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Effects of heart failure exacerbated by selenium deficiency in the body

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11 December 2019

​Shortage of the micronutrient selenium in the body makes the effects of heart failure more severe, as the body’s defence response is less strong. Selenium deficiency in patients with heart failure consequently causes reduced exercise tolerance, poorer quality of life and a 50% higher mortality rate, as research by postdoc researcher Nils Bömer of the UMCG has found. His article is to be published today in the European Journal of Heart Failure.

Approximately a quarter of patients with heart failure were found to have a selenium shortage in the body as shown by data from a large European cohort of 2,500 heart failure patients from eleven countries. Bömer’s study examined whether there is a link between this deficiency and the causes and effects of heart failure. He also cultured human myocardial cells and tested how they responded to a lack of selenium in the lab.

His study shows that selenium deficiency does not directly increase the risk of heart attacks, but it does make the effects of an attack more severe, for example. When a patient has an infarction, various antioxidants normally kick in, producing a defence reaction in the body. The selenium deficiency makes that reaction far less strong, and the myocardial cells are not able to produce so sufficient energy. As a result of the infarction, patients’ tolerance of exertion is substantially reduced, and the mortality risk is increased.

Selenium deficiency can be easily remedied with dietary supplements. More clinical research is needed, says Bömer, to investigate the positive effect of selenium supplements on patients with heart failure. ‘This study paves the way for an initial clinical study to find evidence for the use of cheap selenium tablets as a treatment for heart patients.’

Selenium is a micronutrient like iron or iodine. It is a vital building block of proteins known as ‘selenoproteins’, which play an important role not only as antioxidants but also, for example, in the regulation of thyroid hormone, inflammation and cancer. Selenium is contained in many foods, both animal (fish and meat) and vegetable products. It cannot be produced by the body. Selenium deficiency is not normally found in the Netherlands. It can be detected using a blood test. It is virtually impossible to ingest too much selenium through the diet.​