The essential trace element selenium has recently attracted attention because of its potentialities in the maintenance of human health. Selenium forms part of the active site of the peroxide-destroying enzyme glutathione peroxidase, and it also has other functions, for example in biotransformation, detoxification and the immune response. Functional and clinical consequences of selenium deficiency states have been described, and the selenium requirement, which is influenced by the usual selenium exposure, has been discussed. Wide variations have been found in selenium status in different parts of the world, and populations or groups of patients exposed to marginal deficiency are more numerous than was previously thought. Current research activities in the field of human medicine and nutrition are devoted to the possibilities of using selenium for the prevention or treatment of degenerative or free radical diseases such as neurological disorders, inflammatory diseases or cancer. Pharmacological selenium doses are also recommended as an adjuvant in some treatments.