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Female Fertility Linked to Selenium in Diet

University of Adelaide research has revealed the critical role that selenium plays at the earliest stages of a woman’s fertility.

PhD student Melanie Ceko investigated the role and location of selenium in the ovary, and a specific protein that includes selenium. “Selenium is an essential trace element found in protein-rich foods like red meat, seafood and nuts,” she said. “It is important for many biological functions, such as immune response, thyroid hormone production, and acts as an antioxidant.

“We’ve known for some time that selenium is important to men’s fertility, but until now no one has researched how this element could be involved in healthy reproduction in women.”

A research team led by A/Prof Hugh Harris and Prof Ray Rodgers used the Australian Synchrotron to pinpoint exactly where selenium is located in the ovary. They then turned their attention to the selenoprotein GPX1, and found that selenium and selenoproteins are at elevated levels in large, healthy ovarian follicles. “We found that gene expression of GPX1 was significantly higher – in some cases double – in egg cells that yielded a pregnancy,” Ceko says.

Selenium deficiency is not usually a problem in Western diets, although people who avoid certain food groups or eat food mainly grown on selenium-deficient soils are at risk.

“Infertility is a significant problem in our society, with one in six couples in Australia being infertile,” Ceko says. “Further research is needed to better understand how selenium levels could be optimised, 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.”