Increasing levels of selenium in the diet could protect the skin against damage caused by ultraviolet rays from the sun, suggests new research from Edinburgh University in Scotland.
In two trials, the researchers found that human skin cells containing the mineral are less likely to suffer the oxidative stress that can lead to unrestrained growth and cancer.
Selenium is an antioxidant, but many nutritionists believe that the average British diet contains less than the ideal amount of this essential trace element, found in brazil nuts, bread, fish, meat and eggs.
A study published in the Journal of Food Sciences and Agriculture last year confirmed that levels of selenium in British bread-making wheats are up to 50 times lower than their American and Canadian counterparts and levels of selenium in the blood of the British population has been dropping since the 1970s. This is when grain began to be sourced from EU countries where soil is depleted of selenium.
Dermatologist Roddie McKenzie, leading the Edinburgh team, has suggested that people should take selenium supplements as a preventative measure.
"The results indicate it could well be prudent to supplement selenium levels year round, along with other sensible precautions in the summer like applying sunscreen creams," said Dr McKenzie. "Low selenium status is associated with up to a four-fold increased risk of developing cancer and low levels impair the immune system which fights cancer cells."
Selenium was one of the minerals reviewed by the recent Expert group on Vitamins and Minerals in the UK. In the US, the Food and Drug Administration recently issued a letter allowing claims that selenium 'may reduce risk of certain cancers', along with disclaimers, such as "Some scientific evidence suggests that consumption of selenium may reduce the risk of certain forms of cancer. However, FDA has determined that this evidence is limited and not conclusive."
The new study findings are published this month in Clinical and Experimental Dermatology and the British Journal of Dermatology.