Serum Selenium and Diabetes in U.S. Adults

  1. Joachim Bleys, MD, MPH1,
  2. Ana Navas-Acien, MD, PHD2 and
  3. Eliseo Guallar, MD, DRPH1
  1. 1Departments of Epidemiology and Medicine, the Welch Center for Prevention, Epidemiology, and Clinical Research, Baltimore, Maryland
  2. 2Department of Environmental Health Sciences, Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, Maryland
  1. Address correspondence and reprint requests to Joachim Bleys, MD, MPH, Welch Center for Prevention, Epidemiology, and Clinical Research, 2024 E. Monument St., Room 2-636, Baltimore, MD 21205. E-mail: jbleys{at}


OBJECTIVE—The purpose of this study was to examine the relationship between serum selenium levels and the prevalence of diabetes among U.S. adults.

RESEARCH DESIGN AND METHODS—We conducted a cross-sectional analysis of 8,876 adults ≥20 years of age who participated in the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Diabetes was defined as the presence of a fasting plasma glucose ≥126 mg/dl, a self-report of a physician diagnosis of diabetes, or current use of insulin or oral hypoglycemic medication. Serum selenium was measured by atomic absorption spectrometry.

RESULTS—Mean serum selenium levels in participants with and without diabetes were 126.5 and 125.7 ng/ml, respectively. Age-, sex-, race-, and BMI-adjusted mean selenium levels were 126.8 ng/ml in participants with diabetes and 124.7 ng/ml in participants without diabetes (adjusted difference 2.1 ng/ml [95% CI 0.4–3.8]; P = 0.02). The multivariable adjusted odds ratio for diabetes comparing the highest to the lowest quintile of serum selenium was 1.57 [1.16–2.13]. However, the association between high serum selenium and the prevalence of diabetes was nonlinear, with no clear trend in quintiles 2–4.

CONCLUSIONS—In a probability sample of the U.S. population, high serum selenium levels were positively associated with the prevalence of diabetes. Until findings from prospective studies and randomized controlled trials are available, selenium intake, including selenium supplementation, should not be recommended for primary or secondary diabetes prevention in populations with adequate selenium status such as the U.S. population.


  • A table elsewhere in this issue shows conventional and Système International (SI) units and conversion factors for many substances.

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    • Accepted December 29, 2006.
    • Received August 14, 2006.
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