Selenium’s overlooked role in male and female fertility
Selenium has an overlooked role in sperm quality and healthy pregnancies. A team of scientists from Romania has looked closer at blood levels of different selenium-containing antioxidants and found that low levels are significantly correlated with poor sperm quality. The scientists also explain that lack of selenium increases the risk of pregnancy-related complications, miscarriage, and preterm delivery. Both selenium deficiencies and infertility are common problems so selenium supplementation may be worth considering. For decades, Danish farmers have added selenium to animal fodder as a way of improving the fertility and general health of the animals.
The trace element selenium supports around 30 selenium-containing proteins that are important for things like the body’s energy turnover, DNA synthesis, and metabolism. Selenoproteins such as GPX (glutathione peroxidase), TR (thioredoxin-reductase), and selenoproteins H, P, and S play an important role in the maturation and protection of the woman’s eggs, the fetal development, and in ensuring that the baby is delivered on time. Selenoproteins have structural importance during the pregnancy and are involved in the development of the baby’s brain. GPX antioxidant also protect the placenta and the fetus against oxidative stress, which is an imbalance between destructive free radicals and protective antioxidants. Humans form free radicals as a normal byproduct of the body’s energy turnover, but the free radical burden is greatly increased as a result of factors such as stress, infections, smoking, and poisoning.
It is already known that lack of selenium increases the risk of infertility and an array of complications such as chronic inflammation in the uterus or breasts, ovarian cysts, damage to the heart and muscles of the fetus, spontaneous miscarriage, increased risk of infections in the mother or her baby, and stillbirth.
As goes for the man’s fertility, the selenoproteins are important for the flagella and their whip-like motion that propels the sperm cell forward. If a man lacks selenium, not only does it affect sperm cell motility but also sperm quality. Sperm cells are extremely vulnerable to oxidative stress because, unlike other cell types, sperm cells are unable to repair the damage that happens to their own DNA. What may occur is a phenomenon called DNA fragmentation. Even though a sperm cell is perfectly able to reach the egg and fertilize it, the egg fails to develop normally and is rejected soon after. Selenium is important for the production of normal sperm cells that can increase the chances of successful conception and normal development of the egg in the uterus.
|All cells contain selenium. In fact, the highest selenium concentrations in the body are found in sex glands and sperm|
The new study suggests using selenium supplements for poor fertility
Numerous studies in the past have underlined selenium’s role in fertility. For that reason, the Romanian scientists hypothesized that low selenium status, especially with respect to the activity of GPX, could impair fertility in both genders. They therefore took a closer look at the selenium concentrations in 1,264 seemingly healthy people aged 16-89 years from Western Romania. The study showed that low selenium status was primarily seen among young people, where up towards 50 percent did not have adequate GPX activity. These results support the observed decreasing fertility rate in Romania over the past years. The scientists therefore suggest focusing on making sure that the young generations get enough selenium. A blood sample can help determine a person’s selenium status and make it possible to compensate for any shortcomings that may contribute to fertility problems.
Selenium sources and supplements
There is selenium in fish, shellfish, organ meat (offal), eggs, dairy products and Brazil nuts. The agricultural soil in Europe is low in selenium. This is reflected throughout the entire food chain and it contributes to the widespread deficiency problem. The official recommendation for selenium intake – the so-called reference intake – is between 50-70 micrograms per day. Studies have shown that this amount is too low to enable proper saturation of a specific selenoprotein called selenoprotein P, which is used as a marker of the body’s selenium status. In order to properly saturate this selenoprotein one needs to get around 100 micrograms of selenium per day. The best selenium source for supplementation is organic selenium yeast with many different selenium species, which provides a variety of natural selenium types just like you get when you eat a balanced diet with different selenium-containing foods.
Note: Livestock and pets have been fed extra selenium for decades
Selenium is also of vital importance to the fertility and general health of animals. In fact, selenium is normally added to cat and dog food. Pig and livestock farmers have been feeding their animals extra selenium for decades, simply because they realize that a selenium deficiency can cause fertility problems and increase the risk of stillborn or weak calves. This is all down to common sense and bottom-line thinking.
Teofana Otilia Bizerea-Moga et al. Evaluation of Serum Selenium Status by Age and Gender: A Retrospective Observational Cohort Study in Western Romania. Nutrients 2021.
Pol Solé-Navais et al. Maternal Dietary Selenium Intake during Pregnancy is Associated with Higher Birth Weight and Lower Risk of Small for Gestational Age Births in the Norwegian Mother, Father and Child Cohort study. Nutrients. December 2020
Hilten T Mistry et al. Selenium in reproductive health. Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. 2011
Fatemeh Tara et al. Selenium supplementation and premature (pre-labor) rupture of membranes: a randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trial. Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. 2010
Jones GD et al. Selenium deficiency risk predicted to increase under future climate change. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 2017
Editorial Team. Selenium deficiency promoted by climate change. ETHzüric 2017
Danmarks Jordbrugsforskning. Selen anvendelse i dansk landbrug. 2006
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