Selenium, zinc, and thyroid hormones in healthy subjects: low T3/T4 ratio in the elderly is related to impaired selenium status

Biol Trace Elem Res. 1996 Jan;51(1):31-41. doi: 10.1007/BF02790145.


Iodothyronine 5' deiodinase, which is mainly responsible for peripheral T3 production, has recently been demonstrated to be a selenium (Se)-containing enzyme. The structure of nuclear thyroid hormone receptors contains Zinc (Zn) ions, crucial for the functional properties of the protein. In the elderly, reduced peripheral conversion of T4 to T3 with a lower T3/T4 ratio and overt hypothyroidism are frequently observed. We measured serum Se and RBC GSH-Px (as indices of Se status), circulating and RBC Zinc (as indices of Zn status), thyroid hormones and TSH in 109 healthy euthyroid subjects (52 women, 57 men), carefully selected to avoid abnormally low thyroid hormone levels induced by acute or chronic diseases or calorie restriction. The subjects were subdivided into three age groups. To avoid under- or malnutrition conditions, dietary records were obtained for a sample of 24 subjects, randomly selected and representative of the whole population for age and sex. Low T3/T4 ratios and reduced Se and RBC GSH-Px activity were observed only in the older group. A highly significant linear correlation between the T3/T4 ratio and indices of Se status was observed in the older group of subjects (r = 0.54; p < 0.002, for Se; r = 0.50; p < 0.002, for RBC GSH-Px). Indices of Zn status did not correlate with thyroid hormones, but RBC Zn was decreased in older as compared with younger subjects. We concluded that reduced peripheral T4 conversion is related to impaired Se status in the elderly.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aging / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Selenium / blood*
  • Selenium / deficiency
  • Thyroxine / blood*
  • Triiodothyronine / blood*
  • Zinc / blood*


  • Triiodothyronine
  • Selenium
  • Zinc
  • Thyroxine