According to data provided by SPINS to NutraIngredients-USA, sales of supplements with selenium as the principle ingredient were $4.7 million for the current 52-week period ending May 2011 from $5.5 million versus the prior period.
The drop in sales has led some to point the finger at the negative impact on consumer interest by the early termination of The Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial (SELECT). The trial, which used Sabinsa’s branded L-(+)-Selenomethionine ingredient, involved over 35,000 men, and no significant differences observed between any of the groups in relation to prostate cancer risk.
Talking to NutraIngredients-USA, Sabinsa’s Shaheen Majeed said SELECT was “ambitious and certain people were quick to place a high emphasis on 'what can we say' - what I say, support the study and complete it”.
Being closely associated with the trial does not appear to have affected the company’s sales. “The marketing of our brand in the major study had its effect and much to my amazement, the sales did not stop or drop after the study discontinued,” said Majeed.
Despite a 14 percent decrease year on year for selenium-containing supplements, Sabinsa has experienced a “very healthy 36 percent growth” from 2009 to 2010, he said.
The company did not change its marketing in the wake of the early termination of the study, said Majeed. “We supported the study from day one till it was dismissed. Our presentations explained the rationale behind the study and how expansive it was, that was usually enough for our customers to understand.
“More so, the evident need for our body to have selenium, most consumers understood. It's the dosage that many didn't understand. Yet, high dose studies were done abroad to claim safety measures and this was instrumental to satisfy US marketing companies,” he added.
Selenium is an essential macronutrient, and is considered to be an antioxidant. High levels of selenium have been inversely associated with risk of developing several cancers, including bladder, prostate and thryroid.
The trace element occurs naturally in the soil and is absorbed by plants and crops, from where it enters the human food chain - either directly or through consumption of meat and other products from grazing animals.
The mineral is included in between 50 and 100 different proteins in the body, with multifarious roles including building heart muscles and healthy sperm. However, cancer prevention remains one of the major benefits of selenium, and it is the only mineral that qualifies for a Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved qualified health claim for general cancer reduction incidence.
The mineral has multiple functions, and Majeed acknowledges that “everyone was looking for claims on cancer”. That is changing and other health areas are coming through
“Let's step back and consider the pre-cursor indications where selenium can have effect, and immunity is one of them,” he said.
“There are several studies, many in animals, that show immunity in line with today' recommended dosages.”