Aging and Selenium

by Duane Graveline, MD, MPH

Only in the past decade has the medical community been aware of the complex and vital role of selenium and selenoproteins in human health.

Much of this gain in knowledge has come from the increasing awareness of the inhibitory effect of statin drugs on selenoprotein synthesis.

As reductase inhibitors, all statin drugs inevitably block the mevalonate pathway to varying degrees because of the prevailing priority in the medical community to inhibit cholesterol synthesis.

The concurrent inhibition of selenoprotein synthesis is inevitable along with inhibition of CoQ10 and dolichol as well. Many reports of myopathy and even cognitive alterations have been received where altered selenoprotein metabolism associated with statin use has been suspected.

Selenium is of fundamental importance to human health. It is an essential component of several major metabolic pathways, including thyroid hormone metabolism, anti-oxidation and immuno-defense. Ten years have elapsed since recommended dietary intakes of selenium were introduced in the UK and other European Union countries on the basis of blood glutathione peroxidase activity.

Some of you may recall my articles on the combined value of glutathione and CoQ10 in the process of mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation so critical to ATP energy formation.

Since then, 30 new selenoproteins have been identified, of which 15 have been purified sufficiently to allow beginning clarification of their biological function but at the time of this writing we are only scratching the surface as to the many faces of selenium.

We recognize the importance of selenium to human health, but the awareness of selenium's critical role is so new we are unable at this time to deduce the long-term health implications of declining selenium intakes in the elderly, recently noted.

Nor can we respond to the impact of statin drugs on selenium bio-availability as millions of people are urged to take these drugs, many of them these same elderly.

The impact of all this has not been sufficiently examined at this time, yet in every direction researchers turn, new, fertile avenues of exploration appear, leading to fields of ever greater biologic interactions.
Only in the past few years has the full spectrum of selenium's role in health been revealed. Mooseman and Behl's authoritative and current review has done much to illuminate the various roles of selenoproteins in body function.

Much of the stimulus for this recent work has been the awareness that selenoprotein synthesis is one of the major biological pathways inhibited when statins block the mevalonate pathway.

We are only just beginning to understand the full range of selenoprotein involvement but cognitive dysfunction and myopathies are already well known consequences of selenium and selenoprotein lack.

Duane Graveline MD MPH
Former USAF Flight Surgeon
Former NASA Astronaut
Retired Family Doctor

Updated August 2016

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