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Study unravels role of selenium in women's fertility

Posted:  Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Antioxidants are a favourite of people who wish to ward off the harmful effects of stress and the resultant free radicals in the body. A latest study provides the first evidence for the critical role the natural antioxidant selenium plays during the initial stages of a woman's fertility.

The study published in the international journal Metallomics investigated the role and location of selenium in the ovary, and a selenium-containing protein in healthy women. The study findings brought to light the importance of selenium in the development of healthy ovarian follicles, which are responsible for the production of eggs in women. The role of selenium in men's fertility has already been recognised. However, its role in healthy reproduction in women has not been evaluated yet.

The research led by Hugh Harris and Ray Rodgers from the University of Adelaide, Australia identified the exact location of selenium in the ovary. They found that the levels of selenoproteins are elevated in large, healthy ovarian follicles. They also found that gene expression of the selenoprotein GPX1 in egg cells that yielded a pregnancy was significantly higher and almost double in some cases. The researchers suggest that GPX1 plays a critical role during the late stages of follicle development to provide a healthy environment for the egg.

Individuals who avoid certain food groups or consume foods grown in selenium-deficient soils could be at risk of selenium deficiency. Protein-rich foods such as red meat, seafood, and nuts are good sources of selenium. Selenium is involved in several biological functions such as immune response and thyroid hormone production. As an antioxidant, it also protects against free radicals in the body and thus plays a role in detoxification.

"Infertility is a significant problem in our society. Further research is needed to better understand how selenium levels could be optimized, helping to improve women's chances of conceiving. Too much selenium can also be toxic, so it isn't just a case of taking multiple supplements," said Melanie Ceko, who conducted this study as part of her PhD in chemistry.

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