Tuesday, February 16, 1999 Published at 15:38 GMT
Scientists discuss tests on natural cure
High levels of selenium are found in grain, fish, meat and Brazil nuts
Cancer experts are considering a major trial of a trace element which has been hailed as a cure for everything from infertility to cancer.
The Cancer Research Campaign (CRC) is discussing this week whether to begin tests on selenium, a trace element found in plants.
Professor Gordon McVie of the CRC says the study would be part of an international trial to see if claims made by a US study that selenium can drastically reduce cancer, particularly prostate cancer, can be substantiated.
The announcement comes after a BBC Watchdog Healthcheck programme reported that research shows a lack of selenium may be linked to cancers, male infertility, viruses and flu.
A recent US study has shown that people taking 200 micrograms of selenium a day halve their risk of getting cancer.
The researchers said people taking the extra dosage had 63% fewer prostate cancers, 58% fewer colorectal cancers and 46% fewer lung cancers.
The Selenium Information Bureau says British people are missing out on the vital trace element because of a switch from using selenium-rich American wheat in bread to a selenium-poor European variety.
The Bureau also blames a move away from eating foods such as kidney and liver which have high levels of the element.
A recent poll shows that most people in the UK do not know what selenium is.
Selenium is a micronutrient that has an antioxidant effect when combined with vitamin E.
It was discovered in 1817 and takes its name from the Greek for moon because of its pale colour.
High levels can be found in meat, fish, grain and Brazil nuts.
However, selenium levels in grain depends on the soil where it is grown.
Antioxidants have been shown to protect against a wide spectrum of diseases.
They include flavonols which are found in thick-skinned fruit and vegetable and have been credited with protecting against everything from Alzheimer's to heart disease.
Antioxidants mop up free radicals. These are by-products of the body's chemistry and destroy cells and their DNA.