Current Environmental Health Reports

, Volume 5, Issue 4, pp 464–485 | Cite as

Environmental Selenium and Human Health: an Update

  • Marco VincetiEmail author
  • Tommaso Filippini
  • Lauren A. Wise
Metals and Health (A Barchowsky, Section Editor)
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Topical Collection on Metals and Health


Purpose of Review

Selenium, a trace element, is ubiquitous in the environment. The main source of human exposure is diet. Despite its nutritional benefits, it is one of the most toxic naturally occurring elements. Selenium deficiency and overexposure have been associated with adverse health effects. Its level of toxicity may depend on its chemical form, as inorganic and organic species have distinct biological properties.

Recent Findings

Nonexperimental and experimental studies have generated insufficient evidence for a role of selenium deficiency in human disease, with the exception of Keshan disease, a cardiomyopathy. Conversely, recent randomized trials have indicated that selenium overexposure is positively associated with type 2 diabetes and high-grade prostate cancer. In addition, a natural experiment has suggested an association between overexposure to inorganic hexavalent selenium and two neurodegenerative diseases, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease.


Risk assessments should be revised to incorporate the results of studies demonstrating toxic effects of selenium. Additional observational studies and secondary analyses of completed randomized trials are needed to address the uncertainties regarding the health risks of selenium exposure.


Selenium Environment Epidemiology Health risk assessment Cancer Diabetes Neurological disease 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

Lauren A. Wise reports grants from National Institutes of Health (NICHD and NIEHS), while the study was conducted. Marco Vinceti and Tommaso Filippini declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Human and Animal Rights and Informed Consent

This article does not contain any studies with human or animal subjects performed by any of the authors.

Supplementary material

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Supplemental Figure S1

Geographic locations of nonexperimental studies on the health effects of environmental selenium in the human. (PNG 1796 kb)

40572_2018_213_MOESM1_ESM.tif (2.2 mb)
High resolution image (TIF 2235 kb)
40572_2018_213_Fig5_ESM.png (1.8 mb)
Supplemental Figure S2

Geographic location of experimental studies on the potential cancer-preventing properties of selenium in humans. (PNG 1874 kb)

40572_2018_213_MOESM2_ESM.tif (2.2 mb)
High resolution image (TIF 2253 kb)


Papers of particular interest, published recently, have been highlighted as: • Of importance

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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Marco Vinceti
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Tommaso Filippini
    • 1
  • Lauren A. Wise
    • 2
  1. 1.CREAGEN Research Center for Environmental, Genetic and Nutritional Epidemiology, Department of Biomedical, Metabolic and Neural SciencesUniversity of Modena and Reggio EmiliaModenaItaly
  2. 2.Department of EpidemiologyBoston University School of Public HealthBostonUSA

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