Maternal diet and selenium concentration in human milk from an Italian population

J Epidemiol. 2011;21(4):285-92. doi: 10.2188/jea.je20100183. Epub 2011 May 28.


Background: Low selenium (Se) status is associated with several diseases. International organizations have proposed intakes of Se for general populations, including infants. Studies of the association of Se concentration in breast milk and maternal diet have yielded inconsistent results. We evaluated the relation between the intake of food items during pregnancy and Se concentration in human milk after delivery and compared infant intake of Se from breast milk with the recommended intakes.

Methods: This cross-sectional study was part of the baseline assessment of a prospective cohort of Italian mother-child pairs enrolled in 1999-2001. Se concentration was measured in the milk of 100 women included in the cohort and correlated with the intake of food items during pregnancy and lactation as reported in a food frequency questionnaire.

Results: Among foods consumed in pregnancy, only eggs had a positive, but weak, correlation with Se concentration in milk (r = 0.20, P = 0.04). Fish intake during lactation was also weakly correlated with Se in milk (r = 0.21, P = 0.04). Se content of breast milk in our population was lower than that noted in other international studies; however, very few children who were exclusively breastfed were estimated not to have met the recommended Se intake.

Conclusions: Future research should aim to verify whether infants in this part of Italy still meet the recommended nutrient intake of Se and to assess the influence of the concurrent diet of lactating mothers on the Se content of their milk.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Antioxidants / analysis
  • Antioxidants / metabolism
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Eggs
  • Feeding Behavior*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Italy
  • Lactation
  • Maternal Welfare*
  • Milk, Human / chemistry*
  • Nutritional Status*
  • Pregnancy
  • Selenium / analysis
  • Selenium / metabolism*
  • Statistics, Nonparametric
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult


  • Antioxidants
  • Selenium