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Can selenium lower cholesterol?


5 Star

Can selenium lower cholesterol?

Our Review Summary

While both stories managed to deliver the correct bottom line about selenium supplements, Reuters did a better job explaining the costs and availability of selenium supplements and reporting the data presented in the study.


Why This Matters

Selenium is a component of multivitamins taken by millions of Americans on a daily basis. Selenium supplements are also taken individually in the hope that they will ward off chronic diseases such as cancer and heart disease. While there isn’t much evidence that supplementation reduces the risk of these diseases in healthy individuals, the results of this new research at least provide some reassurance that selenium won’t raise your total cholesterol, which is associated with increased cardiovascular risk.


Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?


The story says a month’s supply of selenium costs about $2. But many people may be getting selenium in their daily multivitamin, and may not need to buy more.

Does the story adequately quantify the benefits of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

The story states, “In the groups taking 100 and 200 micrograms of selenium daily, total cholesterol dropped an average of 8.5 mg/dL and 9.7 mg/dL, respectively, compared to the group taking a placebo pill.” The story provides some context for these figures when it notes that the average total cholesterol was 230 mg/dL at the start of the study, and that levels less than 200 mg/dL are considered ideal. The story could have placed a bit more emphasis on the fact that these were not clinically significant changes in cholesterol.

Does the story adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?


The story mentions that high levels of selenium have been linked with increased risk of type 2 diabetes. It notes that no serious side effects were reported with selenium use in this particular study, but it should have qualified this by mentioning the relatively short duration of the study (6 months) and the potential for problems with longer-term use. It might also have noted that selenium supplements have the potential to cause a rare syndrome called selenosis when taken at very high doses.

Does the story seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?


The story provided adequate detail on the study design, including information on dosing that wasn’t included in the competing HealthDay report. It also notes that the results from this UK study may not be generalizable to the United States, where selenium intakes are adequate without supplements. Finally, the story emphasizes that selenium supplements are not recommended for cholesterol lowering or any other reason in healthy individuals.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?


There was no disease-mongering in this story.

Does the story use independent sources and identify conflicts of interest?

Not Satisfactory

The only expert source for this story was a co-author on the study being discussed. Although his comments are appropriately cautious, they are not sufficient to satisfy this criterion.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?


The story mentions several foods that are rich in selenium and can help boost dietary intake. It didn’t discuss how the effects of selenium supplements compare with those of statin drugs or other cholesterol-lowering interventions, but it does make it clear that supplements are not necessary and not recommended in the U.S. We’ll rule it satisfactory.

Does the story establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure?


The story discusses food sources of selenium and notes that the mineral is sold as a supplement, so availability is not an issue.The story could have mentioned that selenium is pretty uniformly a component of multivitamin formulations. Individuals adding a selenium-specific supplement to a multivitamin could easily exceed the levels used in this study.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?


The story acknowledges previous research that had linked high selenium with higher cholesterol levels.

Does the story appear to rely solely or largely on a news release?

Not Applicable

We couldn’t find any press release that would have served as the basis for this story. Since the story quotes only one source who was affiliated with the study, however, we can’t be certain to what extent this story may have relied on a press release. We’ll call it not applicable.

Total Score: 8 of 9 Satisfactory


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