No evidence of selenosis from a selenium-rich diet in the Brazilian Amazon

Environ Int. 2012 Apr;40:128-136. doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2011.07.005. Epub 2011 Aug 19.


Selenium (Se) is an essential element and a well-known anti-oxidant. In the Lower Tapajós River region of the Brazilian Amazon, biomarkers of Se range from normal to very high. The local traditional diet includes important Se sources such as Brazil nuts, chicken, game meat and certain fish species. Some studies have reported alterations in keratin structure, gastrointestinal problems and paresthesia in populations with high Se intake. The objective of the present study was to evaluate cutaneous and garlic odor of the breath signs and sentinel symptoms of Se toxicity (selenosis) in relation to Se status in communities along the Tapajós River. Participants (N=448), aged 15-87 years, were recruited from 12 communities. Se concentrations were measured in blood (B-Se) and plasma (P-Se) by ICP-MS. A nurse performed an examination of the hair, nails, skin and breath for signs of Se toxicity. Interview-administered questionnaires were used to collect information on socio-demographics, medical history and possible symptoms of Se toxicity. In this population, the median levels of B-Se and P-Se were 228.4 μg/L (range 103.3-1500.2 μg/L) and 134.8 μg/L (range 53.6-913.2 μg/L) respectively. Although B-Se and P-Se surpassed concentrations considered toxic (B-Se: 1000 μg/L (U.S. EPA, 2002)), no dermal or breath signs or symptoms of Se toxicity were associated with the biomarkers of Se status. In the present study population, where Se intake is mostly from traditional diet, there is no evidence of selenosis. These findings support the need to re-assess Se toxicity considering factors such as the chemical form of Se exposure, route of exposure (inhaled versus ingested), co-exposures to toxic elements such as mercury. Considering the current food transition towards a western diet in the Amazon, further studies should address the possible association between high Se status and cardiometabolic health in this study population.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Bertholletia
  • Biomarkers / analysis
  • Biomarkers / metabolism
  • Brazil
  • Breath Tests
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Diet / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Hair / chemistry
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Micronutrients / metabolism
  • Micronutrients / poisoning*
  • Middle Aged
  • Nails / chemistry
  • Selenium / analysis
  • Selenium / metabolism
  • Selenium / poisoning*
  • Skin / metabolism


  • Biomarkers
  • Micronutrients
  • Selenium