MAY 17, 2016 10:10 AM PDT

Selenium Deficiency During Pregnancy Causes Heart Disease

WRITTEN BY: Kara Marker
Selenium is an essential nutrient for human health found in seafood, meat, grains, and dairy products. Pregnant women should pay special attention to consuming this nutrient, because scientists are finding that selenium deficiencies can lead to the development of peripartum cardiomyopathy (PPCM), a potentially lethal heart disease.

Selenium is important in the body for processes like reproduction, thyroid hormone metabolism, DNA synthesis, and protection from oxidative damage and infection (NIH Office of Dietary Supplements). The Food and Nutrition Board recommends 60 micrograms of selenium daily for pregnant women and 70 micrograms for lactating women.

PPCM is characterized by a weakening of the heart muscle, reducing its contractile efficiency. Both the left and right ventricular chambers dilate, and this condition can lead to heart failure and death (Johns Hopkins Medicine Heart & Vascular Institute). PPCM most often occurs right after delivery, but is known to occur between the last months of the pregnancy and five months after birth.

In his doctoral dissertation at Umea University, Kamilu Karaye conducted a study of 54 PPCM patients and 77 control participants from 3 referral hospitals in Nigeria. At the beginning of the study, over three-quarters of the PPCM patients had critically low selenium blood levels. 

A one-year follow-up showed the loss of 41.4 percent of the original PPCM patients, most dying within the first six months of diagnosis. 

“The first six months of the disease seem to be of critical significance,” said Karaye from the Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital in Nigeria. “Therefore, all hands should be on deck to medically support the affected patients during this critical period.”

Of the remaining living patients, 47.1 percent showed “significant improvements” in left ventricular function. Additionally, the one-year follow-up showed 18.8 percent of PPCM patients with right ventricular dysfunction, an improvement from 71.1 percent dysfunction at the beginning on the study. Karaye’s research also showed that of the Nigerian patients, women living in rural areas were three times as likely to develop PPCM.

With clear results showing a link between selenium deficiencies and PPCM development, Karaye hopes that the disease prevalence can be reduced by supplementing foods with selenium in regions where PPCM risk is high. Additionally, Karaye’s study showed that PPCM can be efficiently diagnosed with an electrocardiograph (ECG) with 83.8 accuracy.

Kamilu Karaye will publicly defend his dissertation on Thursday, May 19, 2016.

Sources: NIH Office of Dietary Supplements, Johns Hopkins Medicine Heart & Vascular Institute, and Umea University
About the Author
Master's (MA/MS/Other)
I am a scientific journalist and enthusiast, especially in the realm of biomedicine. I am passionate about conveying the truth in scientific phenomena and subsequently improving health and public awareness. Sometimes scientific research needs a translator to effectively communicate the scientific jargon present in significant findings. I plan to be that translating communicator, and I hope to decrease the spread of misrepresented scientific phenomena! Check out my science blog:
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