Organic Selenium Supplementation: Source-dependent Impacts and Benefits

Ever since its initial discovery in the early 1900s, selenium has presented a nutritional conundrum due to its dual status as a potentially toxic but highly essential trace element. The form in which selenium is presented is the main determinant of its efficacy. Selenium supplements are available in several forms, including inorganic mineral salts such as sodium selenite or selenate; selenium nanoparticles, produced predominantly through chemical reduction of inorganic compounds; organic forms, such as selenium-enriched yeast, in which selenoamino acid analogues such as selenomethionine (SeMet) predominate; or chemically synthesized selenoamino acids and selenoamino acid analogues produced by synthetic routes.

The largest differences are noted between inorganic and organic forms of the element. While inorganic sodium selenite has historically been the most common source of selenium added to feed, studies have found that inorganic selenium has a high toxicity, and its absorption and conversion rates are low. Organic selenium has been found to be a more effective source, resulting in an increased number of live young per animal, the stimulation of immune function, overall improvements in animal health, and an enhanced shelf life for meat, milk and eggs.

While these observations can be attributed to general enhancements in cellular antioxidant status and the amelioration of the effects of oxidative stress, the exact mechanisms by which the effects are mediated remain unclear; however, peer-reviewed research has clearly shown that dietary intervention with organic selenium is a key element for significantly enhancing production and supporting better animal nutrition, health and well-being across multiple species.

The distribution and accumulation of selenium in animal tissues depends greatly on the type of selenium supplement offered. The form in which the selenium is presented will play a crucial role in its bioavailability and efficacy. Organic forms of selenium are the optimal nutritional source.

Selenium absorption occurs within the small intestine. Inorganic selenium forms, such as selenite, are absorbed inefficiently, mainly by passive diffusion. The organic SeMet is absorbed using efficient methionine transport mechanisms and transformed into common seleno-intermediates for further utilization and/or excretion. Following absorption, SeMet can be incorporated non-specifically into general body proteins in place of methionine and can even act as a biological pool for selenium, to be utilised during periods of suboptimal selenium intake.

Organic Selenium Yeast Efficacy: Strain-dependent Effects

It is well-accepted that even closely related yeast strains have their own unique biochemical and genetic characteristics. Numerous peer-reviewed research papers have been published on this topic. One such study examined three commercial preparations of selenium-enriched yeast and assessed the composition of each product in terms of how much selenium was deposited within individual yeast fractions (Figure 1).

Although there is a very common perception that all selenium yeast preparations provide the same benefits in the same ways, it is clear that the location and storage of selenium within yeast is totally different between strains. Considering these differences, it is reasonable to expect that these products will also differ in parameters such as shelf life, bioavailability, and indeed, toxicology.