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Logo of cjvetresCVMACanadian Journal of Veterinary ResearchSee also Canadian Journal of Comparative MedicineJournal Web siteHow to Submit
Can J Vet Res. 1986 July; 50(3): 297–306.
PMCID: PMC1255217

The two faces of selenium-deficiency and toxicity--are similar in animals and man.


The purpose of this review article is to demonstrate the close parallelism of daily requirements, biological activity and minimum and maximum tolerable levels of selenium for animals and man. In addition, the carcinogenic/anticarcinogenic properties of selenium are discussed and a postulate of how these dichotomous effects may occur in accordance with selenium-induced immunomodulation is presented. A review of pertinent literature pertaining to the biological action of selenium in animals and man, including deficiency, toxicity, carcinogenicity and effects on immunity, is included to support these concepts. The predominant biochemical action of selenium in both animals and man is to serve as an antioxidant via the selenium-dependent enzyme, glutathione peroxidase, and thus protect cellular membranes and organelles from peroxidative damage. The signs and symptoms of selenium deficiency closely simulate each other for animals and man. Severe deficiency is characterized by cardiomyopathy while moderate deficiency results in less severe, myodegenerative syndromes such as muscular weakness and pain as well as a variety of other selenium-associated diseases. Clinical manifestations of many of these disorders require contributory factors, such as stress, to precipitate symptoms which are documented for animals and implicated for humans. Current evidence suggests that a daily selenium consumption for man of approximately 30 micrograms is necessary to prevent the selenium-deficient syndrome, Keshan disease, while approximately 90 micrograms/day/adult should be the minimum daily requirement for optimum biological performance. Recognizing that humans in several countries do not meet the proposed minimum daily requirement of 90 micrograms, several compelling reasons are presented in deriving this minimal daily nutritional intake. Selenosis can occur in laboratory animals, livestock, and humans following long-term exposure to selenium concentrations as low as 5 mg selenium/kg of diet (5 ppm). The selenium-induced lesions for all species are similar, which once again illustrates a positive corollary for selenium effects in both animals and man. From compilation of available data, the maximum tolerable level for selenium in man could be considered in the range of 1000 to 1500 micrograms/day. This is in contrast to the currently recommended maximum human tolerable level of 500 micrograms/day. The amount of selenium that can be tolerated, however, is dependent upon individual biological variation, nutritional status and general state of health.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

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