The need for the trace element selenium is increased in pregnant and breastfeeding women because it supports a host of different proteins that are particularly important for tissue growth. Also, selenium supports different antioxidants that protect the unborn baby’s organs and tissues. A new review article published in Nutrients shows that lack of selenium during pregnancy may result in oxidative stress, stunted growth, and low birth weight. This may eventually have consequences for the baby’s development, cognitive skills, and health in general. The authors also mention that an expecting mother’s alcohol abuse may have a more negative health impact if she is selenium-deficient. It is a problem that selenium deficiency is such a widespread problem in Europe and other parts of the world.
Pregnant and breastfeeding women’s nutrient intake can affect the baby’s development and health throughout life. One of the most essential nutrients is selenium, a trace element that supports more than 25 different selenium-dependent proteins that are involved in energy turnover, protein synthesis, hormone balance, metabolism, and numerous other functions. The selenium-containing proteins have particular structural importance during pregnancy, especially with relation to the development of the baby’s brain and other organs and tissues.
Selenium-containing antioxidants such as GPXs also protect the placenta and the fetus against damaging oxidative stress, which is an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants. We all produce free radicals as a byproduct of our energy turnover but the free radical burden is increased during pregnancy and by factors such as smoking and alcohol abuse.
The unborn child is especially sensitive towards oxidative stress and it is therefore crucial for the mother to get enough antioxidants such as selenium.
Moreover, the selenium concentration in the uterus goes up at the end of the pregnancy where there is an increased need for the nutrient. That is why babies delivered on time normally have greater selenium reserves than babies born preterm. Nonetheless, the selenium reserves are relatively low and the newborn baby needs more selenium than what it is able to get from breast milk.
Selenium deficiency and oxidative stress damages fetal development
Animal studies reveal that lack of selenium plus oxidative stress during pregnancy may cause serious disruptions of the fetal development which can result in stunted growth, abnormal tissue development and abnormal metabolic imbalances. It has been shown in earlier research that lack of selenium increases the risk of infertility, ovarian cysts, and chronic inflammation of the uterus or breasts. Selenium deficiency during pregnancy may result in damage to the heart and muscles of the fetus, spontaneous miscarriage, stillbirth, and an increased risk of infections in the mother and newborn baby.
Selenium and alcohol abuse
The article also mentions that alcohol abuse may lead to serious liver damage and metabolic imbalances such as fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) that causes unusual facial features, stunted growth, and brain damage in the fetus. Only few studies have studied how alcohol intake affects selenium levels in the expecting mother and her unborn baby. However, studies have observed reduced levels of the selenium-containing GPX antioxidants in the tissue from babies born with fetal alcohol syndrome.
The researchers suggest that selenium supplementation during pregnancy, at least to some extent, may protect the offspring against the oxidative damage caused by alcohol (ethanol). Needless to say, it is best if the pregnant or breastfeeding women avoids alcohol altogether, as it is a solvent that affects all organs and developmental processes. Of course, the more alcohol the mother consumes during pregnancy, the greater the damage.
The new review article is published in Nutrients.
Selenium sources, widespread deficiencies, and assimilable supplements
Selenium is mainly found in fish, shellfish, organ meat, eggs, dairy products, Brazil nuts, and green vegetables. The European agricultural soil, including Danish soil, is generally very low in selenium and this affects the crops and the entire food chain. For decades, farmers have fed extra selenium to livestock as compensation and it even benefits the fertility of the animals
The daily reference intake (RI) for selenium is 50-70 micrograms per day. According to the new article in Nutrients, pregnant women need at least 65 micrograms per day, while breastfeeding women need 75 micrograms. Other studies suggest that humans need at least 100 micrograms of selenium per day in order to properly saturate selenoprotein P, a selenoprotein that is used as a marker or gauge for the body’s selenium status.
Selenium yeast with many different types of organic selenium provides the same variety that you get by eating a diet with many different selenium sources.
Selenium yeast supplements contribute to a healthy pregnancy
Multiple studies of humans and animals show that selenium is of vital importance to fertility, fetal development, and full-term delivery. A study that is published in Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology has shown that if you give 100 micrograms of selenium daily as a supplement to pregnant women from the first trimester until delivery, it lowers their risk of preeclampsia, ruptured fetal membrane, and preterm delivery.
Maria Luisa Ojeda et al. Fetal Programming Is Deeply Related to Maternal Selenium Status and Oxidative Balance; Experimental Offspring Health Repercussions. Nutrients 2021
Pol Solé-Navais et al. Maternal Dietary Selenium Intake during Pregnancy is Associated with Higher Birth Weight and Lower Risk of Small for Gestational Age Births in the Norwegian Mother, Father and Child Cohort study. Nutrients. December 2020
Hilten T Mistry et al. Selenium in reproductive health. Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. 2011
Fatemeh Tara et al. Selenium supplementation and premature (pre-labor) rupture of membranes: a randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trial. Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. 2010
Jones GD et al. Selenium deficiency risk predicted to increase under future climate change. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 2017
Danmarks Jordbrugsforskning. Selen anvendelse i dansk landbrug. 2006