Selenium (Se) is normally found in hair at very low levels, and several studies provide evidence that low hair Se is reflective of dietary intake and associated with cardiovascular disorders. Utilization of hair Se levels to assess nutritional status, however, is complicated by the fact that use of Se- or sulfur-containing shampoo markedly increases hair Se (externally) and can give a false high value.
Se is an extremely important essential element due to its antioxidative function as an obligatory component of the enzyme glutathione peroxidase. Se is also protective in its capacity to bind and ”inactivate” mercury, and Se is an essential cofactor in the deiodination of T-4 to active T-3 (thyroid hormone). Some conditions of functional hypothyroidism therefore may be due to Se deficiency (Nature; 349:438-440, 1991); this is of particular concern with mercury exposure. Studies have also indicated significant inverse correlations between Se and heart disease, cancer, and asthma.
Selenium deficiency is common and can result from low dietary intake of Se or vitamin E, and exposure to toxic metals, pesticides/herbicides and chemical solvents.
Symptoms of Se deficiency are similar to that of vitamin E deficiency and include muscle aches, increased inflammatory response, loss of body weight, alopecia, listlessness, skeletal and muscular degeneration, growth stunting, and depressed immune function.
Confirmatory tests for Se deficiency are Se content of packed red blood cells, and activity of glutathione peroxidase in red blood cells.
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