.

Selenium and chemotherapy
Researchers from The Karolinska Hospital in Stockholm state without hesitation that it is well documented that selenium prevents cancer. They describe several experiments which have shown that selenium has strong anti cancer effects – especially against cancer, which no longer responds to chemotherapy. Normal cells will not be harmed by the selenium doses needed for this!

Italian researchers, however, stresses that people can get too much selenium (but living in Denmark you have take approx. two selenium tablets a day in order to get the same amount as a typical American). They argue that high doses may increase the risk of diabetes, an assertion, however, that is controversial.

In the Netherlands, like in China there has been an interest in selenium and cancer of the esophagus. More than 120,000 persons who was 55-69 years old in 1968, delivered at that time, a portion nail clips from their big toes. 16 years later it was found who and how many have got cancer of the esophagus or stomach in the meantime. Then the selenium levels in their nails was measured and compared with the levels in healthy subjects. It was found that the risk of both cancers was significantly higher among those who only had small amounts of selenium in their nails, and hence their body.

A curious study has been conducted in Japan. Here researchers cultivated broccoli-sprouts in a selenium-rich environment, so the sprouts got an extra high content of selenium. In a laboratory study the sprouts was investigated for their impact on prostate cancer tissue. The enriched sprouts inhibited cancer growth clearly better than normal sprouts. Now the Japanese suggests, that men eat that kind of sprouts to prevent cancer of the prostate.

Finally other Japanese mention, that it is well known that selenium can kill cancer cells from humans, but but precisely how this happens is still unclear. They have reached the conclusion that at least part of the effect is due to selenium starts off a cancer cell death process using the same mechanism (apoptosis) as when normal cells must be replaced and die. Such a mechanism is of course necessary, since almost all normal cells divide continuously. There would soon be twice as many, and we would grow indefinitely, if not worn-out cells were put out.

As you can see, the research is really alive. Much of our understanding of selenium is achieved in very recent years. More will undoubtly follow.

By: Niels Hertz, M.D.

1. Qiao YL et al. Total and cancer mortality after supplementation with vitamins and minerals: follow-up of the Linxian General Population Nutrition Intervention Trial. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2009 Apr 1;101(7):507-18. Epub 2009 Mar 24.
2. Lippman SM 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 Jan 7;301(1):39-51. Epub 2008 Dec 9.
3. Rayman MP. Selenoproteins and human health: insights from epidemiological data.
Biochim Biophys Acta. 2009 Nov;1790(11):1533-40. Epub 2009 Mar 25.
4. Schrauzer GN Selenium and selenium-antagonistic elements in nutritional cancer prevention.
Crit Rev Biotechnol. 2009;29(1):10-7.
5. Taylor D. Recent developments in selenium research. Br J Biomed Sci. 2009;66(2):107-16; quiz 129.
6. Ma H. Bi Efficacy of dietary antioxidants combined with a chemotherapeutic agent on human colon cancer progression in a fluorescent orthotopic mouse model. Anticancer Res. 2009 Jul;29(7):2421-6.
7. Selenius M. Selenium and selenoproteins in the treatment and diagnostics of cancer.
Antioxid Redox Signal. 2009 Sep 21. [Epub ahead of print]
8. Vinceti M. Risk of chronic low-dose selenium overexposure in humans: insights from epidemiology and biochemistry Rev Environ Health. 2009 Jul-Sep;24(3):231-48.
9. Steevens J. Selenium status and the risk of esophageal and gastric cancer subtypes: the Netherlands cohort study. Gastroenterology.. [Epub ahead of print]
10. Abdulah R. Selenium enrichment of broccoli sprout extract increases chemosensitivity and apoptosis of LNCaP prostate cancer cells. BMC Cancer. 2009 Nov 30;9:414.

Vitamin C slows cancer growth

August 13. 2008

More than 30 years of experience have shown the anti-cancer effect of vitamin C in both test tubes, animal tests and human trials.

Nevertheless, the Danish Cancer Society (Kræftens Bekæmpelse) does not consider it acceptable to apply yet.

Well-known effect on humans
As early as 1936, a young registrar at the Blegdam Hospital in Copenhagen published in the danish scientific journal “Ugeskrift for Læger” an experiment on two leukemia patients in which the disease improved on treatment with vitamin C (1). The young registrar was later to become the renowned professor of pediatrics, Preben Plum.

Forty years ago, researchers first found that vitamin C selectively kills cancer cells in tumors (2), and already 7 years later, Nobel laureate Linus Pauling and Scottish surgeon Ewan Cameron were able to publish a study in which they found an unprecedented survival time for cancer patients treated with vitamin C (3), and they could reproduce the results a few years later (4).

The Mayo Clinic in the USA quickly put a lid on the debate with a study on cancer patients with very small doses of vitamin C given as tablets, where, as you know, you can not consume very much until you get diarrhea; – the body’s natural “overflow valve”.

In 1982, Japanese researchers were able to reproduce Pauling and Cameron’s unusually long survival for cancer patients on Vitamin C (5).

Since then, numerous both animal and human trials have been published to treat cancer with vitamin C.

The new breakthrough
A few years ago, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the United States began to look at the old experiments extra carefully and found it relevant to retest them, and in 2006 they published a large-scale laboratory experiment that showed that when exposing cancer cells to vitamin C in the high doses that can be obtained by intravenous administration, it causes increased cell death in the cancer cells, that is without damaging the normal cells (6).

This prompted the NIH to move on, and last week we heard about their latest publication (7), where they had shown significant tumor size shrinkage in mice with implanted cancerous tumors treated with intravenous vitamin C.

The new skepticism
Now one would think that this news was received with enthusiasm and optimism in an organization like the Danish Cancer Society, whose main goal is probably best described in the name of the association; -but no.

We see in today’s newspaper BT that Anja Olsen from the Danish Cancer Society, who actually researches in diet and lifestyle’s significance for cancer, is absolutely not thrilled.

She tells BT: “It is ethically on the edge to treat with vitamin C. New treatments must be approved according to completely fixed rules, which means, among other things, that research must be carried out based on humans. “Until this is done, we do not know if it works, just as we can not rule out side effects,” she says.

Of course, it is easy for a researcher in the Danish Cancer Society to demand more research. That is what the Danish Cancer Society does. And how easy it is to spend more time on research when you have no illness yourself. But here “the film breaks off”.

The Danish Cancer Society (DCS) must wake up
For researchers far from patients and for administrators behind closed doors, of course, it is difficult to imagine; but as any general practitioner knows, the time factor for a cancer patient is of completely different dimensions than for the healthy.

The patient who has terminal supplements because “further treatment is hopeless” does not have a time frame of several years before it turns out whether a treatment works or not. He can not say “let’s wait and see”, because then he will never see.

He is looking for a way to prolong life and gain a little extra time. Shouldn’t he have that opportunity? And is it not better that he chooses a treatment which rests on evidence than anything else?

In addition, we have a treatment that has been free of side effects for 10-15 years of use, and a treatment that has numerous both animal experiments and human experiments as evidence.

Wake up DCS and stop moralizing. It can not be justified.

Denmark has a top position in cancer incidence and a bottom position in cancer treatment.

More clinics
A side-effect-free cancer treatment that selectively hits cancer cells without damaging normal cells at the same time is the ideal cancer treatment.

Once it seeps into the public health service and the Danish Cancer Society how good a palliative and life-prolonging treatment Vitamin C can be, then we must hope that large outpatient clinics will be established so that this treatment in the future can be offered for free to cancer patients in Denmark.

The Vitality Council.

1. Plum P. Thomsen S. (1936) Remission under forløbet af akut aleukæmisk leukæmi iagttaget i to tilfælde under behandling med ascorbinsyre. Ugeskr. Læger (98):1062-67.
2. Benade L. Howard T. Burk D. (1969) Synergistic killing of Ehrlich ascites carcinoma cells by ascorbate and 3-amino-1, 2, 4, -triazole, Oncology, 23, 33–43.
3. Cameron E. Pauling L. (1976) Supplemental ascorbate in the supportive treatment of cancer: Prolongation of survival times in terminal human cancer. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA, 73, 3685–3689 .
4. Cameron E. Pauling L. (1978) Supplemental ascorbate in the supportive treatment of cancer: Reevaluation of prolongation of survival times in terminal human cancer, Proc Natl Acad Sci USA, 75, 4538–4542 .
5. Murata A. Morishige F. Yamaguchi H. (1982) Prolongation of survival times of terminal cancer patients by administration of large doses of ascorbate, International Journal for Vitamin and Nutrition Research, Supplement, 23, 101-113.
6. Chen et al. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 20.Sep.2005;102:13604-9
7. NIH News (2008) Vitamin C Injections Slow Tumor Growth in Mice, Embargoed for Release, Monday, August 4,