New Study Identifies Link between Dietary Selenium and COVID-19 Cure Rate

by johnsmith

In a new study, a team of researchers from the UK, the United States and China investigated possible links between selenium levels in the body and cure rates of patients with the COVID-19 disease.

Zhang et al show an association between the reported cure rates for COVID-19 and selenium status. Image credit: Gerd Altmann.

Zhang et al show an association between the reported cure rates for COVID-19 and selenium status. Image credit: Gerd Altmann.

Selenium is an essential trace element obtained from the diet (i.e. fish, meat and cereals) which has been found to affect the severity of a number of viral diseases in animals and humans.

For example selenium status in those with the HIV virus has been shown to be an important factor in the progression of the virus to AIDS and death from the condition.

China is known to have populations that have both the lowest and highest selenium status in the world, due to geographical differences in the soil which affects how much of the trace element gets into the food chain.

“Given the history of viral infections associated with selenium deficiency, we wondered whether the appearance of COVID-19 in China could possibly be linked to the belt of selenium deficiency that runs from the north-east to the south-west of the country,” said senior author Professor Margaret Rayman, a researcher in the Department of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Surrey.

Examining data from provinces and municipalities with more than 200 cases and cities with more than 40 cases, the scientists found that areas with high levels of selenium were more likely to recover from the virus.

For example, in the city of Enshi in Hubei Province, which has the highest selenium intake in China, the cure rate — percentage of COVID-19 patients declared cured — was almost three-times higher than the average for all the other cities in the province.

By contrast, in Heilongjiang Province, where selenium intake is among the lowest in the world, the death rate from COVID-19 was almost five-times as high as the average of all the other provinces outside of Hubei.

Most convincingly, the study authors found that the COVID-19 cure rate was significantly associated with selenium status, as measured by the amount of selenium in hair, in 17 cities outside of Hubei.

“There is a significant link between selenium status and COVID-19 cure rate, however it is important not to overstate this finding,” said co-author Dr. Kate Bennett, a medical statistician in the Department of Clinical and Experimental Medicine at the University of Surrey.

“We have not been able to work with individual level data and have not been able to take account of other possible factors such as age and underlying disease.”

“The correlation we have identified is compelling, particularly given previous research on selenium and infectious diseases,” said co-author Ramy Saad, a doctor at Royal Sussex County Hospital.

“As such, a careful and thorough assessment of the role selenium may play in COVID-19 is certainly justified and may help to guide ongoing public-health decisions.”

The findings were published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.


Jinsong Zhang et al. Association between regional selenium status and reported outcome of COVID-19 cases in China. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, published online April 28, 2020; doi: 10.1093/ajcn/nqaa095

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