Selenium and breast-feeding

Br J Nutr. 2002 Nov;88(5):443-61. doi: 10.1079/BJN2002692.


The objective of the present review is to discuss Se nutrition during breast-feeding, encompassing environmental and maternal constitutional factors affecting breast-milk-Se metabolism and secretion. A literature search of Medline and Webofscience was used to retrieve and select papers dealing with Se and breast milk. Although Se in natural foods occurs only in organic form, breast milk responds to organic and inorganic Se in supplements. Inorganic Se (selenite, selenate), which is largely used in maternal supplements, is not detectable in breast milk. The mammary-gland regulating mechanism controls the synthesis and secretion of seleno-compounds throughout lactation, with a high total Se level in colostrum that decreases as lactation progresses. Se appears in breast milk as a component of specific seleno-proteins and seleno-amino-acids in milk proteins that are well tolerated by breast-fed infants even in high amounts. Se in breast milk occurs as glutathione peroxidase (4-32 % total Se) > selenocystamine > selenocystine > selenomethionine. The wide range of breast-milk Se concentrations depends on Se consumed in natural foods, which reflects the Se content of the soils where they are grown. Se prophylaxis, either through soil Se fertilization or maternal supplements, is effective in raising breast-milk Se concentration. In spite of wide variation, the median Se concentration from studies worldwide are 26, 18, 15, and 17 microg/l in colostrum (0-5 d), transitional milk (6-21 d), mature milk (1-3 months) and late lactation (>5 months) respectively. Se recommendations for infants are presently not achieved in 30 % of the reported breast-milk Se concentrations; nevertheless Se status is greater in breast-fed than in formula-fed infants.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Biological Availability
  • Breast Feeding*
  • Female
  • Global Health*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn / metabolism
  • Maternal Nutritional Physiological Phenomena
  • Milk, Human / chemistry*
  • Nutrition Policy
  • Nutritional Status
  • Selenium / analysis*
  • Selenium / metabolism
  • Selenium / therapeutic use


  • Selenium